At one time the Joliet Iron and Steel Works was a bustling facility churning out thousands of tons of iron a day as one of the largest steel works in the country, but today it is a fascinating ruin that is open to the public.
The factory opened in 1869 and was a massive facility for the time. The city of Joliet has always thrived on the mining of stone and metals and the large compound was an instrumental piece of its success. Employing four huge blast furnaces and a few thousand employees, the metal works produced around 2,000 tons of raw pig iron each day. The plant kept putting out metals until 1936 when it closed for a short time before being reopened. However, its new life was not to last that long either as the works became unprofitable and were abandoned in the 1980s.
Despite its historic significance in the area, the site was left to crumble, nearly forgotten for almost a decade. However, in the 1990s, the fallow complex was taken over by the county forest district who recognized the importance and history of the crumbling cement ruins. Instead of leveling what remained of the steel works to make room for more park, they set out to preserve the neglected site and turn it into a unique hiking spot.
Today none of the original buildings still stand, but many of the foundations and other stone structures endure, looking almost like ancient ruins despite being relatively contemporary. The trail that takes visitors around the grounds is also outfitted with informational signs that help communicate the important history of this one-time giant.
In 2013 many of the underground areas were filled in because of instability. These include some of the tunnels and large man-made caves.
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Know Before You Go
The parking lot is located off Columbia street, just east of the DesPlaines river, near Hwy. 53. There is free on site parking and restrooms.