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East St. Louis sites
- Armour Meatpacking Plant
- East St. Louis Stockyards
- Hunter Meatpacking Plant
north of downtown, East St. Louis, Illinois
These three ruinous sites bear witness to the former role of East St. Louis and its surrounding towns as a pivitol center for meatpacking, and the loss of tens of thousands of jobs in this region as industry and transportation evolved beyond the facilities that operated here.
Armour Meatpacking Plant
National City, Illinois
The Armour Meatpacking Plant has stood abandoned for nearly fifty years. Its state of decay is utterly ruinous; it is legendary in urban exploration circles. Though I first photographed it in 2001, I have yet to brave the interior -- an environment I am unwilling to enter without a hard hat and a few companions.
In its heyday, Armour employed 4,500 people, slaughtering and butchering the cows and pigs that came through the nearby stockyards. But industry needs changed, and faced with both the demands of an organized labor force, an increasingly aged facility, and an industry moving towards decentralization, Armour chose to relocate to elsewhere in the Midwest. The plant was closed in 1959 and "donated" to the city of East St. Louis. Since then, entire buildings have collapsed, brick has crumbled, roofs rotted away, and a forest has grown up around the plant. No efforts have been made to clear the land for any reuse; it remains an icon of the area's deteroration and a beacon for explorers of ruins.
Photographs from November 2006
The National Stockyards at National City today are all but abandoned; the site which once routed thousands of heads of livestock daily now consists mostly empty fields and vacant concrete frames. The National Hotel on the site burned in the 1980s. A 1999 fire -- possibly intentional -- destroyed the 19th century Exchange Building on the grounds. A replacement building still conducts some business on the grounds, though livestock no longer passes through.
The village of National City was essentially incorporated by the Stockyards company itself -- a common event a hundred years ago, used to avoid paying corporate taxes to the city of East St. Louis. Similar tactics produced Sauget, Illinois on the other side of town.
For more on the Stockyards, see East St. Louis, Illinois: "Hog Capital of the Nation", a lengthy and in-depth history of the Stockyards at Ecology of Absence.
Hunter Packing Company
The Hunter meatpacking plant began in 1893 and closed in 1982, the last of the big three to die (nearby Swift, now demolished, closed in 1967.)
Demolition began in 2003, resumed in 2005, and stands incomplete at the end of 2006. Several outlying buildings were removed, and the main complex partially destroyed, but the work seems to have abruptly ended, leaving massive piles of building rubble and a main building that simply ends in open air, with broken concrete slabs hanging by their rebar.
The remnants of a small neighborhood stand in the dozen or so blocks nearby, a small chunk of East St. Louis cut off from the rest of the town by highways and railroads. Crumbling houses and overgrown lots are typical. A small one-story church stands directly across the street from the plant. In the blocks to the north, several active industries remain, including a scrapyard and a trucking facility.
Gallery: Hunter Meatpacking Plant
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