The Most Insane Abandoned Places in the Midwest

Published On 12/14/2015 Published On 12/14/2015
United Methodist Church
United Methodist Church | Flickr/KEN FAGER

Too decrepit to rehab, too pricey to demolish. This is the case for many abandoned -- yet eerily beautiful -- hospitals, factories, stadiums, and entire towns across the Midwest that have been taken over by nature, vandals, and the occasional brave urban explorer. When it comes to ruins, our region is rich with discarded territory and we’ve found 28 decaying properties that are hard to believe still exist. So explore (aka trespass) at your own risk or just gawk and be glad you’re not lost in an abandoned missile base right now.

City Methodist Church | Flickr/Mike Boening Photography

1. City Methodist Church

Gary, IN
A casualty of the Indiana steel-industry crash, the massive gothic church took over a million dollars to build in 1926 (translating to roughly $13 million today), half of which was donated by the United States Steel Corporation. By the mid-1970s, the congregation dropped from nearly 3,000 to the low hundreds with the town’s population dwindling significantly. Nine stories of ornate stonework, molded arches, towering pillars, and stained glass have attracted street artists, urban explorers, and filmmakers -- it was a backdrop for A Nightmare on Elm Street and Transformers: Dark of the Moon.


2. Damen Silos

Chicago, IL
Abandoned structures like the Damen Silos on the South Side of Chicago harken back to the city’s past as a thriving industrial center. Grain elevators were the city’s first skyscrapers, but also extremely combustible. The state has been sitting on the Damen Silos since a 1977 disaster rendered the 24-acre property functionally obsolete. The skyline-framing silos just off the I-55 Damen Ave exit have been the site of many explosions, both real and staged for Transformers: Age of Extinction (Michael Bay: big fan of old creepy buildings). The 2013 production destroyed both bridges connecting two buildings along with pieces of rare machinery preserved in the control tower.


3. Wreck of the SS Francisco Morazan

South Manitou Island, MI
There are plenty of shipwrecks in the Great Lakes, buried treasure not so much. During a snowstorm in 1960, the SS Francisco Morazan, a 234ft-long cargo ship with a storied past in Germany, the UK, Norway, and Liberia, finally met her match on Lake Michigan after running aground on South Manitou Island. Only five tons of canned chicken were salvageable and she was declared a total loss.

IOWA BRICK COMPANY | Courtesy of Jim Sullivan

4. Iowa Brick Company

Lehigh, IA
In addition to coal mines, brickyards were also prominent in this tiny Iowa town. Lehigh Clay Works used the shale of the coal measures as a source of clay to manufacture brick and tile. The last user of the large, now defunct, property was Iowa Brick, where the kiln once fired up with local coal for "burning" the bricks and a building for manufacturing among other elements still stand.


5. Wyman-Gordon Power Plant

Dixmoor, IL
Once one of the largest manufacturing centers in the US, Dixmoor produced everything from chicken feed to aerospace parts. By the 1960s, the Wyman-Gordon company was leading the pack in forging and titanium technologies, even creating parts for secret spy planes and fighter jets. Before closing the 780,000sqft facility in the 1980s due to competition, the community was already reeling from the recent departure of three other major manufacturing employers. All that remains is a scrapped and decaying power plant with coal hoppers, generators, and other equipment encased in a heavy layer of rust.

ROLLING ACRES MALL | Flickr/Logan Elliott

6. Rolling Acres Mall

Akron, OH
Affectionately known as “Rotting Acres,” Rolling Acres is one of the most infamous dead malls in America. It’s now covered in slick moss and bullet holes, and carefully guarded by security cameras. And if you don’t believe ALL of the Akron police have nothing better to do than hunt your mall-trespassing ass down in the middle of the day, believe it.


