For much of the 19th and early 20th centuries, Detroit’s waterfront was the industrial center of the city and of the midwest. Factories sprung up alongside docks and train lines, building everything from train cars to stoves. Neighborhoods dating back to the founding of the city gave way to industry.
Iron Street was one of them, a mostly residential neighborhood with few blacksmith shops along Jefferson Avenue in the late 1800’s. By 1897 the Michigan Bolt & Nut Works had built a factory and furnaces on Iron along a rail siding. In 1916, a young industrialist by the name of Hugh Martin bought the property and factory buildings.
Detroit Gray Iron Foundry was one of several foundry companies located along the water front, producing tools, machinery, jig and fixture castings. The company, which became “Detroit's largest jobbing foundry” focused on unusual job sizes and quantities that larger companies wouldn’t handle, advertising “small castings while you wait, twenty-four hour service on large castings." The foundry welcomed students from around the area to drop in whenever they wanted to learn more about operations and to stay as long as they liked.
By 1929, the plant had grown to cover nearly the entire block of Wight Street between Iron and Meldrum. An advertisement boasted that "In order to render even better service, extensive equipment has been further enlarged, outstanding facilities greatly developed. Among these, our new electrically-operated ovens, the finest and most complete in the industry, give an added capacity of over one hundred tons daily.” A pattern shop, shipping department, and core room were built onto the existing foundry.
Gray iron foundries thrived as railroad networks spread across the country, requiring small batches of custom castings. The business was still solid in the 1950’s, though competition from foreign companies began eating away at the bottom line of American firms. In 1960 Detroit Gray Iron & Steel Foundries changed its name to Detroit Industrial Products.
By 1974 the company was in receivership, and declared bankruptcy. Global Metals Company was incorporated in 1978, and took over the foundry on Iron Street. Global Metals appears to have ceased operations in 1987, and was formally dissolved in 2014.
Exactly how long the foundry complex was vacant is unclear. Over the years and probably decades the plant deteriorated badly, with gaping holes in the roof allowing rain and snow to soak through the buildings. Older parts of the foundry made out of wood rotted and collapsed, while equipment left behind rusted and fell into disrepair. Plant life has took root in between the buildings and on the dirt floor of the foundry, thriving in a heavily contaminated environment. The factory has been on the city demolition list for several years, and in the summer of 2014, workers began removing equipment and debris from inside.
Demolition of the foundry began in March of 2015.