Every mine and mill in the copper country required power. In the early days that power was mechanically based, utilizing line shafts and pulleys to transfer an engine’s rotational energy to various machines and equipment. Later that power was derived from electricity, and those same machines and equipment were simply plugged into a power outlet. But in either case – be it mechanically or electrically based – the power a mine or mill craved was bred from steam. Steam that was produced in boilers. Boilers that were housed in a Boiler House.
The Boiler House at the Quincy Smelting Works was originally not a house at all, but consisted instead of a simple locomotive boiler set inside the engine room. But as the facilities’ steam needs grew a dedicated boiler house with a more robust boiler was soon required. In 1905 a metal-clad addition was attached to the west end of the Cupola Building and a large vertical water-tube boiler was installed. But this monstrosity would soon prove inadequate as well, and a second boiler house would be constructed to join it in 1920. Together both buildings and the boilers contained within them would create a massive boiler complex which amazingly continues to stand today.
When looking at the Cupola Building’s silhouette it’s the newer 1920 boiler house that stands out the most prominently. Like all the buildings constructed during the 1920 renovations this new boiler house was built from concrete, and as such is rather stark and dull compared to the beautiful Cupola building next door.
A closer look reveals an attempt by its designers to add at least a few architectural flourishes. The window openings have round arched headers and its roof is outlined with protruding “cornice”. You can also make out each individual pouring of concrete, thanks to a series of horizontal lines and alternating shades of gray along the building’s facade.
The boiler house’s front facade is dominated by a rather large and robust concrete stack, which towers high over the Cupla’s roof line. Connected to the stack from the building’s second floor is the flue itself, which would have drawn exhaust gases from the adjacent boilers. Sitting down next to the stack on the first floor is a doorway, which was wide open when we came across it.
Peering into that open doorway we’re presented with what looks to be the back of the furnace itself. At the bottom sits an open door which looks to be for an ash pit, while up top there’s a large circular cap which looks to be covering up an old flue hole in the furnace itself. Makes me wonder if the current stack is a later replacement, added after the buildings’ original completion. Or perhaps the furnace originally vented here and Quincy simply created their own custom flue and closed this one off.
The current flue opening is rather large, consisting of what looks like a simple steel box. Bordering the box’s entrance into the building is a red-brick lining which most likely lined the entire opening all the way inside to the boiler itself.
As would be expected, the base of the stack features a small opening used to clean out accumulated ash. The opening’s steel door is intact and marked with the stack’s manufacturer, which appears to be a shop out of Chicago. I always find it interesting that local mines contracted out most of their work to out of region shops. You would think there was a local firm that could do the work just as easily…
Interesting to me is the date on the door – 1917. Thats actually a few years before the boiler house itself was supposed to have been built. This either means it took several years to finish the boiler house (which seems unlikely) or the stack was built first. But why build a stack without a boiler house to feed it? Odd…
Besides the stack and doorway, the rest of the building’s front facade is rather plain. Fortunately some forward thinking people had sealed up the building’s windows rather securely. Its too bad the rest of the buildings at the smelter weren’t so well protected. Of course sealed up or otherwise the building couldn’t avoid being tagged with some graffiti.
Making our way to the building’s backside we were able to find a window which had remained uncovered and generally intact. It allowed us to get a look at what the building once looked like at its prime.
Sitting behind the concrete 1920 boiler house is the older 1905 building, which is actually worse when it comes to architectural fortitude. Here the material of choice was iron, including a generous supply of corrugated sheathing. The entire structure seems to destroy my claim that older copper country buildings are always far superior to more modern techniques. This one is just plain ugly.
Here’s another angle – still ugly. The one bright spot, however, is the sandstone Backsmith shop in the lower left corner. This particular building is actually part of the Cupola building , attached to the west end of the engine room. (a building I failed to enter unfortunately)
From its backside you can make out the general size and scope of the old boiler house a bit better. The building is three stories in height – a size necessary to make room for the vertical boiler housed inside. You can actually see the top of the old boiler sticking up from the center of the roof line. The small steel stack also seen in the photo belongs to the blacksmith shop’s forge.
And here’s the top of that boiler again, this time as seen through an upper floor window. At first I thought this was part of the boiler house’s original stack, which seemed odd sitting in the center of the building like that. Turns out I was partially right as this “stack” is actually the top of the enclosed Cook Vertical Boiler, an unique piece of equipment we’ll take a closer look at next…
The Quincy Smelter is private property and is open to the public only during special Quincy Smelter Association’s tours and events.
If you have any photos of your own to contribute to the discussion, make sure to post them over at the Copper Country forum’s Quincy Smelter Thread.