7. Joliet Correctional Center

Joliet, IL
Often confused with the nearby Stateville Correctional Center, the Joliet Correctional Center (originally known as Illinois State Penitentiary) was a prison from 1858 to 2002. Limestone used to build the prison, featured in The Blues Brothers film and Prison Break TV series, was quarried on site and constructed by the first round of inmates. The correctional center detained everyone from 60-year-old drunk drivers who had never been in prison before to mass murderers like John Wayne Gacy before he was sent to Stateville Correctional Center.


8. San Haven Sanatorium

Dunseith, ND
Riddled with ghost towns, the entire state of North Dakota could be considered largely unpopulated. But a former tuberculosis sanatorium in the lush Turtle Mountains region, San Haven, is a crumbling majesty to behold. Thousands of TB patients were treated here between 1909 and the end of the epidemic in the 1940s. The facility later became a home for the developmentally disabled, where there were rumors of mistreatment and neglect, and it shut down in the 1980s only to mature creepily.

AGUDAS ACHIM SYNAGOGUE | Flickr/Mike Boening Photography

9. Agudas Achim North Shore Congregation synagogue

Chicago, IL
The 23,000sqft synagogue in Uptown once regularly drew crowds of more than 2,000 people for Shabbat services and packed the balconies during the High Holidays in the 1920s. But the ritzy hub for a large Jewish population eventually shifted to other parts of the city, and only a poor, elderly congregation remained in the elegant, although quickly deteriorating place of worship. With the older Russian Jewish community dying off and frequent vandalization causing even more costly disrepair, efforts to save the last remaining grand, cathedral-style synagogue in Chicago seem to have crumbled since its 2008 closing.

Nike Missile Site | Flickr/Eric Hines Photography(edited)

10. Nike Missile Site C-47

Hobart, IN
The Nike defense system played a huge role in both civilian life and military planning during the Cold War era in the US. Radar-guided, supersonic, anti-aircraft missiles addressed a new reality of warfare in the skies. Part of the Chicago-Gary defense ring, the C-47 base in Hobart/Wheeler, Indiana was one of about 20 sites designed to protect Chicago and the steel industry in Gary from an attack by the Soviet Union. A portion of the former missile site has been converted to a paintball park, but the rest is still “intact.”


11. Central State Hospital

Indianapolis, IN
Since 1848, the state’s mentally ill were housed just west of Indianapolis in the Central Indiana Hospital for the Insane (later changed to Central State Hospital). Allegations of patient abuse plagued the hospital for decades and shrinking funds led to its closure in 1994. Some parts of the 150-acre former psychiatric complex were recently redeveloped: the Pathology building now houses the Indiana Medical History Museum and some brave college students are living in the old administration building that's been turned into dorm-style apartments. However, a few historic buildings still sit in various states of disrepair.

MUSCATUCK STATE DEVELOPMENT CENTER | Flickr/Camp Atterbury Joint Maneuver Training Center

12. Muscatatuck State Developmental Center (now Muscatatuck Urban Training Center)

Butlerville, IN
While some health institutions have transitioned into apartments, one of Indiana’s largest mental institutions became the Indiana Army National Guard's premier urban training center. After lawmakers planned to reorganize the state’s health plan, the 600-acre campus became the perfect mock town to train soldiers and civilians on how to react during an urban disaster.

SAVANNA ARMY DEPOT | Flickr/Phil Roeder

13. Savanna Army Depot

Savanna, IL
Barbed-wire fences and warnings about unexploded landmines surround the vacant military buildings and igloo-shaped munitions bunkers at the former 13,062-acre Army depot. The facility processed, stored, and tested munitions, explosives, and chemicals from 1917 to 1995. A portion of the land situated on the Mississippi River has been absorbed by a public wildlife refuge, but much of it still remains off limits due to contamination. More than 600 tons of debris like grenades, landmines, rockets, and mortar rounds have been removed from the grounds.

