August 27, 2007

To : Editor
Chicago Tribune

From: Mark Bouman, President
Calumet Heritage Partnership

On Thursday, August 23, the Chicago Tribune presented the Acme Coke Plant at 112th and Torrence as one of a half dozen places to visit in the Chicago area with a signature book in hand (“Book yourself an adventure”). You suggested bringing along a copy of Charles Dickens’s Hard Times, for its depiction of the fictional “Coketown”. You also said that “preservationists hope to turn this into some manner of museum celebrating the industrial heritage of the region.” Unfortunately your readers should be cautioned that a trip in the near future to the Acme Coke Plant might yield only a look at the ghost of coke plants past.

For the Calumet Heritage Partnership (CHP) – the preservationists you mention – it has been the best of times and the worst of times. The group had entered a contract to purchase the structures in order to preserve them from Salrecon, a scrap firm that had previously acquired the Acme structures in a bankruptcy sale after the plant shut down in 2001. But CHP was unable to fulfill the entire contract payment, and the structures reverted to Salrecon. Today the coke plant is being demolished.

In many ways, however, CHP now can do a far far better thing. Because it was able to keep the structures standing for two years under the contract with Salrecon, it was able to salvage from the site, as well as from the site of the demolished Acme Blast Furnace, a priceless collection of historic artifacts, blueprints, drawings, photographs, and approximately 125 linear feet of records, including daily log books dating back to l932. CHP is also working to salvage signature pieces of large equipment, such as the large and small bells from the blast furnace. These items are being moved to the Pullman State Historic Site (PSHS), with whom CHP has entered into a partnership. The Acme Collection is on loan to PSHS, and it can become part of a Calumet Industrial Heritage Museum to be developed in the newly renovated North Tower of the Pullman Factory. In addition, with support from the Illinois State Library, CHP, PSHS, and the Southeast Chicago Historical Museum are able to digitize materials they possess and make them accessible to the public on-line.

To those who might point to the falling coke plant structures and say “bah! humbug” to museum prospects, it is important to realize that the partnership between CHP, PSHS, and the Southeast Chicago Historical Museum represents the only local project currently dedicated to interpreting the history of industry in the Illinois Calumet region. The intent of the Project is to preserve the historic images, maps, plans, and artifacts of the Illinois Calumet Region’s factories, structures, equipment, and workers in order to educate future generations about the development of regional transportation and the heavy industries of communities such as South Chicago, South Deering, Riverdale, the East Side, Roseland, Pullman and Hegewisch. The collection, preservation, documentation, and interpretation of these materials form a priceless link between our past, present and future.

To the Chicago adventure traveler, then: do come to the far south side. The encounter between nature, industry, and community was – and is – played out here like few other places on earth. CHP is part of the effort to tell the story of this area. Visitors might also want to pack a copy of Great Expectations.