Another place I have wanted to explore for a long time crossed off the list.
At the end of last month some of my daring photographer friends and I finally made it to the South Deering neighborhood of Chicago to explore what used to be the enormous Acme Coke and Steel Plant. Thanks Matthew, Peggy, Nate, and Aubrey for a great day.
Coking, in case you are wondering, is the baking of coal in huge ovens and turning it into a cleaner and more efficient fuel used in old huge blast furnaces. Many of these furnaces were lined up along Lake Michigan but are now demolished; according to information I found, only one is still in operation at U.S. Steel in Gary, Indiana. This area of the city was known for its steel production for most of the 20th century, and this particular plant opened in 1905. According to substreet.org, by 1909, the Acme Coke Plant spanned over 100 acres and had over 100,000 square feet of factory space. In 2001 the factory closed for good, although it was saved for a short while in 2004 by the Calumet Heritage Partnership and provided them with enough time for them to collect historical artifacts, documents, and etc. for a museum. It was later mostly demolished, and what remains is what we got to see.
I'm sure the grounds are filled with lead, asbestos, mold, coal (all over the place), and all other kinds of bad stuff, but seeing the grounds, going into some buildings, climbing part of the coal tower (it was way too windy to climb to the top for Nate, Matt, and me - a rare decision based on what we thought would be safe - see I'm not that crazy), seeing the ovens, finding old documents from as far back as the 1950's, and walking the grounds was interesting and worth the time and effort it took to get there.
First, we had to walk through some of the old buildings. It's crazy what is left behind. So many boots, hard hats, pairs of goggles, gloves and other items workers had used.
As we walked towards the coal tower and the coke ovens, which were what I really wanted to see, we saw what a wasteland the property had become. We saw trash, of course, but also clothes, boots, a burned up truck, and half-standing buildings.
From previously seen pictures, I pictured the ovens and tower as taking up some space but not really tall and huge, like they were. The first set of ovens reminded me of tall ancient Roman ruins, except instead of white they were burned into colorful brick. The second set of ovens looked were shorter, but just as colorful. And even though it was a bright, sunny day, it was very cold and windy, so windy that it took me a good ten minutes to stand up on a platform to look out over the grounds after climbing partially up the coal tower. Getting up there was hard enough - stepping on beams and sliding up through narrow slats until making it to the platform, but the wind was almost too much. I was afraid to put my camera bag down. We found the yellow outer stairway leading to the very top of the tower, but Matthew, Nate, and I unfortunately and rarely decided it was too dangerous to climb to the top. See. I'm not as crazy as you think. Getting to the platform was good enough.
Interesting, worth it, another good place to explore and photograph, and another part of history that could soon be forgotten. Thanks for a good day you guys, and thanks for the logistics, Matthew!
Aubrey, Peggy, Nate, and Matthew around some of the grounds.
For more information on this factory, there are a bunch of places to check out, but here are a couple of good ones.