14. Joyland Amusement Park

Wichita, KS
As if the proposition of an abandoned amusement park wasn’t already glaringly terrifying, there was even a Stephen King novel coincidentally called Joyland! What’s even more creepy? After going missing for 10 years, the Wichita theme park’s infamous Louie the Clown finally emerged in the home of a local sex offender. Have fun sleeping tonight.

LEMP BREWERY | Flickr/Chris Yunker

15. Lemp Brewery

St. Louis, MO
Most people visit the Anheuser-Busch Brewery, but some might prefer to tour the abandoned Lemp Brewery housed within the larger, semi-occupied Lemp Brewery Complex in the Marine Villa neighborhood. Natural caves running beneath the brewery, which are now difficult to get to, were once used by the early German brewers. You can sneak inside to explore the brewery or just watch this video.

PONTIAC SILVERDOME | Flickr/Ashley Diener (edited)

16. Pontiac Silverdome

Pontiac, MI
Somehow a desolate and derelict stadium with a seating capacity of 82,000 makes even an abandoned factory seem less eerie. The former home to the Detroit Lions permanently closed in 2013 after briefly reopening from 2010 to 2013 for events, and is now an uncovered apocalyptic wasteland waiting for demolition starting in the spring of 2016. Until then you’ll just have to put in a bid for a urinal signed by Barry Sanders.


17. Searsboro Consolidated School

Searsboro, IA
With the sale of the town’s grain elevator, its failed cluster box mail delivery after the post office shut down, and the bulk of the city’s debt literally in the sewer system, Searsboro successfully disincorporated after 135 years as a community. The fire department continues to operate separately, and the closed school makes for great material for your "Urban Decay" Pinterest board.

BUNGE GRAIN ELEVATOR | Flickr/Matthew Traucht

18. Bunge grain elevator

Minneapolis, MN
Located near the University of Minnesota and the Great Northern tracks, the Bunge grain elevator is a popular spot for trespassers to overlook the “Mill City” skyline. The flour mill’s concrete head tower remains a visual landmark of the Como neighborhood, but several urban explorers have plummeted to their deaths over the years despite sealed entries.

HA HA TONKA CASTLE | Flickr/Dave Emerson (edited)

19. Ha Ha Tonka castle

Camdenton, MO
You probably wouldn’t expect to stumble upon a massive, abandoned castle in the middle of the Missouri Ozarks, but you’ll find the ruins of one prominent Kansas City businessman’s dreams high atop a bluff in Ha Ha Tonka State Park. Modeled after 16th-century European castles, Robert McClure Snyder’s stone mansion was never completed after he died in one of the state’s first automobile accidents. His sons finished the home, but it was gutted by fire in 1942.

CARR SCHOOL | Flickr/Nitram242

20. Carr School

St. Louis, MO
Just north of Downtown amid vacant fields, public housing, and a park, the school built in 1908 was one of the many designed by architect William B. Ittner. Today, the building, which closed in 1983, is in catastrophic disrepair and perennially on the Landmarks Association’s list of the most endangered buildings in St. Louis.


21. Michigan Central Station

Detroit, MI
While it’s been temporarily saved from demolition multiple times, the future is still uncertain for the Beaux-Arts mammoth, which was the tallest rail station in the world at the time of construction in 1913. Possibly one of the most photographed abandoned buildings in the city, the massive, battered shell of the once-bustling hub is now a symbol of the city’s economic problems within its own skyline.


22. Sunflower Army Ammunition Plant

Lexington, KS
Established in 1942 as the Sunflower Ordnance Works, the 9,065-acre plant eventually became the world’s largest for producing smokeless powder and propellants for small arms and artillery. Between 1942 and 1992, it was a significant supplier of ammo for World War II as well as the Korean and Vietnam Wars. During World War II alone, it produced more than 200 million pounds of propellants and employed nearly 12,067 people. While the Army has made use of some office buildings today, the eastern half of the compound remains abandoned.

