Sparrows Point, Maryland
|Unincorporated community area|
|Time zone||Eastern (EST) (UTC-5)|
|• Summer (DST)||EDT (UTC-4)|
|GNIS feature ID||591325|
Sparrow's Point is an unincorporated community in Baltimore County, Maryland, adjacent to Dundalk, Maryland. Named for Thomas Sparrow, landowner, it was the site of a very large industrial complex owned by Bethlehem Steel, known for steelmaking and shipbuilding.
Sparrow's Point was originally marshland home to Native American tribes until being granted to one Thomas Sparrow by Cecilius Calvert, 2nd Baron Baltimore in around 1652. His son Solomon Sparrow made a home there, calling it "Sparrow's Nest". Later in the 1700s the area became home to other families, who farmed and raised crops, building homes and hunting lodges. Among the many wealthy residents of Baltimore who owned property there was Major General George H. Steuart who hosted the social reformer Dorothea Dix at Sparrow's Point. By the 1860s much of the land, about 385 acres, was owned by the Fitzell family.
Sparrow's Point remained largely rural until 1887, when an engineer named Frederick Wood realized that the marshy inlet would make an excellent deep-water port for the Pennsylvania Steel Company. The Fitzells were reluctant to part with their peach orchards but were eventually persuaded to sell.
Steel was first made at Sparrow's Point in 1889, by the Pennsylvania Steel Company. By the mid-20th century, the Sparrow's Point plant was the world's largest steel mill, stretching 4 miles (6.4 km) from end to end and employing tens of thousands of workers. It used the traditional open hearth steelmaking method to produce ingots, a labor- and energy-intensive process.
Bethlehem Steel purchased the mill in 1916. The mill's steel ended up as girders in the Golden Gate Bridge and in cables for the George Washington Bridge, and was a vital part of war production during World War I and World War II. The mill was serviced by four railroads: the Western Maryland; Pennsylvania; Baltimore & Ohio; and yard work was done by the Patapsco & Back River Railroad.
By 1961, the mill was producing 672,000 short tons (610,000 t) of steel per year. Changes in the steel industry, including a rise in imports and a move toward the use of simpler oxygen furnaces and the recycling of scrap, led to a decline in the use of the Sparrow's Point complex during the 1970s and 1980s. From 1984 through 1986, an effort to modernize resulted in the successful installation of a basic oxygenation furnace (BOF), continuous caster and supporting management information systems. However, this effort to save the plant and Bethlehem Steel was, perhaps, too little too late. The Sparrow's Point plant was owned by Mittal Steel following its acquisition of Bethlehem Steel successor company International Steel Group in 2005. In March 2008, Mittal Steel sold the plant to the Russian company Severstal for $810 million.
In 2012, the Sparrow's Point steel mill was purchased along with other mills in Ohio and West Virginia by Renco Group Inc. for $1.2 billion. This made Renco the fifth owner in the last ten years. RG Steel, LLC, a unit of Renco, ran the facility until it filed for bankruptcy on May 31, 2012. In August 2012, the facility was purchased for $72 million by plant liquidator Hilco Trading LLC.
The Sparrow's Point Shipyard site was also a major center for shipbuilding and ship repair. Maryland Steel Company established the Sparrow's Point yard in 1889, and it delivered its first ship in 1891. Bethlehem Steel Corporation acquired the Sparrow's Point shipyard in 1917. During the mid-Twentieth Century, Bethlehem Steel Shipbuilding (BethShip)'s Sparrow's Point yard was one of the most active shipbuilders in the United States, delivering 116 ships in the 7-year period between 1939 and 1946.
During the 1970s, Bethlehem Steel invested millions of dollars in upgrades and improvements to the Sparrow's Point yard, making it one of the most modern shipbuilding facilities in the country. This included the construction of a large graving dock to allow for the construction of large supertankers up to 1,200 feet (370 m) in length and 265,000 short tons (240,000 t) (gross) in size.
