LiDAR, Industrial History, and a Chimney in Lemont, Illinois

 This tower might seem unassuming enough, but one can't help but wonder why it was built?

View from the Veterans Memorial Trail, adjacent to I-355. (May, 2019)

Located in Keepataw Forest Preserve (just west of Lemont, IL), this is one of the few remaining remnants of the land's past. Long before it a forest preserve, it was one of the many limestone quarries in proximity to the Des Plaines River. 

The chimney was part of a kiln, which is essentially an oven capable of temperatures sufficient to produce chemical changes in metals, according to the Historical Document Record of the Keepataw Site. "The separate feed kiln type, which by 1905 was said to be "used at most of the larger lime-burning plants," comprised a wide variety of patent kilns. In general, these kilns, rising 25 to 35 feet, were taller than the mixed feed kilns. Most were sheathed in steel or iron and lined with fire brick, although some were constructed of stone. The limestone was charged from the top, as in mixed feed kilns. The fuel, however, was burned in separate furnaces located either inside or outside the wall of the kiln. Thus, the limestone was burned by the hot furnace gases, rather than by the fuel itself. As in the mixed feed kilns, the burned lime was removed from the bottom of the kiln. One typical separate feed kiln, the Keystone kiln, was raised above the ground so that the burned lime could be discharged from the bottom of the kiln directly into small rail cars running beneath it."

That last part caught me by surprise, as it meant there was yet another abandoned railroad line close to home. But where did the operation take place? To help answer that question, I looked at LiDAR data, which is available for the entire state of Illinois, and numerous other states.

Illinois Geospatial Data Clearinghouse LiDAR Viewer

It is clear that some right of way existed within the Keepataw Forest Preserve. What is less clear is whether it connected to the rest of the US rail network, or was simply used to extract limestone, place in railcars and transport the cars to barges on either the Des Plaines River or the Sanitary and Ship Canal, both of which are adjacent to this parcel of land. Absent further information, I cannot definitively say.

You could still trace the operation a bit on this 1939 Aerial Image.

The Chicago Santa Fe & California Railway, the AT&SF subsidiary and present-day BNSF Railway Chillicothe Subdivision was also within reach, if a bridge over the canal was constructed.

A great drone flyover of the area is on YouTube below:

The quarry's operation, and thus the railroad, were abandoned long before 1920, and do not appear on topo maps. For me, it's another example of finding something fascinating in your own back yard.

The forest preserve has numerous paths and openings, such as this one, so it is likely at least a small amount of these have survived over the last century from the transport of limestone from the property.

There also appears to be another structure, possibly a kiln, visible from the top of the bluff at the aptly named Bluff Road entrance to the preserve. I took the best picture I could with an iPhone...

I would love to fly a drone over this. Maybe someday!

Thanks as always for reading!


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