Acme Steel Coke Plant

Near the South Deering Neighborhood. Southern tip of Chicago. 2004-2006
Acme Steel Coke Plant

Back in July 2004, I was driving past the Acme Steel Coke Plant that was located on Torrance Avenue near theĀ  South Deering neighborhood on Chicago’s extreme Southern tip. I noticed that the fence was partly skewed. It was locked, but the chain had some slack in it. So I thought, “Hmm it would be interesting to take photos in there”.

I came back the next day. With my first camera. A Sony Cybershot camera. It only produced JPGs. Back in 2004, there were no real compact action cams. I was more into still photography anyway. So I parked a few blocks away, away from the entrance. I squeezed through the opening in the gate. Spent a few hours in the summer sun there. The place smelled of old grease and dirt. A very caustic, and filthy place.

Inside the facility

I ventured into the machine shops, the there was a 25 Ton Niles Crane. The power was still on. I heard the humming of the electrical cabinets. I dared not open any of them, I did not want to get fried. But the plant power was still on. In hindside, I could have operated that huge over head crane. hmm.. I really should have, but I vowed not to touch or take anything. I kept my hands off of a lot of knobs, switches, etc.

So the first visit was in July 2004. I went back three days in a row, thenĀ  I posted the photos. Then a few years later, I see people there. It was the Pullman Historic Society. They had people there salvaging things for a “museum” that never got built. I had permission that time to be in the Acme Steel Coke Plant. That time, I had a tripod and an actual DSLR that shot RAW photos.

In 2004, I went back three consecutive days then I posted my photos. I knew once I posted my photos, people would know I was in there.

Coke is pretty much baked coal. To get the impurities out. They use coke to fuel the blast furnaces at steel mills. I think coke burns hotter and cleaner. Also the process leaves lots of nasty byproducts. This soil is most likely an EPA disaster. Even in 2020.

I suspect from the calendars left on the walls that this plant somehow closed in 2001. I think it was a “lock out” meaning the plant officials decided to skip any drama, and lock out its employees in 2001. There were personal items and photos left in the lockers and locker rooms.

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Comments (1)

Hi Chris! I am writing my master’s thesis about Acme Coke and U.S. Steel South Works, and these images are great documentary evidence of what existed here in 2004 as compared to what exists today in 2020. Would it be alright with you if I included a few of your images as comparisons to my own documentary photographs? I would of course include your name to source the images. It would be greatly helpful in expressing my thesis argument. Please let me know!

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