A perspective from Oregon’s mid-Willamette Valley

What you can see looking down

Written May 30th, 2016 by Hasso Hering


There’s local history under your feet, or your wheels in this case. And if you’re on a bike it’s easy to see by just looking down.

Living in Albany for many years, I had heard of the Albany Iron Works from time to time. The other day I’m riding down Railroad Street in the old industrial part of town when this manhole cover, glinting in the afternoon sun, caught my eye. It’s bigger than the ones in common use now, and from the size and the amount of wear I’d guess it’s probably close to a century old.

This one is in the block of Railroad between Second and Third. All together, I counted five of these apparent antiques in that street. It got me wondering about the company that made them.

It’s surprising what you can find rooting around online. There is, for instance, the secretary of state’s report to the 1913 legislature listing all the state’s expenses of the previous two years. Among them, on May 22, 1911,the state penitentiary paid Albany Iron Works for five separate orders of “castings” — iron bars perhaps? — on invoices ranging from $493 to $1,149 each.

Elsewhere the online scavenger learns that the factory was established in 1866 and that it continued in business until closing in 1950. It was based in the block between Water and First avenues east of Montgomery Street. For a time, the two-story brick building at 131 Montgomery N.E., the oldest surviving former industrial building in town, served as the Iron Works pattern shop. When the company started, steamboats coming up the Willamette delivered iron ore from mines at Oswego. (I’d never heard of iron mines in Oswego, but that’s what it says in a 1976 historical inventory.)

None of the works buildings remain. Today their memory is kept alive by the nomenclature of the Iron Works townhouses and office building as well as the Foundry Lofts apartments on the former industrial site.

Albany Iron Works made fittings for buildings all over Oregon. Few remain because many were removed and smelted for the arms industries during the two world wars. Not, however, those manhole covers. They’re an indestructible reminder of Albany as a thriving industrial center a century ago. And you can see them if, at the right time, you look down. (hh)

And here's another look, complete with a carelessly discarded butt.

And here’s another look, complete with a carelessly discarded butt.


11 responses to “What you can see looking down”

  1. David Ballard says:

    Fascinating. Thank you for this piece of local history.

  2. Stan Park says:

    Thirteen stars on the outer ring and seven inside. Might the iron works have had some southern leanings?

    • Tony White says:

      Very likely. The Civil War ended in 1865 and the date forged in the manhole covers is 1866. Seven states seceded when Lincoln was elected, and when Fort Sumter was fired upon in 1861 four “northern southern states” joined them. So the combination of 13 and 7 seems significant.

      • Ray Kopczynski says:

        I also seem to recall that our area had a goodly number of “southern leanings” (sympathizers) during the civil war. Wasn’t Fort Hoskins also a small part of the process to contain the rebellion?

      • Stan Park says:

        The first National Confederate flag (Stars and Bars) had seven stars in a circular pattern. Later that was expanded to thirteen although two of the States claimed did not secede. The Confederate Battle Flag (which was in recent news) had thirteen stars in a St. Andrews cross pattern.

  3. Shawn Dawson says:

    Very nice Hasso.

  4. Tony White says:

    I love these local history vignettes. Thanks, Hasso.

  5. Gothic Albany says:

    The Bob Potts photo collection has a few photos of the Albany Iron Works. A couple can be seen in the “Remembering When” series put out by the Albany Regional Museum.

    Thanks for pointing these out. With the old poultry processing plant on First and Washington recently being demolished, very little remains of what was once a thriving industrial district along Water Avenue.

  6. rich Kellum says:

    Hasso, I think that there was another “Albany Iron Works” that came later and was a company that made structural beams, I think one of their last jobs was the frame of the Oregon Freeze Dry office building. I sold them a bunch of welding electrode while it was going together.

    • Hasso Hering says:

      I’m sure you’re right, Rich. In fact, a Google search will turn up a seemingly current Albany Iron Works Inc. But I’m guessing they don’t make manhole covers.(hh)

  7. Brad J says:

    Albany Iron works was also where CL Best, who went along to found Caterpillar tractors used to work. There’s a book called “Making Tracks” by Ed and Sue Clasessen about it. Lots of history there.


HH Today: A perspective from Oregon’s mid-Willamette Valley
Albany Albany Carousel Albany City Council Albany council Albany downtown Albany Fire Department Albany housing Albany parks Albany Planning Commission Albany police Albany Post Office Albany Public Works Albany riverfront Albany Station Albany streets Albany traffic Albany urban renewal Andy Olson Benton County Benton County parks bicycling bike lanes Bowman Park Bryant Park Calapooia River CARA City of Albany climate change coronavirus COVID-19 Cox Creek path Crocker Lane cumberland church cycling Dave Clark Path DEQ downtown Albany Edgewater Village global warming gun control Highway 20 Interstate 5 Kitzhaber Linn County marijuana medical marijuana Millersburg North Albany Road Obama ODOT Oregon coast Oregon legislature Oregon passenger rail Pacific Power Portland & Western Republic Services Riverside Drive Santiam Canal Talking Water Gardens The Banks Tom Cordier Union Pacific urban renewal Water Avenue Willamette River

Copyright 2020. All Rights Reserved. Hasso Hering.
Website Serviced by Santiam Communications
Hasso Hering