Reliving the City of Steel – A Stroll Through the Joliet Iron Works Historic Site

Standing in the middle of the Joliet Iron Works Historic Site, the first thought that came through my mind was “Joliet’s Stonehenge.”  But, this was much more than a circular array of standing and balanced stones.  This used to be the second largest steel factory in the United States, which opened in the late 1800’s.

Today (over 140 years after the opening of Joliet Iron & Steel), the site is run by the Forest Preserve District of Will County – featuring a .59-mile paved trail weaving through remnants of the site.  The trail is a self-guided tour passing by foundations of blast furnaces and other structures in the park, with signs posting information on the steel-manufacturing process.

The park also provides access to 7.55-mile, crushed limestone/paved I&M Canal Trail.

Detroit Publishing Co. no. 05935.
Image of the Illinois Steel Works facility in Joliet, Illinois.
Taken from the Library of Congress American Memory site

Setting the Stage - 1873
It’s two years after the Great Chicago Fire.  Joliet Iron & Steel opens.  Two iron-making blast furnaces are built, but a financial panic causes the new furnaces to sit dormant for 7 years.  Railroads expand, including the Transcontinental Railroad.  Illinois is 2nd in the nation (after Pennsylvania) in rail production. 

Guided Tour

As you progress through the old Joliet Iron & Steel, information sign posts tell you the story of what you are seeing, and the people that worked at the location.    You will also notice on your path year markers and relevant events in history.  This also helps to take you back in time to further imagine the story you are walking through.

The Sights

In the video below are some photos I took while experiencing a walk through the peaceful setting of the historic site.  It’s a stark contrast to the noise and commotion of the plant during its active days, from the furnaces pumping out “dirty gas” to all hands on deck transporting the molten iron and everything in between.

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