A veritable rooftop garden of Midwestern weeds bending lazily with the breeze peeks through the deteriorated fascia that sprinted past the point of corrosion years ago. A sturdy structure, once a hearty and severe green, is now a mélange of its former glory, ageing graffiti, and rust. This blank canvas, ripe for tagging, hasn’t been thought of in years by the artist whose initials fade and oxidize with the rest of its anatomy.
Certainly a bomb shelter or above ground bunker, this post-apocalyptic shell is a vestige of some bygone era. Stepping over the precarious threshold and running your hands along the wall textured and occupied by rust, it seems inconceivable this was someone’s home. A lone white sink still bolted to the wall is the only remnant of a hospitable environment. Inside these four steel walls, broken into four steel rooms, someone made a home.
A “utopian colony”—that was the pre-World War II vision of Richford, Vermont native and God-fearing businessman, R. G. LeTourneau. Twenty-six prefabricated, watertight steel homes were to be assembled and situated on the LeTourneau “experimental farm” facing the Caterpillar trail in East Peoria. Each fire-proof, basementless unit would come with concrete flooring, flat-decked steel roofs, and steam heating and air conditioning courtesy of a central power plant.
On September 17, 1938 the first LeTourneau Home completed its voyage across the Illinois River. With a towboat at the helm, the forty-two ton steel home was floated from its birthplace in Peoria to its new home in East Peoria; a nearly two-hour expedition. Upon arrival, the interior of the home was inspected and found remarkably bone-dry.
In August 1943, under the weight of four years of war, the dream of the LeTourneau Home fell victim to ever-expanding and shifting wartime industrial needs. R. G. LeTourneau Inc. was compelled to focus its attention and manufacturing of heavy earth-moving machinery towards assisting America’s European allies. The colony was subsequently sold to a realty group and split up to be sold as individual homes.
Many of the remaining LeTourneau homes are still scattered about the Peoria area today (and in amazingly great shape). Those who are lucky enough to live in these steel wonders may not be lucky enough to access television channels with ease, hang pictures without the assistance of an army of magnets, or install new windows without blowtorches; however, they are fortunate enough to call a bona fide Peoria relic their home.
Words by Brittney Ferrero
Photography by Brett Rhoades