|Blueprint of the southern end of the Joliet Arsenal from 1944. Tracing by H.J Cox|
|From the Chicago Tribune, "Jan. 20, 1958: A fully-automated shell-filling line designed and built by Mechanics Research Department of American Machine & Foundry Company for the Joliet Arsenal. Key stations along the assembly line were observed on five television monitors by a single-operator seated at a remote console. — Tribune Archive photo / Chicago Tribune, July 29, 2014"|
The Midewin came into existence in 1996, from land transferred from the Army to the US Forest Service. After subsequent land transfers, it has reached it's current size of roughly 20,000 acres, 1,200 of which include bison, which can roam in the otherwise unused land.
|Entering from Route 53, this is the beginning of the Henslow Trail. Where I was standing leads to where railroad tracks once lay, but itself wasn't part of the railroad lines in the facility.|
|Looking Northeastward from 41.374917, -88.121577|
|The Henslow turns southwestward towards the IL-53 Bridge.|
|Somewhere, The Who's "I Can See For Miles" is playing.|
|Looking Southeast. The facility railroad tracks would continue in various areas for about five miles, all the way to the tree line. That tree line itself is the right-of-way of the former Wabash Railroad, and today's Wauponsee Glacial Trail.|
|Snapshot of the southeastern part of the bridge.|
|The Henslow was under construction when we went, as the wooden pilings were being replaced. It was necessary, given how rotted the old pilings were.|
|Looking east from the other side of the bridge.|
|Under these wood pilings, the railroad tracks are still there, albeit long abandoned. This is a little clue of their existence.|
|Under one of the rotting wood spots, I tried my best to get a pic of the railroad tracks underneath. You can kind of see the wooden ties, but no tracks in this view, sadly.|
|I believe these tracks are owned by CN. There was a maintenance truck working on the day we went.|
|West of the bridge, this land becomes part of the US Forest Service.|
|South of here, a group of roughly 50 bison call this area home.|
|Leaving the park, one can see the bridge over IL-53 and the maintenance truck working.|
|As we were leaving, I found this spike next to the trail. Just another reminder of the days when this was more than a simple walking trail.|
|On the west side of the plant with it's former connection to the Gulf, Mobile & Ohio Railroad. From the Chicago Tribune: "April 16, 1973: Protesters stand on train tracks at Joliet Army Ammunition Plant, blocking a freight train for two hours. The protesters said they were members of the Religious Resistance against U.S. Imperialism and were protesting the bombing of Cambodia. Five people were arrested." — Roy Hall / Chicago Tribune, July 29, 2014|
The land was considered a Superfund site for a long period, given that explosives and shells were buried at the site following it's disuse.
|From the Chicago Tribune:"Jan. 24, 1994: An aerial view shows part of the 19,000 acres of the former Joliet Arsenal that eventually became the Midewin National Tallgrass Prairie." — Tribune Archive photo / Chicago Tribune, July 29, 2014|
Overall, I suggest visiting the Midewin site for yourself. It's sheer vastness is such that it really puts into perspective just how much land was needed to manufacture weapons. It's quite a beautiful hike or bike ride today.
In addition, I would like to thank you for reading this article, and extend a special thanks to all the Forest Service volunteers at the site, who were out in full force, and were extremely helpful and friendly during our visit. It was how I was able to procure the copy of the blueprints for the site from the 1940's!
If you have any pictures or other information you'd like to share about the area, please do so in the comments! Thanks!