Tag Archives: arsenic

Solvay Coke & Gas

Solvay Coke & Gas

The Solvay Coke & Gas plant sits in a prime real-estate area of Milwaukee. The plant originally opened in 1906 and closed its doors in April, 1983. Plans to demolish the expansive site have been in the works for years, but the intensive cleanup efforts mandated by the EPA have put this plant in limbo. It is, after all, a Superfund site. Arsenic, lead, asbestos, and a whole host of other chemicals have been mixed into the ground.

Don’s Rail Photos website describes what went on at this once state of the art facility.

Coal was brought in by boat and by rail and lifted to the top of the tipple. It was then dropped into an extremely wide gauge electric rail car which ran on the top level and took power by trolley from the wire at the front edge. The coal was then dropped into ovens where it was heated to a high temperature in a low oxygen atmosphere. The carbon reacted with the oxygen to produce carbon monoxide, or coal gas. There were also other smaller amounts of gasses trapped in the coal. The gases were collected and sent to storage tanks. The resulting hot carbon was then pushed out the front door of the oven into a hopper car and sent to a quenching tower. This produced coke.

The first time I visited the Solvay Coke & Gas site I was shocked by its location. We were not more than one city block from a major Milwaukee shopping center, but yet it felt like we had entered another world entirely. The site is absolutely massive in scale. What remains though is only a fraction of what used to be. Concrete foundations  of buildings long gone still remain. (Take a closer look at the map above.)

Solvay Coke & Gas

In its present state the Solvay site has four main buildings and a trailer. The first time I entered the front offices my urbex partner and I heard water flowing in the basement. Upon investigating we saw four inches of standing water and could hear a steady flow.  When I visited a second time there was a clear watermark that was up to the ceiling of the basement. The second floor has a room with an ornate fireplace and a well stocked bookshelf. Unfortunately vandals have since destroyed these treasures and smashed all but a few of the glass windows.


The next building behind the offices houses a labratory on the second floor. Some of the scientists’ instruments remain behind. Bottles full of unknown substances, extensive logs, and even samples can still be found here. It is unfortunate, though, that the last time I visited this building water had filled the basement completely. It has made the wood floor very unstable.

Solvay Coke & Gas

The largest building on the site is all that remains of the main factory floor. On the last trip I stumbled across a giant passed out drunken robot. I do not condone the desecration of urbex locations, though this robot made me reconsider my stance. It is a beautiful work of art that only those brave enough to venture out to such a location can enjoy. Bravo, whoever created this.

Robot @ Solvay Coke & Gas

Research Links:

EPA location description

EPA contaminants description

Very descriptive health consultation about the Solvay site

Solvay Community Involvement Plan (PDF)

JS Online article discussing redevelopment of the site

Old operational photos of Solvay Coke & Gas

Alexander Fortney’s thesis revolving around the Solvay site

Asbestos abatement project from 2004

Milwaukee BizJournal article on new owners from 2006

Mark Bertieri’s collection of Solvay photos

Undercity’s collection of Solvay photos