Date of Visit: January 25, 2013
I’ve lived in Chicago since 2004. I probably drove past the Damen Silos on Interstate 55 a hundred times, and each time I would think, “You know, I should go check that place out sometime. ” Well, I finally got around to it on January 25, 2013.
The Damen Silos are a well known urbex location in Chicago, but they’ve been stripped of anything interesting, and they’re really just a graffiti location nowadays. But there’s still something magical about those silos rising high along the Chicago River. They’re one of the only remaining throwbacks to an era when Chicago was a major grain distributor.
The original silos date back to the 1800’s. A newspaper article from 1888 indicates when the current incarnation of the silos began: “Judge Tuley issued a license for a public warehouse of Class A to the Sante Fe Elevator & Dock Company. The warehouse will be known as the Santa Fe Elevator A and will be located on the south bank of the West Branch of the South Branch of the Chicago River at Canalport.”
However, on September 9, 1905, a spontaneous combustion fire destroyed the elevator, along with $500,000 in grain. The facility was rebuilt in 1906, but burned again in 1932. In 1933, the current 800,000 bushel capacity facility was built (from the June 28, 1933 Chicago Tribune): “The big elevator is to be erected by the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe railroad on the south bank of the river and on the east side of Damen avenue. This is the site of an old grain elevator of 400,000 bushels’ capacity, which was destroyed by fire last December.”
The silos were abandoned when another explosion and fire gutted them in 1977. Since then they’ve been standing empty, reminding passersby of Chicago’s industrial past.
They were used as a set for Transformers 4 in September 2013 (after my visit), and the bridge between the silos was imploded as part of the filming. I’m grateful that the silos still stand – as gutted and scrapped as they are – but I recognize they might not be around for much longer. Enjoy them while you can, graffiti artists and photographers!