DEVILS NEST SKI RESORT | Courtesy of Jim Sullivan

23. Devils Nest Ski Resort

Knox County, NE
Not far from the recreation areas on Lewis and Clark Lake in Northern Knox County, the Nebraska ski resort was destined to be part of a large luxury development. It operated for a few years in the 1970s, but banks foreclosed on the property in 1975. The cable and chairs seem to emerge from nowhere amongst the cottonwoods and evergreens.


24. Armour Meatpacking Plant

East St. Louis, IL
In 1903, the Chicago-based meatpacking company that revolutionized the industry by building large plants near railroad tracks set up shop near the National City Stockyards on the outskirts of East St. Louis. Several rail-connected buildings, including the iconic generating station fitted with two 210ft-tall smokestacks, served various purposes of the process. Tourists even came to watch the assembly line that inspired Henry Ford in action. But the Great Depression soon forced the plant and others in the now-dissolved town of National City to close.


25. Warner and Swasey Observatory

Cleveland, OH
The abandoned Case Western Reserve University observatory on Taylor Rd was built by precision instrument-makers Worcester R. Warner and Ambrose Swasey in 1919. A 9.5in refractor, then a 24in Burrell Schmidt telescope, and finally a 36in telescope was originally housed within the main dome. Light pollution from Cleveland resulted in the telescope's removal, and the property was later sold to real-estate broker Nayyir Al Mahdi, who ended up getting convicted of mortgage fraud in 2007.

ARDMORE GHOST TOWN | Courtesy of Jim Sullivan

26. Ardmore ghost town

Ardmore, SD
If you want to really know what it feels like to be the last man on Earth, you don’t have to wait for a deadly virus to sweep the planet. You just have to visit South Dakota. Midwest towns like Ardmore barely survived the Dust Bowl and Great Depression, then a changing agricultural world and the young population departing for education and jobs elsewhere left the town deserted by the 21st century.


27. Alexian Brothers Novitiate

Gresham, WI
The Wisconsin manor house originally built in 1939 as a residence was converted into a novitiate for the Alexian Brothers. It’s most known for a hostile, month-long takeover by the Menominee Warrior Society in 1975 with demands that it be turned over to the nearby Menominee Indian Reservation. To avoid bloodshed, the Alexian Brothers Novitiate sold it to them for $1, but the property ultimately returned to Gresham when they immediately ran out of money for upkeep, and has since remained vacant.

SOLWAY COKE & GAS CO | Flickr/Thomas Hawk

28. Solvay Coke & Gas Co.

Milwaukee, WI
At nearly 47 acres with railroad access and frontage on the harbor, the colossal Milwaukee Solvay Coke & Gas site became the largest contiguous parcel listed for sale in the city of Milwaukee in 2012. The US Environmental Protection Agency is still overseeing the site’s cleanup, which has put any demolition plans for the plant in limbo. Arsenic, lead, asbestos, and a whole host of other chemicals have been mixed into the ground.

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Nicole Bruce is a contributing writer for Thrillist who now has nightmares about falling down a grain silo, but you can still share photos and GoPro videos of your urban explorations with her on Twitter at @nicoleabruce.

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1. City Methodist Church 577 Washington St, Gary, IN 46402

This massive former place of worship used to house congregations from far and wide before its outright abandonment in the 1970s. Peep the impressive interiors which, despite their dilapidated status, have been used as backdrops for films such as Transformers: Dark of the Moon and A Nightmare on Elm Street.

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2. Damen Silos 2900 S Damen Ave,, Chicago, IL 60608

These uber creepy, abandoned silos hearken back to Chicago's industrial past. Originally used as grain elevators, these often highly combustible structures now lay forsaken off Interstate 55.

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3. Wreck of the SS Francisco Morazan South Manitou Island, , Glen Arbor Township, MI 49636

This lone island north of western Michigan was the site of a storied cargo liner crash in 1960, the wreckage of which is still visible from the shore.

