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Acme Steel Mill to Become a Museum

By Rachelle Bowden in Arts & Entertainment on Dec 28, 2004 9:14PM

Southeastern Chicago, at its peak, used to employee about 200,000 people in steel mills and industries related to steel. People from all over the world flocked here for the well paying jobs.. and now? The industry is gone, but not the buildings.

2004_12_steel_mill.jpgThe vacant Acme Steel Coke Plant that was built between 1905 and 1930 is the last major Chicago steel-industry structure left. Others like Wisconsin Steel and US steel were demolished and sold for scrap metal. And that's what was going to happen to Acme until a group of preservationists, environmentalists, former steelworkers and historians stepped in. They pursuaded the Landmarks Preservation Council of IL to list the plant as one of the state's 10 most endangered historic places. They also plan to purchase it from the scrap-metal dealer who bought it from the city at a bankruptcy sale.

The coalition has agreed to pay the salvage company $250,000 for the plant, which is how much they would have gotten by scrapping it. Then after the sale of the property is complete, the group will have to clean up the site, which is most likely contaminated with carcinogenic coal tar and other toxins. Finally, they're going to turn the buildings into a museum celebrating the history of steel in Chicago. The 15 brick buildings will be places where visitors can learn about the steel industry, the city's labor history and the complicated process of cleaning up the site.

They're using a mill in Duisburg, Germany as an example of what can be done. In 1985 the mill closed and was turned into a tourist attraction. The gasholder tak is now a diving pool, the ore bunkers were converted into climbing walls, and the casting facility is now a concert hall. The Acme mill will be less touristy, and more to preserve history and education, but we think it will be just as interesting, nonetheless.

Related: Check out Chicago Snapshot's photos of Acme's plant.

Photo via