US. Steel South Works
Check out these weird abandoned concrete walls; what are they? Maybe you see them on your way to Calumet Fisheries, or en route to the Indiana Dunes. Always wondered what they are? Let’s find out!
The property between 79th street and approximately 89th street via Lake Shore Drive (US41) was once home to the industry giant US. Steel South Works; one of the largest iron foundries on Lake Michigan. The site was developed in response to steel processing plants north of the Chicago River expanding in the late 1800s - as businesses boomed, more land was needed to be acquired and thus the steel mills moved to the Calumet region.
South Works property opened its doors to business in 1889 at the convergence of the Calumet River with Lake Michigan; an ideal location with the Calumet Canal & Dock Company promoting access to rail and waterways for further steel transit. Immigrants flocked to the region for employment; at peak production, the company employed between 17-20,000 individuals on the South Works site alone. By 1952, it was estimated that the steel produced out of South Works had surpassed that of all of Britain. Steel manufactured here was being shipped as far as Ohio, and was used in most of our downtown’s skyscrapers (yes that means Sears Tower and the John Hancock Building).
About 20 years after its peak, the company started seeing signs of its own demise. Major layoffs and site closures started occurring in the 1970s with the nations deindustrialization; by 1992 the South Works property officially shut down. The site had been mostly torn down; what remains now is the gate house and the hollow ore bin walls south of the slip.
Much speculation has come into the South Chicago neighborhood as the city determines how to best utilize this property; which is still technically owned by US Steel. The expanse of land between 81st street and 89th was recently considered for purchase by the Spanish-based modular home builder Barcelona Housing Systems; however their innovative plan for the property is unlikely to go through as soil contamination (worded “industrial heritage” in their formal statement) has discouraged plans. The site was most recently up for consideration in Mayor Lightfoots casino property identification project. All movement on that possibility has since been halted as well.
There is already hope for one patch of land on this property. The stretch between Rainbow Beach (79th street & LSD) and 83rd street against the lake is currently being maintained by the Chicago Park District. They call this strip of lakefront territory Park 566 or Park USX. It’s under development with a habitat restoration team; the 68 acre lot is maintained with routine burns, invasive species removal and introducing native pollinator plants.
Both sites are accessible via bike route down US41! You can visit these public sites at any time and enjoy the landscape with a better understanding of the historical relevance of the property!
OOFD's Wander Ride Series
We know with COVID 19 many folks are craving some outside time. Some of the go to trails are not open or crowded as heck, so not the best to ride in as you try to stay socially distant. Instead, use our city's incredible bike lanes to cruise a new neighborhood. By the way, out of the 77, how many have you been to? Get out there. Explore this city. Ride its streets to soak in its mourning and enclosure and distance.
Find that interesting neighborhood you've heard of. Seek out that place that carries weight of our history. Stroll that cemetery or park for the first time. Take the back streets to get there. Wiggle around the city on two wheels and keep exploring. Use The Reader's Mellow Map and Openland's Get Outside Map. And check out our Bike Camping hopes and dreams. We'll do our best to keep you inspired enough to wanna immerse and educate yourself in the beauty that is our home, Chicago.
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