Wallace Station -The Giant of the Illinois
“The Giant of the Illinois” – This is how Central Illinois Light Company described the East Peoria Plant of the Illinois Electric Power Company when it was completed in 1925. It stood over 102 feet tall, 216 feet long and 117 feet wide and occupied the area now covered by Walmart and Riverfront Park. The construction of the plant was begun in 1923 as a joint venture by Central Illinois Light Company and Illinois Power Company of Springfield at a cost of $ 4,000,000. Central Illinois Light Company had been created in 1913 by the merger of seven small independent power companies and produced power for Peoria and twenty-six area communities. The rapid industrial growth following World War I called for the need of additional generating capacity. A feasibility study was undertaken and the East Peoria site was selected by three deciding factors: (1) it was close to the largest portion of the anticipated load, (2) it had an abundance of cooling water, (3) the anticipated development of strip mining in Fulton County would provide a source of low priced coal. The power plant was actually constructed in Lake Peoria and existed as an island until the area away from the river was filled. The lake bank initially ran from where Steak ‘n Shake sits past the entrance to Lowes. Aware of the forth coming dam proposed below Peoria the turbine room’s floor was construct at thirty feet above flood stage. The 1943 flood reached 28.8 feet. Originally named East Peoria Plant of the Illinois Electric Power Company the plant consisted of two large shells. The one housed the steam turbines and the other housed the coal-fired furnaces and the boilers. Expansion was planned from the beginning and the north east wall was built to be temporary for future additions. These additions were added in 1936, 1939 and 1941, and in 1947 the plant was renamed R.S. Wallace Station in honor of Ross S. Wallace, who retired that year as Chairman of the Board of directors, after a long and distinguished career at CILCO. Following three more additions, the last completed in 1960 with Boiler Number 10 and Turbine Number 7, the plant was capable of producing over 315,000 kilowatts of electric power.
Electric power was produced by 37,000 horsepower turbines powered by steam from coal fired boilers. The coal was first pulverized to the consistency of talcum powder and dried by hot gas. After drying, the powered coal was stored in a bunker. The pulverized coal was then conveyed into burner pipes that delivered the fuel to twenty foot brick furnaces below the boilers. The coal was ignited by the radiance of the fire brick lining. When bring a boiler on line the coal had to be ignited with a gas torch until the fire brick was hot enough to sustain combustion. The steam produced by the boilers then drove the turbine generators. The fly ash residue that resulted from coal combustion was at one time sold as a concrete additive, but this practice ceased in the 1980’s because of the poor quality of the coal used. Thereafter, the fly ash was used to fill the lake and today Bass Pro sits on that fill.
I had the opportunity to view the inside of Wallace Station because my father-in-law, Don Shelley, was employed there as a fireman. I can still visualize Don puffing out his chest and proclaiming he worked there for thirty six years and four months. Standing in that immense building was surreal.
Commuters on Interstate 74 remember “Reddy Kilowatt” that graced the side of Wallace Station for fifteen years starting January 1958 and supplied both time and temperature. Reddy was made of red lightning bolts, electrical socket ears and a light bulb nose and stood almost sixty-five feet tall. He was the logo for many electric companies. The “C-I-L-C-O” letters were salvaged from Reddy’s sign and are now property of the East Peoria Historical Society. Reddy’s thirteen foot head was last seen at the now defunct Antique Mall in Peoria.
- S. Wallace Station closed in January 1985 and was imploded on Sunday December 17, 1995 after failure to draw any interest from a purchaser. The only evidence of this “Giant” that remains today in Water Front park are the remains of the water intakes and the huge concrete cylinders constructed for protection from river ice.
Compiled by Frank Borror – October 2014 With sources from CILCO newspaper and East Peoria Historical Society Newsletter.