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4. Iowa Brick Co. 2054 Clay Works Dr, Lehigh, IA

Walk into this abandoned manufacturing plant, and you'll feel as if you stepped into a moment frozen in time-- stacks of bricks and wheelbarrows full of concrete lay bare, waiting for workers to pick up the helm.

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5. Wyman-Gordon Power Plant 104 W 144th St, Dixmoor, IL 60426

One of the original titans of industry, the Wyman-Gorden company forged titanium used to produce biplanes for World War I. Forced out of their Chicago-area factory by competing manufactures, the company has since moved most of their operations abroad. This shuttered space in Dixmoor lays bare what was once an industrial powerhouse.

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6. Rolling Acres Mall 2400 Romig Rd, Akron, OH 44320 (Akron)

The 2000s era economic crash killed the Rolling Acres, or as the locals call it "Rotting Acres," mall (1975-2008). The sprawling space has long degenerated into dust and the ghosts of consumer capitalism gone by.

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7. Joliet Correctional Center 1127-1299 Collins St, Joliet, IL 60432

TV fans should visit the abandoned Joliet Correctional Center and get a sense of their favorite shows IRL-- Prison Break andBones have both been filmed here. Closed in 2002 by budget cuts, this maximum security prison famously housed killers Leopold and Loeb before their acquittal.

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8. San Haven Sanatorium 98th St NE, Dunseith, ND 58329

This sanatorium near the Canadian border was one of the few treatment facilities for Tuberculosis in the greater Midwest during the turn of the century. It's been 35 years since inhabits have roamed its hallowed halls-- take a trek to see it in its dilapidated glory.

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9. Agudas Achim North Shore Congregation Synagogue 5029 N Kenmore Ave, Chicago, IL 60640 (Uptown)

Once a majestic house of worship populated by Chicago's upper-class Jewish residents, the Agudas Achim North Shore Congregation closed its doors in 2008 following years of disrepair and dwindling membership. The cavernous synagogue remains a sight to be seen with its intact stained glass fixtures and glorious spiral staircase.

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10. Nike Missile Site C-47 W 700 N, Hobart, IN 46342

During the Cold War, the Nike Missile Site was part of a larger system, both real and symbolic, designed to prevent civilians in Illinois and Indiana from impending Soviet attacks. A relic of this paranoid era long gone by, the missile base and fallout shelter still remains intact.

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11. Central State Hospital 3100 W Vermont St, Indianapolis, IN 46222

Located in central Indianapolis, this institution housed some of the city's maddest residents. Closed in 1994, the site now hosts the Indiana Medical History Museum but the majority of the hospital grounds remain abandoned.

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12. Muscatatuck Urban Training Center 4230 E Administration Dr, North Vernon, IN 47265

What was initially one of the state's largest mental institutions is now an Army training base site used to model scenarios of urban crisis and instructs soldiers how to react during disaster.

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13. Savanna Army Depot 18935 B St, Savanna, IL 61074

Watch your step at these abandoned barracks along the Mississippi. What was once an explosives testing facility from 1917 to 1995 now is a barren landscape most of which is still not open to the public-- over 100 rounds of ammunition, grenades and land mines have yet to be removed from the site.

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14. Joyland Amusement Park 2801 S Hillside St, Wichita, KS 67216

This once iconic, now forgotten amusement park in Wichita is seriously spooky. Allegations of rides malfunctioning and subsequent safety concerns followed the park since its opening, so in the 2000s, Joyland began an ill-conceived renovation campaign which seemed plagued from the start-- looters repeatedly ransacked the place, and then in 2012, a fire burned down most of the park's most famous rides. The park officially closed in July of 2015 after years of operating at a loss.

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15. Lemp Brewery 3500 Lemp Ave, St. Louis, MO 63118

Want to beat the crowds at the Anheuser-Busch brewery tour? Head down the road towards the long begotten, nearby Lemp Brewery, one of the country's oldest beer manufacturers. Established in 1840, this German brewer employed naturally occurring underground caves within the facility to augment their brews.

