Hear riveting tales of Joliet’s industrial past with ‘Stories from Steel’ exhibit

If you enjoy learning about history and geology and are curious about Joliet’s industrial past, plan to stop by “Stories from Steel,” a Joliet Iron Works artifact exhibit that will be on display from Nov. 1 through Jan. 31 at Isle a la Cache Museum in Romeoville. 

The exhibit can be viewed without registration during museum hours: 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tuesdays to Saturdays and noon to 4 p.m. Sundays.”

Visitors to the free, family-friendly exhibit will learn how iron and steel were produced at the once-thriving plant and how the industry put Joliet on the map. During its heyday, from 1880 through the 1930s, Joliet Iron Works produced iron and steel products that were shipped around the globe.

Amy Haller, an interpretive naturalist at Isle a la Cache Museum in Romeoville displays some of the artifacts that will be included in a “Stories of Steel” exhibit from Nov. 1 through Jan. 31 at the museum. The artifacts tell the tale of Joliet Iron Works, an iron manufacturing facility from 1880 to the 1930s that put Joliet on the map and drew workers from around the world. (Forest Preserve District photo | Anthony Schalk)

The exhibit was created so people can view artifacts from that era, which are normally in storage, said Amy Haller, a Forest Preserve program manager.

“We have a lot of artifacts,” she said. “And we want to share these special stories that they have.”

Each item will tell its own story in its own words.

“So, the exhibit is a little bit different,” Haller said. “These artifacts will have personalities, which is a fun way to present all these stories. And after viewing the exhibit, visitors will know more about iron production and how this was a very important industry for Joliet and the rest of the country, if not the world.”

Some of the artifacts that will be on display include:

  • A donated rail from the Pike’s Peak Cog Railway in Colorado that was scavenged by a lineman who was working in the area when the railway was being repaired. The rail has the imprint, “Illinois Steel Co. Joliet Works 1890.”
  • One of the bricks used to absorb the heat and protect the furnace itself from the molten iron.
  • A chunk of limestone, a piece of iron ore and a lump of coke, some of the materials needed for steel production.
  • A mule shoe found along the I&M Canal. Joliet Iron Works produced steel used in horse (and mule) shoes sent around the world.
  • The plant’s magazine, “The Ledger,” which was produced from 1887 through 1891 and a companywide newsletter called WireCo Life from 1950.

Haller said it’s important to show artifacts from a range of time periods because while steel stopped being produced at the main site in the 1930s, the finishing mill stayed open into the 1980s.

“Stories from Steel” was developed by museum staff, with the support of The Nature Foundation of Will County.

For more information on the Forest Preserve District of Will County, visit ReconnectWithNature.org.