Editor’s Note: During this period of social distancing, Group Tour magazine will continue to provide group travel inspiration. Many attractions and destinations are closed at this time; please contact them directly for updated information.
Carrying the stories of thousands of laborers, North America’s historic industrial sites will give groups a glimpse into the monumental factories that built past and present economies and cultures. While many are no longer in operation, the remnants of their towering furnaces, massive machinery and neighboring homes still stand.
See a place that was once the largest manufacturer of pig iron in the world and the location housing the legendary Mill Girls.
Visit sites that brought waves of change and the Industrial Revolution to America. Honor the men and women whose labor built a nation.
Fayette Historic State Park
This 711-acre park features more than 20 historic buildings, a modern campground, boat launch and 5 miles of hiking along the limestone bluffs of Snail Shell Harbor in Lake Michigan. The park was once an iron smelting community, manufacturing charcoal pig iron between 1867 and 1891. See the remains of the blast furnace complex, town hall, charcoal kilns and various other sites echoing the history of this once-booming community. Guided and self-guided tours are available.
Steamtown National Historic Site
Learn about the history of steam railroad transportation at the location of the former Scranton yards of the Delaware, Lackawanna and Western Railroad. At Steamtown National Historic Site, groups can take a short 3-mile round trip crossing Lackawanna River, all in vintage cabooses, or take a tour of the Locomotive Shop. Go behind the scenes at the shop and see what it takes to repair and maintain steam locomotives. 70-340-5200, nps.gov/stea
Sloss Furnaces was once the largest manufacturer of pig iron in the world and operated for almost nine decades. Today, the National Historic Landmark stands with two-thirds of the same features it had in the late 19th century — consisting of two 400-ton blast furnaces and nearly 40 other buildings. Groups can tour the web pipes, towering stoves and blowing engine room on self-guided or guided tours. Today, Sloss Furnaces is a community hub, hosting concerts, festivals, workshops and exhibitions.
Currently a 10-acre campus dedicated to arts and culture events and celebrations, SteelStacks was once home to Bethlehem Steel — the second-largest steel manufacturer in the U.S. The company produced steel for some of the nation’s most well-known landmarks, including Rockefeller Center, Madison Square Gardens and the Golden Gate Bridge. Gaze at 230-foot-tall furnaces while enjoying a concert or an arts festival.
Pawtucket, Rhode Island
Built in 1793, Slater Mill resides on the banks of the Blackstone River located in the Blackstone Valley. This National Historic Landmark is internationally recognized as the birthplace of the American Industrial Revolution and was the nation’s first water-powered cotton mill. Tour the mill, along with the Wilkinson Mill and Sylvanus Brown House, and experience the sights and sounds of operating machinery. All tours are led by professional interpreters.
Mill City Museum
The ruins of Washburn A Mill make up what is now Mill City Museum. Washburn was once the largest and most technologically advanced flour mill in the world when completed in 1860. Conveniently located on the Mississippi River, the powerful waters helped the city earn the title of “Flour Milling Capital of the World.” Head to the top of the observation deck to get great views of the city and visit the Flour Tower to see scenes of the old mill in action.
Drake Well Museum and Park
The birth and development of the petroleum industry can be found at the Drake Well Museum and Park, where visitors enjoy 240 acres filled with both indoor and outdoor learning opportunities. See the famous well that struck oil in 1859, break a sweat at the interactive Spring Pole Drilling Rig and watch an operating Central Power oil lease in motion. The historical site also features the world’s oldest continuously producing oil well, McClintock Well #1.
Gas Works Park
An on-site public park is located on the former Seattle Gas Light Company gasification plant, featuring remnants of the only coal gasification plant existing in the nation. The plant operated from 1906 to 1956 and opened as a public park in 1975. While some features are ruins, others have been reconditioned, painted or made part of a “playground” structure — a popular photography spot.
Lowell National Historical Park
Considered the “Cradle of the American Revolution” and home to the first large-scale factory town in the country, Lowell, Massachusetts, was home to Lowell mills — water-powered textile mills infamous for the Mill Girls. Take a tour and visit the Mill Girl boardinghouses, see 88 power looms, take a trolley ride and float down the canals to learn how these waters drove this prospering region.
Rivers of Steel
Situated in southwestern Pennsylvania, Rivers of Steel National Heritage Area presents the industrial history of the region with five attractions. See the Carrie Blast Furnaces and partake in hands-on programs like a metal casting workshop. Tour the 1892 Pump House across the Monongahela River and see the Homestead Labyrinth. Rivers of Steel regularly works with tour operators to provide an educational and exciting excursion for groups.
Exhibition Coal Mine
Beckley, West Virginia
Phillips-Sprague Mine, or Beckley Exhibition Coal Mine, opened in 1889 and today features a museum, gift shop and interactive experiences. Take a ride underground in a vintage coal mine while learning about its history from a veteran miner. In addition, see carefully restored buildings like the Coal Company House, Superintendent’s Home, Pemberton Coal Camp Church and the Helen Coal Camp School.