Friday, August 21, 2009

The Consolidated Grain & Barge Co. grain elevator in South Cumminsville, Ohio

Today Isaac took me to the grain elevator formerly operated by the Consolidated Grain & Barge Company in South Cumminsville (west part of Cincinnati). It was a remarkable experience and seems to have laid the groundwork for future collaborations between us.

In ruins since October 2008, when the "top" or northern section of the structure was demolished, this grain elevator (photographed from ground-level by Joe Wessels and from space by Google Maps' satellites) is quite an oddity: it stands in complete isolation. (For more photographs of the elevator before and during this stage of demolition, visit the Queen City Disco.)

As one can see, it was once a large facility, built in at least two stages, and probably capable of storing more than two million bushels of grain in bulk. The elevator is in fact so big that one might suspect that it was originally built to receive grain for a nearby flourmill, animal-feed mill or brewery that was subsequently demolished. Positioned along the banks of Mill Creek, the elevator was in fact built to transship grain from rail cars (farms in Indiana and Ohio) to barges (markets in St. Louis or News Orleans). But there are no barge-loading facilities (nor ruins of them) on the water-side of the elevator. Furthermore, on the elevator's other side (the one visible in Joe Wessel's photo), there is only a single track laid down by the old Cincinnati, Hamilton & Dayton Railroad. Such a massive elevator would normally service a train shed into which four or five train tracks or "spurs" would feed.

Not surprisingly, there is very little public information about the Consolidated elevator, which bears no corporate signs or logos upon it. Its address, 3180 Beekman Street, is no longer listed. (Try 3100 Beekman, instead.) In 2000, a photographer named Casey Walker wrote that "In the background, under the viaduct, [there] is a very big grain elevator. From closer I could see huge cracks in the concrete grain elevator; I heard that it had failed as soon as it was built and was never used." Never used? Impossible. The blue plastic (!) grain-bucket that I kept as a souvenir of today's visit still had grain in it. But this fellow was certainly responding to something that is really there: this particular grain elevator is remarkably isolated from its surroundings, a true island.

Based upon my preliminary research, it seems that the first section (now destroyed) was probably built as a rail-to-barge transshipping elevator in the 1920s or 1930s, used for a while, and then abandoned in the 1940s, when the Queensgate rail terminus was built on the other side of Mill Creek. Perhaps the second section was constructed in the early 1970s, right after the formation of the Consolidated Grain & Barge Company (known today as "CGB Enterprises"). The entire facility was abandoned in 1993, when CGB transferred its operations to a facility at 3164 Southside Avenue, which is on the Ohio River, and not a narrow, minor tributary to it. Despite being left out in the rain and snow to rot, the elevator's second section is still in remarkably good condition. Though someone has taken care to prevent access to anything that might serve as stairs to the top, the reinforced-concrete structure itself is as handsome and solid as ever.