Tag Archives: fire

Madison Protests

For two days this week I joined the throngs of protesters in support of unions’ rights to collective bargaining, which Gov. Scott Walker (R) plans to do away with entirely. After just one month in office Gov. Walker has given corporate interests budget deals that have created a $137 million dollar deficit. This deficit of Walker’s making is being used as leverage against the rights of state employees. Wisconsin has historically been on the forefront of workers’ rights in the United States. To wipe away years of progress with the stroke of a pen is unacceptable. We must press Gov. Walker for a compromise. The protests have been peaceful and I am proud to be exercising my rights as an American citizen.

On Wisconsin!

Protest Against Gov. Scott Walker


Gov. Walker Protest in Madison, WI

Protest Against Gov. Scott Walker

Rev. Jesse Jackson

Rev. Jesse Jackson

Protest Against Gov. Scott Walker

The Damen Silos

Up For Auction

Photo: The state of Illinois would like to move this property that sits opposite downtown Chicago.

The colloquial “Damen Silos” harken back to an era when Chicago was a big player in the grain trade. The land on which the grain elevator lords over has been in use since the early 1800’s. In 1832 a fire broke out at the grain elevator and then rebuilt with with concrete. Disaster struck again on September 9, 1905 when spontaneous combustion killed several workers and consumed the entire building within an hour. Immediately thereafter architect John S. Metcalf  was commissioned to build the current elevator.

Photo (source): View of the grain elevator looking northeast.

The National Park Service has an entry describing the location.:

The John S. Metcalf Company, consulting engineers, designed and built this facility for the Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe Railroad in 1906. The original complex included a powerhouse, elevator with temporary storage and processing silos, and thirty-five grain storage silos. With a 400,000 bushel capacity, this complex could accommodate sixty railroad cars at the elevator and 300 railroad cars at a yard a short distance away. Equipmentat the site included two driers, bleachers, oat clippers, cleaners, scourers and dust packers. Using filtered water from the adjacent South Branch of the Chicago River, boilers with a total of 1,500 horsepower generated the steam and electricity required bythemachinery. The thirty-five grain silos south of this facility had a total capacity of one million bushels. In 1932, a grain dust explosion ignited a fire which destroyed the original timber and brick building. The Atchison Topeka & Santa Fe Railroad rebuilt the concrete processing house with fourteen reinforced concrete silos; the capacity of the facility was increased to 1,700,000 bushels. After reconstruction, the rail road leased the facility to the Stratton Grain Company.

Photo: (source): Drawing of the grain elevator from around 1908.

In 1977 another large explosion caused significant damage to the grain elevator. Afterwards the location fell into disuse and became property of the state. The real estate company charged with selling the property states “the property was owned by the state who wanted seventeen million for it and it didn’t sell. They have lowered it to eleven million, but they are only willing to sell it in one big chunk.” In this economic downturn it is highly unlikely that this waterfront property will move anytime soon.

Road Trip to Oblivion

Photo: A lone abandoned Oldsmobile Eighty-Eight hides below the view of the Chicago skyline.

The silos were the last location of the day during this urbex expedition. The sun was fast fading and we were a bit fatigued. Other urbex explorers have braved several stories of rickety stairs with missing platforms to get shots from the top of the cavernous silos. I wasn’t having any of that. I had already broken my tripod handle and slipped on some ice. My urbex partner lost a lens cap and broke his tripod leg. We were content with just standing in awe of the colossal monument to human industry.


Flickr – My Abandoned Damen Silos set.

Flickr – Search for most interesting photos tagged “damen+silos.”

GenDisasters – Excerpt from New York Daily Tribune about 1905 fire.

Google Books – 1908 description of the grain elevator.

Historic American Engineering Record – Description of location and photo inventory for the Library of Congress.

John Hutton (PDF) – Thesis proposal for redeveloping the site.

Library of Congress – 19 b&w photos of the grain elevator.

New City – A brief history and quotes about the silos.

Algonquin Ablaze

Entry Point

A commenter notified American Urbex that the abandoned factory in Algonquin, IL went up in flames early this morning. Firefighters responded to the scene around 4:40 am on Monday, October 18 when several passing motorists called the fire in. Fire departments were able to contain the fire and did not send crews inside. No injuries were reported and the fire is under investigation. The building has been declared a total loss.

The two story abandoned Toastmaster factory has been abandoned for nearly ten years. The factory used to produce shell casings and small appliances. The complex was designed by architect William Abel and opened as Peter Brothers Manufacturing Company. It has sometimes been documented in the urbex community as the “Algonquin Toy Factory.”

It is always a shame when an urbex location disappears. The factory was already slated for demolition to make room for an expanded highway project. Given the early morning hour when the fire started I would not be surprised if arson is found to be the cause. The building’s demise will now certainly be hastened. I’m glad I had a chance to explore and document it in the interest of preservation when I did.

News Sources:

Chicago Breaking News

My FOX Chicago

ABC 7 News

My Flickr Gallery – Abandoned Algonquin

Meet Reggie


Meet Reggie. By his own accord, Reggie has lived in East St. Louis 48 of his 50 years. My friend and I talked with Reggie for a good twenty minutes about East St. Louis. Talking to people that live in and around urbex locations is a great way to get the raw story. Reggie was no different. It seemed like everyone in the neighborhood knew him as they stopped to say hello while passing by. Through our conversation we were able to get a better sense of what life was like in East St. Louis. Reggie was able to “connect the dots” on the research I had done before going there. In the course of our conversation though, Reggie hit us with something we didn’t expect.

He was extremely supportive of what we were doing.

In a city that is more than 97% African American two tall, bald white guys with expensive cameras stick out. At first we weren’t sure what Reggie’s reaction would be when he approached us. When we explained that we were documenting the level of poverty in his neighborhood, his support became evident. Oddly enough, this theme was consistent throughout the day as more East St. Louis citizens approached us. There is a grave injustice about what is going on in East St. Louis and America needs to see it.


If you look closely at the house Reggie is pointing to there is some smoke damage to the upper portion and the front door is boarded up. The beige house next door was also damaged by the fire. Right next to where this photo was taken is this house.

Gutted by Fire

Reggie told us that these houses burned within a week of each other and that he knew the people who lived there. When asked about the cause he gave two answers. He figured that an electrical fire or accident was a probable cause, but he was quite adamant that arson may have been at play. (I could still feel the heat emanating from this house.) In a middle-class neighborhood a house like this would be rebuilt. Not so in East St. Louis. These lots will most likely stay in this condition until weather elements destroy them completely.

Gutted by Fire

Gutted by Fire

Gutted by Fire

These houses damaged by fire will remain like a scar in their neighborhoods. They are unsightly health hazards and dangerous. They are everywhere in East St. Louis.

This is the United States of America you never learn about in school. This is the place Reggie calls home.