One of the Forest Preserve District’s most intriguing preserves now has its own museum exhibit showcasing the people who kept the downtown Joliet Iron Works plant humming a century ago.
“Joliet Iron Works: The Industry that Built a Community” details the history of the preserve now known as Joliet Iron Works Historic Site in downtown Joliet.
The exhibit is on display at another Forest Preserve site, Isle a la Cache Museum in Romeoville, through Sunday, March 14, and can be viewed during museum hours: 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday and noon to 4 p.m. Sunday. The museum is closed on Monday.
The indoor museum exhibit allows visitors to view photos, artifacts and publications from the Forest Preserve’s Joliet Iron Works collection, which illustrates the remarkable story of Joliet's steel industry.
“This temporary exhibit brings you back to the days when Joliet was a center for steel manufacturing and showcases life in and around Joliet Iron Works in the early 1900s,” said Jen Guest, a Forest Preserve program coordinator. “Using the museum’s collection of the company’s newsletter, we get a glimpse of this company and its groundbreaking approach to safety and the well-being of their workers.”
Those who are interested in viewing the outdoor Iron Works remnants, which include foundations of the blast furnaces and other structures from the dismantled factory, can tour the Joliet Iron Works Historic Site preserve, located on Columbus Street, east of Route 53/Scott Street in downtown Joliet. Preserve hours are 8 a.m. to sunset.
But the indoor exhibit at Isle a la Cache Museum provides a more in-depth look at the site and features items that cannot be viewed by touring the outdoor steel industry remnants at the Joliet preserve.
“The preserve’s interpretive signs give a general overview of Joliet Iron Works, but the exhibit focuses on the workers, their sense of community at the plant and safety issues, which brings the story of the site to life,” Guest said.
The exhibit is a mixture of interpretive panels, photos, videos and artifacts arranged inside Isle a la Cache Museum.
“We have a unique collection of photographs and copies of the historic company newsletter, The Mixer, that would not be available on site in the preserve during a tour,” Guest explained. “This gives us a chance to showcase some key items from the collection for public viewing.”
Guest said the Romeoville exhibit is designed to educate visitors about Joliet Iron Works and its connection to the area and to inspire them to visit the site in person or to join a future tour or online program highlighting the preserve.
“Most people from Joliet can link their family heritage to someone coming to this area to work at companies that made up Joliet Iron Works,” Guest said. “The preserve is unique and unlike any other that we have in the District. It tells a story of the community and industrial history, and is home to urban wildlife.”
For online or in-person programs featuring Joliet Iron Works Historic Site, visit the Event Calendar.
Due to the state's COVID-19 pandemic restrictions, museum visitors are required to wear masks and the building's capacity will be restricted to 25 percent.
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