The Joliet Iron Works
Before the days of globalization, heavy industry used to build this country had to come from right here. As such, the manufacturing of steel was of the utmost importance in the late 19th century. And while steel continues to be an extremely important industry, much like the railroad industry, steel production has become much more efficient over time, making relatively small plants obsolete, which is what would happen to the Joliet Iron Works.
|Joliet Iron Works in 1901. The mainline of the Illinois Central (now CN) ran right through it. Most of the side tracks are abandoned.
One can even see this consolidation in the corporate history of the Works. The Joliet works was built by the Joliet Iron and Steel Company in 1869. Twenty years later, the Illinois Steel Company acquired it, and Illinois Steel itself was acquired by Federal Steel, which would form US Steel, which is still in business to this day.
Over 4000 workers were employed at these works in 1926. The plant would continue to run amid decline until the early 1980's, sitting dormant. In 1991, the Will County Forest Preserve began acquiring parcels of the land, and built a path around the ruins, one which also connects to the I&M Heritage Corridor, due to its proximity to the Illinois & Michigan Canal.
|Sanborn Map of the Joliet Iron Works. (Library of Congress)
The area was renovated in 2009, and is easy to access, if in a somewhat secluded part of downtown Joliet. Visiting early on a Saturday morning, there were few other people there, but it was far from empty.
|Located just off of the former Route 66 (today's IL-53) on Columbia St in Joliet.
Heading north from the parking lot, you can see the ruins of an abandoned railroad line which ran over the still very active CN line. This would have connected both sides of the Works together.
|Walking up what's left of the bridge.
|There are many "KEEP OFF" signs throughout the park, and it's not hard to figure out why when dealing with ruins.
Tons of signs dominate the area, explaining the history and significance of the individual parts of the site.
|From how many abandoned railroads are in IL, and PA, this is not surprising.
|On the other side of the tracks, more abandoned but inaccessible buildings lay dormant. I wonder if there'll ever be an opportunity to visit those!
|Another building. Graffiti was rampant on that side. It should be noted that these buildings are immediately south of the Old Joliet Prison.
Back to the actual ruins here though, the trail diverges here between the I&M canal trail and the walk through the ruins.
|The Works would be part of the Great Steel Strike of 1919.
|This is one part of the ruins that is easier to see from the I&M Canal Trail than the actual walking tour.
The stoves are the largest ruin, much to explore here, more so if you're adventurous enough to ignore the KEEP OUT signs and peek inside.
|More piers for a railroad bridge to connect both sites above the tracks.
|This ramp was one of the few ruins that you could walk on.
|Below the ramp. Hard to imagine these arches are only about 150 years old!
|Some graffiti in the ruins below.
The Will County Forest Preserve also made a YouTube Video of a drone flying over the site below;
If you're near the area, there are few places which give such a unique perspective on local history. What many would see as blight is so much more. It is definitely worth seeing for yourself.
This is the story of a small part of the creation of the World as we know it, as both the steel industry and the railroad industry were codependent on each other, as was society for being able to create larger and larger skyscrapers, and the cities we've grown accustomed to today. As always, thanks for reading!