Wednesday, March 2, 2011

The Geneva Steel Plant

I came across a really cool picture from Life magazine in 1946 and really wanted to use it.  Here it is and what the area looks like today:

Photo courtesy of Life Magazine

This picture is taken from out in Vineyard (a little city just west of Orem) of Geneva Steel.   I've been wanting to do something on Geneva Steel for a while, mainly because it is such an important part of Utah Valley's history and something that I know nothing about.  The only thing that I knew about Geneva Steel is it caused a lot of pollution and that they sponsor the "Geneva Steel hard hit of the game" at BYU football games.  

Geneva Steel's history starts with World War I.  The US Government was worried about the steel mills that were located in the United States and that they were vulnerable to attacks from the Germans and Japanese.  Because of this, they decided to build a steel mill that was further inland, in an area where the enemy could not easily reach.  Vineyard was chosen because of its proximity to different ores that were located close by.  The name Geneva was selected after a resort that used to be located on Utah Lake.

Construction was finished in 1944 and the plant remained owned by the government until 1946.  The plant was a big part of Utah Valley's economic life blood for much of the later half of the 20th century.  The mill did close temporarily in the 80's and again in the 90's.  The plant was finally closed for the last time in 2002.  I read a blog about whether shutting it down was good for Utah Valley.  The majority argued that there was a economic decrease for a couple of years but the Valley recovered and is now better due to less pollution.  One person wrote about how in the 80's, he would come around the Point of the Mountain from Salt Lake and wouldn't be able to see Spanish Fork (I feel that way about Salt Lake now during the winter).  There were some really emotionally charged responses by children of steel workers and how their parents struggled after the mill closed, resulting in them moving out of the Valley.

Pollution is usually what I associate with Geneva Steel.  There were reports of scientists analyzing how polluted the ground was and fainting because of all of the pollution seeping about of certain areas.  Utah County was synonymous with horrible air.  Students at BYU football games held signs that said "Pollution makes God barf."  Ultimately I am glad it is gone, because I am glad the pollution is gone.

I took my picture from near the Lindon Boat dock.  On the way back to my car, I realized that I locked my keys in my car.  There were two old men getting into their car and I asked them for a ride.  I was actually really fortunate because I got a lot of information about Geneva Steel.  The picture that I took was not where the 1946 picture was taken.  I took a picture of the Lake Side Power Plant which is a natural gas power plant.  I decided to show this picture because I like where we have come since the polluting days of Geneva Steel.  This Plant produces power through natural gas and pollutes far less than the old steel plant (they were actually able to build this plant by buying the emission rights from Geneva Steel).  Don't worry if you see a bunch of smoke always rising; it is actually just water vapor.

I found out that I was about a mile north of the old plant.  Geneva Steel was located on Geneva Road between Orem Center Street and 1600 North in Orem.  The last of the plant was finally dismantled in 2007 (for a really cool site about dismantling Geneva Steel, click here).  One interesting thing is that the Harley Davidson store which is located right off I-15 used a lot of the steel used in the old plant.  They did a good job of preserving the history.  Currently the only remains of Geneva Steel are the huge smelting pots, which for some reason are still located disregarded at the old location.

There is so much happening at this site for the future.  One interesting thing is that they tried to sell the land to build what become the Rio Tinto stadium here, although they decided to build it up by Sandy.  Part of the land was recently cleaned up and is going to be developed (for plans click here).  Utah Valley University is looking to expand their campus and wants to buy a chunk of the area, mainly for intramural fields (the article can be found here).  Vineyard will eventually be a stop on Frontrunner, and  UVU's two campuses would be easily connected by the Frontrunner stations (the other station will be located on Geneva Road near University Parkway.  There are plans to build an underpass for 800 South to cross I-15 which will make access to the station really easily).  Stay tuned for more info at what happens in Vineyard.

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