The waterways in France were once the arteries of industry. Over time, economies have shifted and the modes of transportation have changed. Left behind in the wake of modernization is the decaying manufacturing infrastructure of bygone eras. Today factories and plants of once powerful industries sit forgotten, corroding and rotting over time. The story of these rusty factories, their rise and their fall, is a mystery to most passers by. What purpose did these industrial buildings serve? Why was there industry at this particular place? And why have these large complexes been abandoned?
Along the Moselle River in France is one of these old plants, U-4. In an unusual move, the community of Uckange has chosen to preserve and protect one of the town’s pig iron foundries, U-4. Recognized as a piece of the region’s industrial heritage, this old factory has been registered as an historic monument. It is now open as a museum.
Visitors can tour U-4 on a controlled access walkway. Along the way signs tell the history of the place, the industry, and of the region. As we walked through the plant we learned that the U-4 blast furnace was one of several in the Moselle Valley that smelted iron ore from the nearby mines. The placards told us that the basic chemical principles behind an iron foundry are straightforward and age-old. The challenge is to perform these tasks on a large scale.
We hope to find more opportunities like this to look behind the curtain of France’s decaying industrial infrastructure. But it takes money and serious effort to preserve, maintain, and open to the public a decaying factory like U-4. Indeed, it takes serious money just to dismantle and decontaminate an old factory so the land can be repurposed. So for now it seems we will have to content ourselves mostly with imagining the story behind the decaying industry we see as we pass by.