Armour Meat Packing Plant, New Insights into the Power Plant

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Image by Jason Gray.

Sanborn maps and the recollections of Dennis Bensheimer, who provided me with the wonderful photos from 1986, reveal several interesting new facets of the power plant at Armour, which is located behind the coolers and refrigeration plant. First, the Sanborn map below from 1905 shows only one smokestack (represented as a black circle), the northern one, and seven boilers (shown as rectangular black boxes on the map).

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Looking at the two smokestacks, the older smokestack is in the background; at first glance it is in better condition than its later mate. But closer inspection reveals that the older smokestack was probably rebuilt at some point, as the bricks switch from a black, sooty color to a cleaner red color about two-thirds of the way up.


Sometime after 1905, a later edition of the Sanborn maps, dated enigmatically as 1905-1955 show the second smokestack in place. Interestingly, the seven small boilers have been supplemented by two more, larger boilers.

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Dennis Bensheimer described the boilers as having run the entire length of the room when he visited in June 1986, just as the Sanborn maps show. Therefore, sometime in the intervening years from then until now, approximately one half of the boilers seem to have been cut up for scrap. One of the boilers, apparently left behind for an unknown reason after being severely damaged and detached from its mounts, lies on a pile of rubble in the room. The other boilers are still in place on the other side of the old smokestack.

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One thing confuses me, however; the southern end of the power plant was added after 1905, according to the Sanborn maps, but I cannot see any seem in the brickwork. Normally it is relatively easy to spot where a new section of brickwork begins. Perhaps the entire power plant was rebuilt? I do not know.

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Below, you can see the twisted, heavily damaged exhaust pipe that lead from the now missing boilers over to the second smokestack, which is in the next room (which will be examined next week). Clearly, the smokestack was added to accommodate the addition exhaust from the new boilers, and perhaps to remove some of the stress on the first smokestack. Also, the Sanborn maps show the second smokestack with a smaller circumference, as if to represent a smaller capacity.


Here is a close up shot of the exhaust pipe; it was ripped from the wall when the scrappers removed the lower part of the pipe.

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The older smokestack seems to have almost protected the older boilers, which are still in situ (and will be addressed tomorrow), and their accompanying coal hoppers, left with coal still in them.


To the left of the smokestack, there is a large brick structure with rectangular openings constructed of rusted metal. The two boilers (out of the original seven) on this side of the stack apparently vented into this structure which presumably attaches to the smokestack. The door at left, clogged with what appears to be black ash, was perhaps an access door.


Presumably there was a whole row of coal hoppers continuing on down the room for the now missing boilers, such as the ones seen below.


Below is a detailed shot of one of the boilers that was damaged during removal but left behind. It appears the scrappers were breaking the boilers up into pieces for easier removal, and despite that there is an access door large enough for them to fit through, and presumably how they originally were installed in the power plant.

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In the far southern end of the room is a large depressed area in the floor; according to Dennis Bensheimer, he was told there were two large flywheel steam engines at Armour, and while there is a clear location for one next door in the refrigeration plant, I suspect this pit in the power plant might have been where the other steam engine was located. Steam produced by the boilers powered the engines, which were attached to compressors that produced refrigeration.

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Below are the concrete bases that I believe once held one of the two engines. Mr. Bensheimer learned that there was an engine with a 40 foot flywheel, and I propose this was its location. Frustratingly, the Sanborn maps provide little information in regards to the location of the steam engines, despite physical evidence and personal testimonies of past employees that talked to Mr. Bensheimer.

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The roof is in terrible condition, and is collapsing in several large sections. I wonder if water was able to permeate along the seem between the original power plant and the addition. It would explain why it began to collapse very close to where the expansion began.


Tomorrow, I will look at the remaining boilers in the power plant.

Update: Demolished by implosion in April 2016.

2 Comments Add yours

  1. Ann says:


  2. Casey F. Ryback says:

    That last shot almost looks like smoke is rising from that smokestack once again.

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