Sparrows Point steel workers often speak of the mill as “home.” And, for many of them, their homes and neighborhoods were built by the mill. Yet, when the mill was shuttered in 2012 and scheduled to be razed in Spring of 2013, workers found that they could no longer go “home.” For many of them, this is part of a cycle: Bethlehem Steel built its first company town (Sparrows Point) at the turn of the 20th Century, and generations of steelworkers grew up along its streets within earshot of thundering industry.
In the 1970s, the mill razed the company town to expand the plant’s footprint; longstanding residents moved into the neighboring company town of Dundalk and beyond into Baltimore City. For some steelworkers, “home” and “work” were virtually inseparable as both the mill and the grounds around the mill was where most spent their days and nights, making products and building families. Generation after generation of the same family worked at the mill. Entire languages of work and geography developed in the vernacular of blue collar workers. Whole constellations of related businesses, labor unions, fraternal and athletic leagues, diners, barbershops and churches cropped up around Sparrows Point. The working culture of Sparrows Point was as rough and dangerous as it was playful and lighthearted; workers were fiercely loyal to the Mill, a loyalty built on 125 years of life in step with the rhythm of industry. That rhythm of work ended abruptly in August of 2012, and by Spring of 2013 “home” will be razed again.