Santa Fe Grain Elevator (The Damen Silos)

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In the 1800’s, Chicago, at the southern tip of Lake Michigan, became one of the largest centers of the nations growing grain trade. Obviously, industrialists searched for the best way to participate in this lucrative business, and came up with the concept of the grain elevator: a massive, usually concrete industrial building that can receive, store, and distribute grain in the most efficient way possible. Chicago’s ideal location near the Midwest, where grain is grown, and on the Great Lakes, where grain can be shipped, meant that soon grain elevators were popping up as fast as industrialists could make them. One of the main issues with these grain elevators was that grain dust + oxygen + spark = explosion.

The story of the Santa Fe Grain Elevator starts in 1905 with an explosion and a fire. The old grain terminal in that area, on a river a short distance away, exploded, and burned to the ground almost immediately. While some saw this as a disaster resulting in thousands of dollars of property gone and multiple lives lost, others saw it as a business opportunity. The next year, architect John S. Metcalf and the Santa Fe railroad company, among others, built a new and modernized grain elevator not far from the one that had been destroyed.

DSC_0137 The Santa Fe Grain Elevator Today

The Grain elevator was truly an amazing example of industry. It surpassed its now deceased counterpart’s capacity, now able to reach 1,700,000 bushels of grain when full. It drew water from the canal right into its own power plant, which generated the 1,500 horsepower needed to keep the elevator’s machinery going. However, for all of the impressive industrial technology it had, the old problem of exploding grain dust never went away.

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An old piece of machinery 

In 1932, an explosion destroyed part of the elevator and killed 3 workers. To the owner’s credit, they did attempt to repair the elevator to make it as fireproof as possible, but a series of fires and explosions in other grain elevators around the city crippled the Chicago grain trade as a whole. Soon, Chicago was thoroughly out-competed by other Midwestern cities. The end came in 1977, when a huge explosion and fire put the Santa Fe Grain Elevator out of commission for good.

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Inside the grain elevator itself

The Grain Elevator made an appearance in the movie Transformers 4, where the bridges that connected the two sections were blown up. The city is currently trying to sell the property for a steal of a deal at only 11 million dollars.

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The abandoned warehouse is dwarfed in size by the massive silos of the elevator

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Shattered windows in the abandoned warehouse

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Large open space inside the warehouse

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An abandoned… Building? Frame? Take your pick

There are many rumors about ways one can still get to the top of the silos, although i found no ladders during my exploration. The property is fenced off, but if you look hard enough, jumping the fence is not necessary. This building has been abandoned for a fairly long time, so watch out for collapse and condition issues, although it definitely seems to have been built to last.

Thanks for reading!

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