By 1861 the Tredegar Iron Works were the largest in the Confederacy. The sprawling complex seen in this plan produced much of the ordnance used by the Confederate army and navy. But in 1863, a devastating fire destroyed the Crenshaw mill (site of the current visitor center) and several shops on the lower level.
As the firm rebuilt some of these facilities, a change in production occurred. Instead of casting the large cannon that required a large work force and high-grade iron ore, both of which were difficult to secure, Tredegar began producing more profitable railroad materials such as cars, axles, wheels and trucks.
After the war, Joseph Anderson and his Tredegar partners received presidential pardons and reopened the plant. Tredegar's work force now consisted of former slaves and white workers who were paid equal wages. Most of the peacetime production related to the railroad industry, but during both world wars Tredegar received lucrative military contracts to cast artillery shells. The doors closed in 1957, when some of the rolling equipment was moved to neighboring Chesterfield County where operations continued until 1986.