One of the more interesting areas along the I and M Heritage Corridor in Joliet is the Joliet Iron Works Park. This area is approximately 50 acres near the DesPlaines River. The Illinois Michigan Canal can be accessed through this park. The property was acquired between 1991–1997. This was the site of a steel plant active from the late 1880’s to the 1900’s. It contains the foundations of multiple buildings demolished in the 1930’s. Among these buildings were a stock house, 4 blast furnaces, casting bed, skull house,gas washers, four pass stoves, blowing engine house, and gas engine house.
Before it’s closure, the Joliet Works of U.S. Steel covered over 170 acres. The property was bounded by Collins Street to the east and the DesPlaines River to the west. At one time there were over 60 buildings in the complex.
The first factory at this site constructed by Union Coal, Iron, and Transportation Company. They built an iron works near Collins Street. The plant consisted of two coke fired blast furnaces and two rod mills. The business was reorganized in 1873. It’s new name was Joliet Iron and Steel Company. The new firm erected a Bessemer steel plant. This was designed by Alexander Holley.
In 1889, Joliet Iron and Steel Company merged with the much larger Illinois Steel Company. The merged company had plants in Chicago, Cleveland and Joliet. In 1898, the company was absorbed by the newly formed Federal Steel Company. Finally in 1901, the Joliet steel works became part of U.S. Steel, the nation’s largest steel maker.
During, early 1900’s, the Joliet plant had four blast furnaces. These were later torn down. Nothing remains of the blast furnace operation. The Bessemer steel plant was demolished. The Joliet works of U.S. Steel remained in operation in various forms until 1980.
The earliest buildings of Joliet Steel dated to the 1870’s. Included was the machine shop (1872), the blacksmith shop (1873), the pattern shop (1873), and the company office (1873).
All of these structures were erected by Joliet Iron & Steel Company.
The Machine Shop was a 2 and one half story building with limestone wall. It measured 300 x 130 feet. It was originally used as place to repair a wide range of machinery. None of the original machinery in this building still exists.
The Black Smith Shop was constructed in 1873. It was one and one half stories tall. It measured 70 x 60 feet. It had limestone walls. At one time, the building contained a steam power hammer with 1000 pound capacity. This building was abandoned.
The Pattern Shop was built in 1872–1873. It was 2 and one half stories tall. It measured 85 x 45 feet. The walls were made of limestone. Originally, it served as a small pattern and carpenter shop. In this building were a Daniels Plane, arc saw bench, scroll saw, and two lathes. None of this equipment survives.
The Company Office was built in 1873. It was 2 and one half stories tall. It measured 90 X 60 feet. The walls were limestone. There was a large stone arch at the front entrance. This building was erected by Joliet Iron and Steel Works.
In the 1890’s, after the merger of Joliet Iron and Steel with Illinois Steel Company, the following structures were added: the Electric Lighting and Power Plant, Roll Shop, and the Stores Building.
In 1890, Illinois Steel constructed a central power house to provide electricity to all of the plant. This building had brick walls and a steel frame. It measured 120 X 63 feet. An addition was constructed in the mid 1890’s This was along the east end of the original building. It was two and one had stories. In the late 1890’s, there were 3 generators and 6 dynamos. This plant provided power for 10 motors, 133 arc lights, and 957 incandescent lamps. None of the power generating equipment survives.
A roll shop was built in the early 1890’s. It was 3 stories with brick walls. It measured 260 X 70 feet. It contained lathes for manufacture and and repair of rolls used in the rolling mills.
The Stores Building was built on top of the old B Mill. This mill building was built by Joliet Iron and Steel in the 1870’s. It was probably used to produce specially rolled iron products. The Stores Building used the original limestone walls for the first story and red brick for the second. The building measured 140 X 110 feet.
In 1895, Illinois Steel erected a new merchant mill. It had a stone foundation, brick walls, and a steel frame. It measured 115 X 40 feet. This was enlarged over the next 50 years. The building contained a Belgian train with 2 strands of 18 inch roughing rolls and 7 strands of 12 inch finishing rolls. The rolls were driven by a steam engine. This mill also produced bolts and spikes. None of the mill machinery exists.
U. S. Steel erected Rod Mill 1, 2, and 3. These are large steel framed buildings covered with corrugated metal. These were built in 1930’s. Also constructed in the 1950’s was the Fence and Barbed Wire Department. This was a large steel framed building. The Nail Department was built in the 1920–1950’s. It adjoined the Fence and Barbed Wire Building. The Wire Department is a steel frame building. It is steel frame clad with corrugated metal. It was built in the 1930’s. The Annealing and Galvanizing Department was located in 2 adjacent steel frame buildings constructed in the 1930–1950’s.