The Boiler Complex (p1)

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.

Discuss…

  1. The stack is marked 1917 because that’s when it was actually constructed. They built the stack first in 1917, then the house in1918, in anticipation of putting the boiler in last. Unfortunately, the Baden-Hausen boiler company didn’t get around to actually delivering the boiler until 1919, likely because of WWI. So they had an empty boiler house for over a year, forcing them to rely on an old lomocotive boiler.

    Also, the 1905 boiler house is brick under that sheet metal. The original records said it was built of brick, but its current appearance threw me off too. If you look at the interior walls, though, you’ll see they’re brick with a nice coat of white paint.

  2. Not to offtrack you but this appears to be the last stack standing at the complex. I seem to remember in very recent history another steel stack with guy wires on it. Has this stack recently departed or am I imagining things? As I was in town this weekend and was looking at the place thinking I thought there was another stack.

    Ill get that Superior #2 write up to you after you’ve wrapped up the smelter project.

  3. I worked on units 7,8, & 9 at the power house in marquette. The new stack was 535′ tall. it takes specialized slip forming forms to build stacks, not many local contractors had this equipment. A crane came in on a total of 17 flat cars to remove the slip form when the stack was done. It took three cranes to put the one big crane together, it made the one lift, and they took it apart and loaded back on the rail cars and away it went.
    My thanks to you for all your work on this site.

  4. Brian… There was a second stack at the site, a large steel one that served the furnace building. It was removed during the recent EPA cleanup, I believe because it was in danger of collapse. So this concrete stack is all that remains.

    Jim… I suppose only a more nationally active company could afford the types of specialized equipment needed for stack construction, considering any local oriented outfit wouldn’t have enough work to support the cost.

    I believe, however, that C&H constructed its own stacks and had the equipment necessary to do it. But then again, C&H was a rather obtuse entity and probably had the money…

  5. That steel stack was the one sitting on that platform inside the building you covered already, wasn’t it? They put the nice little steel cover over the left over opening.

    How many cement stacks did C&H have? Most of the ones I can think of were brick, even the big tall ones. The only one I can think of off the top of my head is the one at the Ahmeek Mill and that was after the rebuild of the power plant at the mill
    All the ones along Calumet Ave were brick, the old South Hecla boiler/enginehouse that still stands, I believe the partial roof collapse was because the dynamiting of the stack.
    As usual Tech has a nice photo why the stack was removed.
    http://digarch.lib.mtu.edu/showbib.aspx?bib_id=688406#
    Tech has several nice photos of the Red Jacket Shaft stack being built, I couldn’t climb all the scaffolding everyday

  6. When I wrote my comment I was under the impression that both the Superior Stack and the South Hecla boiler stack were made of concrete, at least they look that way when seen in old photos. After taking another look at the Sanborn maps I find that they were in fact brick. (a 260 foot brick chimney no less!)

    So I guess you can build them yourself if they’re brick. Concrete, however, was another thing all together and required outside help.

  7. Gordy, the stack that got removed was completely demolished. It came down in August 2008, and unfortunately the removal didn’t go so well. There’s now a pretty large hole in the roof of the No.5 building/casting house were they somehow managed to destroy the roof as well. Too bad, but it had to go…I’ve seen the stability assessement, and they found the stack was literally hanging by a thread!

  8. Craig, Before I go farther, that stack removed would have been the stack for the #5 furnace, right?
    I think that steel piece of stack sitting on that platform inside the furnace building was from the stack taken down. From the looks of that stack removed, it was a steel wrapped brick lined stack.
    I could understand them losing control of its removal, just looking at what pictures I can find.
    http://coppercountryexplorer.com/2009/11/16/the-combo-furnace-p1/
    This is the part Mike has the photos of the former stack and the nice little lid on top of the remains of the stack. It would be the 6th and 9th images from the top of the article.
    Of course maybe I am lost, being I never went around the complex,

  9. Gordy, you’re right. The capped stack, with the section of steel tube sitting next to it, is the “main” stack/Cook boiler that vented both the no.3 and no.5 furnaces. The stack that got demolished was the no.5 “bypass” stack, used if they wanted to just vent no.5 and bypass the boiler. There’s very little of it left, apart from some of the brick flue and base.

  10. Ok, so at one time, 3 stacks would have been visible.

  11. In total the complex had nine stacks I think – though not all occurring simultaneously. Four at the reverb building, two original steel stacks at the combo 4/5 furnace, one bypass stack at the 4/5 furnace, and two stacks at the boiler complex.

    In its final configuration I’m not sure what stacks were visible.

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