Bethlehem Steel lurched from one financial crisis to another throughout the 1980s and 1990s, selling the Sparrow's Point yard to Baltimore Marine Industries Inc., a subsidiary of Veritas Capital, in 1997 as part of an unsuccessful restructuring attempt. Baltimore Marine operated the facility as a ship repair and refurbishment yard until 2003, when Baltimore Marine Industries collapsed in bankruptcy.
The Sparrow's Point shipyard complex was sold at auction to Barletta Industries Inc. in 2004. Barletta is attempting a redevelopment of the site for use as a business and technology park, and plans to revive shipbuilding on at least part of the site, making use of the modern graving dock added in the 1970s.
Liquefied natural gas
In 2007, the international energy company AES Corporation applied to the federal government for a certificate to build and operate a liquefied natural gas (LNG) terminal at Sparrow’s Point. The AES Sparrow’s Point LNG development would consist of three 160,000-cubic meter storage tanks and vessel offloading systems for LNG tankers. AES would also construct a new natural gas pipeline, the Mid-Atlantic Express, which would run north from Maryland into Pennsylvania crossing under the Susquehanna River to connect with existing natural gas pipelines. The 33-inch-diameter (840 mm) buried pipeline would be 88 miles long. The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) approved the project in January 2009, over the objections of state and county officials in Maryland and Pennsylvania. FERC chairman Jon Wellinghoff cast a dissenting vote, stating that in his opinion the region’s energy needs could be better met without including LNG in the mix. The Maryland Department of the Environment denied Sparrow's Point a water-quality permit that would allow the company to dredge in Baltimore Harbor. A citizens’ group, the LNG Opposition Group, also opposes the project.
In popular culture
- The steel plant is seen in the episode "Ebb Tide" of the television series The Wire, where character Jimmy McNulty mentions that his father once worked there. Sparrow's Point is also mentioned in a folk song by Richard Shindell, as one site where unemployed men gathered prior to gaining their next job as soldiers in World War II.
- Helton, p.7 Retrieved January 2012
- Sjoberg, Leif, American Swedish (1973) Retrieved January 2012
- Reutter, Mark (1998). Making Steel: Sparrows Point And The Rise And Ruin Of American Industrial Might. University of Illinois Press. p. 7. ISBN 9780252072338.
- Sentementes, Gus G. (2003-05-08). "Sorrow, uncertainty at Sparrows Point". Baltimore Sun.
- Paxton, Robin (March 21, 2008). "Update 2-Severstal buys U.S. Sparrow's Point mill for $810 mln". Reuters. Retrieved June 13, 2011.
- "Sparrows Point steel mill now owned by Renco Group". Baltimore Sun. March 31, 2011. Retrieved October 4, 2013.
- http://www.rg-steel.com/. Retrieved October 4, 2013. Missing or empty
- "Sparrows Point purchased for $72 million (less than one-tenth of the 2008 sale price) by plant liquidator". Baltimore Sun. August 8, 2012. Retrieved October 4, 2013.
- Sparrows Point LNG website
- Mid-Atlantic Express website
- The Baltimore Sun
- Baltimore Sun
- Helton, Gary, Sparrow's Point Retrieved January 2012
- Reutter, Mark, Making steel: Sparrows Point and the Rise and Ruin of American Industrial Might Retrieved January 2011 University of Illinois Press (2004). ISBN 0-252-07233-2
- Rudacille, Deborah (2010). Roots of Steel: Boom and Bust in an American Mill Town. Pantheon. ISBN 978-0-375-42368-0
- Malcolm Gladwell, "The Risk Pool," New Yorker, August 28, 2006.
- Aerial view of the Sparrows Point steel mill, 1950ies.
- Papers of Frederick W. Wood, designer, constructor and president of the Sparrows Point steel plant and shipyard, at Hagley Museum and Library.