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16. Pontiac Silverdome 1200 Featherstone Rd, Pontiac, MI 48342

This former home of the Detroit Lions fell into disrepair in 2013 after several attempts to sell the stadium and general economic disparity left the sports complex without a local team. What was once an 82,000 person capacity mega arena now is essentially a very large pile of debris. So long, glory days.

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17. Searsboro Consolidated School 40th St, Searsboro, IA 50242

This abandoned school building in the near ghost town of Searsboro, Iowa is a major wreck-- after the town unincorporated itself, nearly all the major landmarks in town fell to a state of disrepair and debris.

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18. Bunge Grain Elevator 937 13th Ave SE, Minneapolis, MN 55414 (Dinkytown)

Urban archeologists have long ventured into Dinkytown to check out this legendary abandoned flour factory. Several stories high, the grain elevator provides the perfect entry point to a sweeping view of the Twin Cities. Climb up at your own peril.

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19. Ha Ha Tonka Castle 1491 State Road D, Camdenton, MO 65020

Take a visit to Missouri's Ha Ha Tonka State Park and you can see fabled industrialist Robert McClure Snyder's attempt to recreate a European style castle in the Ozaks. Sadly, this venture was never fulfilled as Synder died during construction and the remaining structures were destroyed in a fire after his death.

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20. Carr School Carr St, St. Louis, Missouri, MO 63106

Since its closing in 1983, this downtown St. Louis school has fallen into a state of disrepair. The ghosts of old students however, roam stairwells and classrooms.

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21. Michigan Central Station 2001 15th St, , Detroit, MI 48216

A relic of achievement for this once strong city, this Beaux-Arts monolith of travel and commerce remains a sight to see when visiting Detroit.

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22. Sunflower Army Ammunition Plant Main Ave, Olathe, KS 66061

This massive artillery plant in the woods of Kansas operated between the years of 1942 and 1992, producing ammunition under the Sunflower Ordnance Works company. The Army has since refurbished some of the buildings on the site, but by and large, most of the property remains abandoned.

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23. Devils Nest Nebraska , Crofton, NE 68730

This haunted resort on the border of Nebraska and Missouri offers some chilling thrills... if you dare. Walk to the top of the ski lift for a truly amazing view.

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24. Armour Meatpacking Plant 79 Exchange Ave, , Fairmont City, IL 62201

Take a walk around East St. Louis, Illinois on the outskirts of Chicago and you'll find the abandoned Armour Meatpacking Plant. This company was a powerhouse during the Industrial Revolution, churning out meat products on Henry Ford's assembly line.

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25. Warner and Swasey Observatory 1975 N Taylor Rd, Cleveland, OH 44112 (University Circle)

This majestic observatory used to house three state of the art telescopes. Sadly, light pollution destroyed the functionality of the observatory, and the telescopes were removed. However, the observatory remains a beautiful ruin to check out next time you're in the Cleveland area.

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26. Ardmore Ghost Town , Ardmore, SD 57747

Ardmore, South Dakota is a true ghost town with no recorded residents since 1980. If you've been looking for a quiet place to get away, then Ardmore is the place for you.

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27. Alexian Brothers Novitiate Butternut Rd, Gresham, WI 54166

This mega mansion on the Red River was built in 1939 as a dormitory for the order of the Alexian Brothers. In the 1970s, the property was given to a local Native American tribe following months of hostile negotiation with the church. After buying the building for $1, the tribe, however, was unable to maintain the property, and it was in turn handed over the local township of Gresham, Wisconsin. It has since fallen into a state of despair, but remains a great sight to see.

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28. Solvay Coke & Gas, Co. 311 E Greenfield Ave, Milwaukee, WI 53204

At nearly 47 acres, this massive gas power plant in the heart of Milwaukee was the largest contiguous parcel of land for sale in Milwaukee history when it went on the Market in 2012. Go exploring and you never know what you might find.



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