From Dell Rapids' Attic - History
The Quarry Business Goes Way Back
The Dell Rapids quarry business has been an integral part of the economics of the community since it was first founded. It did not take long for the early pioneers to realize the importance of the native rock and began putting it to good use.
In 1884, the Dell Rapids Exponent printed the following: “Within a stones throw (of Dell Rapids) are the celebrated Dells composed of that now well-known and imperishable rock called ‘Jasper.’ This rock borders the river for miles and the supply is inexhaustible. It takes a beautiful and permanent polish and is suitable for all building purposes, and makes the finest street pavements in the world, for which purposes it is being quarried in large quantities. Much of it is being polished for table tops, mantels, building corners, and other ornamental purposes.”
Larry McBreen, a writer for the Dell Rapids Tribune, researched and wrote the following story describing the history of the quarry business. It was printed June 18, 1980.
Quarry: Important to History of Town
Dell Rapids was once the home of four quarries. Today it has one quarry in operation, but there is little doubt that this one quarry presently produces more quartzite than all four quarries did in the early days of Dell Rapids.
The Dell Rapids quarry industry was first mentioned in the local newspaper in 1884. At this time the William McBain Quarry, one of the earliest quarries in Dell Rapids, employed 50 stonecutters and 71 additional workmen. Stonecutters were paid between $3 and $7 per day. Workmen were paid $3.25 a day. By 1886 three to five carloads of paving block were loaded each day.
Most work done in the quarries in the beginning was done on the west and southwest side of town. Major quarry companies were the McBain Quarry, the Co-op Granite Co., the Baumgarte Quarry, and the C.W. Hubbard Co. By July 1887, Co-op Granite Co. was employing 160 men. