STATUS REPORT: Work this month has focused on moving two blast
furnace bells from the former Acme Blast Furnace site to the Pullman
State Historic Site. We expect the small bell to be moved within
the week. We also have the good news that Mike Urioste of Salrecon
will donate the large bell and the pleasant headache of figuring out how
to move it.
The local chapter of the American Society of Mechanical Engineers
(ASME) has responded very positively to CHP’s overtures to work with
them to nominate the Hulett Ore Unloaders as a Mechanical Engineering
Landmark. We look forward to working with Lou Wozniak, Chair of
ASME’s Chicago History and Heritage Committee, on the application.
Lou lives in Arlington Heights now, but he grew up in the 10th
Ward and worked at both South Works and Republic while a college
student. We have also had a generally positive reaction on the
landmarking possibility from the current property owner, and will obtain
a written statement for him that the landmark designation will not
interfere with his use of the Huletts in any way.
COKE…AFTER COKE…AFTER COKE:
Those words describe (with apologies to the Coca-Cola Company,
whose advertising slogan they constituted in the late 1960s) a recent
trip to the eastern and southern United States to look at other efforts
to make something of the history of metallurgical coke production.
The “something” could be a museum, an archive, a park, or remnant
ghostly structures in the woods. Let me jump to conclusions: I
feel more confident than ever before that the Acme Coke Plant efforts we
are undertaking are nationally significant. The American landscape
of coke has a few key features, but this Chicago coke plant museum
effort is, as far as I know with my now slightly better educated
guesswork, unique. Here, briefly, is what I found. Items are
grouped in the approximate order that they retell the passing history of
fuel for metalworking:
- Charcoal production
-- Before Abraham Darby figured out in 1709 that coke (essentially
coal with the impurities cooked out of it) was a great blast furnace
fuel, people had been smelting iron with charcoal since the Iron Age.
America, with its abundant forests used to make the charcoal, was slow
to adopt coke. The charcoal maker’s art is well-told at Hopewell
Forge National Historic Site in Pennsylvania.
- Beehive coke
– It soon became apparent that forested America also had
enormous coal resources that couldn’t be ignored. “Beehive” ovens,
so-called because of their shape, sprouted up near mine mouths where
the coal could be processed into coke. Industrialists built hundreds
of ovens at each site . By the early twentieth century, the U.S. had
over 50,000 such ovens, 40,000 of which were clumped in a few counties
in western Pennsylvania around Connellsville. 2000 pounds of coal
would yield 1400 pounds of coke, the remainder being vented to the
air. As a result of this inefficiency, beehive coke ovens became
obsolete. Today, as at Leetonia, Ohio, Mammoth, Pennsylvania, and
Dunlap, Tennessee, a couple of hundred abandoned coke ovens course
through thick woods like effigy mounds. But each group is set in a
“Coke Ovens Park” that
- commemorates the earlier
age, and Dunbar, Pennsylvania even wants to build a new beehive coke
oven for $25,000 to put in the central town park to tangibly ignite
memories of the earlier economy.
coke production -- Here’s where Acme fits in. Roughly at
the turn of the century new processes were invented to capture the
products the beehive ovens let fly, things like light oil, ammonia,
toluene, and gases that could be sold to cities or re-used in the fires
of the ovens themselves or in the frequently adjacent blast furnaces.
I didn’t see any closed plants in interpretable condition. In the
Thomas community in Birmingham, Alabama, the ovens are supposedly on the
National Register, and they are there, but they are quite remote from
view and appear to be crumbling. At the great Bethlehem Steel
Works in Pennsylvania, where almost everything else is intact and serves
to keep the hope of a National Museum of Industrial History alive, they
were demolished years ago. Of course, huge plants continue in
production: the huge US Steel Clairton Works stretch for three miles
along the Monongahela River south of Pittsburgh and produce roughly a
fifth of the nation’s coke. The Sloss Corporation, famous for
donating its City Furnaces to be the cornerstone of a national landmark
industrial tour site, has a very active facility in Tarrant, Alabama.
American coke production has fallen from roughly 20,000 short tons in
2000 to 16,000 today. US Steel, Mittal Steel Burns Harbor, and Indiana
Harbor Coke Company were among the nation’s top 10 producers in 2005.
- Coke in the museums
– Coke production is touched on at the Youngstown, Ohio
Steel Museum, at the Visitors Center of the Rivers of Steel National
Heritage Corridor in Homestead, Pennsylvania , and at the Iron and
Steel Museum of Alabama in Tannehill, Alabama, but only as a part of
the steel production story. By far the most significant place I
visited in this regard is the Coal and Coke Heritage Museum on the
Eberly Campus of Penn State University in Uniontown. They have a newly
redesigned museum space, a very active oral history program, and
expanding archives. When I visited, curators from this museum were
meeting with educators from the nearby Frank Lloyd Wright designed
Fallingwater to discuss school programs. Wow: are there other areas
where coke production and Frank Lloyd Wright are close neighbors?....
DONATIONS AND COLLECTIONS
POLICY: The committee hopes to have a draft policy ready for the
next meeting, very important to us as we take on the role of acquiring
items, documents, and photographs that preserve and interpret the
heritage of the region.
UNDERGROUND RAILROAD: At
last month’s meeting, Naomi Davis of the Chicago Calumet Underground
Railroad Effort (C-CURE) gave an outstanding presentation on the
preservation efforts at the Jan Ton Farm in the Calumet area. A
Chicago Tribune news story last week lists the farm as one of the
Chicago area’s key underground railroad sites. See
NEXT MEETING: The next
meeting of the Calumet Heritage Partnership will take place, Thursday,
April 19, 7:00 p.m., at the Calumet Stewardship Initiative office,
13300 South Baltimore, Chicago.