Vacant fire house among the architectural ghosts of long-gone Union Stock Yards

March 26, 2012

The Union Stock Yards--the square-mile South Side slaughterhouse and meat packer of yore that once fed the nation--has been gone for more than 40 years; its vast acreage has been a successful industrial park since the hogs stopped squealing in 1971.

Significant remnants of the old stockyards can still be found, though. The landmark stone main gate and a bit of the smell--that "elemental odor," as Upton Sinclair called it in The Jungle--survive, as do the freight rail lines that once served the area and some buildings. Even a long-abandoned, but nicely preserved firehouse from the stockyards' heyday, as I saw during a trip to the industrial park during the weekend.

Located on a city-owned parcel on the northwestern half of the industrial park, the firehouse is either more than century-old or close to it. The assessor's office puts the construction date at 1904 while other sources put the date at about 1919. Either way, the trim two-story brick building has been unused since 1964--and the street that once ran in front of the structure is long gone. The old station sat among trees and underbrush, now cleared. You can see the cut branches stacked up against the north side of the building:

And allow me to digress a moment to take a look at that great stockyards' main gate on West Exchange at Peoria. The tower of the vacant former Stock Yards National Bank, built in 1925 and a city landmark, is in the distance. The stockyards stretched from Halsted to Ashland and from 47th to 39th:

Back to the fire house...

If it was built in 1904, then the firemen stationed there fought--and perished--in the 1910 stockyard's fire that claimed the lives of 21 firefighters including the department's chief. Only the 9/11 terrorist attacks claimed more U.S. firefighters' lives in a single incident. A bronze monument to the lives lost sits behind the stockyards' entry gate.

So what's the fate of the old fire house? I'll make some inquiries. The building isn't among a set of 13 classic fire houses landmarked by the city in 2003 (we discussed one of those fire station back in 2010). But the city soon will be listing online historic properties for sale. Maybe this old house could be on the list.