In mid-July, people can tour the ruins of what was once the second-largest steel mill in the country, after only U.S. Steel's South Works on Chicago's South Side in the late 19th century.
The Forest Preserve District of Will County is offering a free, all-ages Joliet Iron Works Tour from 9-10:30 a.m. on Friday, July 16.
People can see the area's industrial heritage while surveying what remains at the Joliet Iron Works Historic Site at Columbia Street in Joliet.
Dating back to 1869, the former Joliet Iron and Steel Company, Illinois Steel Company, Federal Steel and U.S. Steel mill on the banks of the Des Plaines River once employed 4,000 workers, many immigrants from Southern Europe and Eastern Europe. The Joliet Iron Works helped supply the expanding railroads in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Workers there took part in the 1919 steel strike that shut down half the nation's steel mills in an early effort to unionize the steel industry.
The iron works shuttered in 1936 but steel operations remained at the site. After decades of decline, it closed for good in the 1980s.
Visitors can still see the stone remains of blast furnaces, gas washers, gas engine houses and other parts of the long-bygone mill, which was acquired by the Forest Preserve District of Will County in the 1990s.
It's now a park with trails, picnic areas and interpretative signage. It's open to self-guided tours from dawn to dusk.
"Which city carried the nickname 'City of Stone and Steel?' Joliet’s once-thriving industrial plant rivaled Pittsburgh’s steel power," the Forest Preserve District of Will County said in a press release. "Explore its stone foundations that are more than 100 years old. A naturalist will share the fascinating stories of the men and machines that worked to produce up to 2,000 tons of iron a day during the mill’s peak operation."
The event is free but registration is required by July 14.
For more information or to register, visit reconnectwithnature.org or call 815-886-1467.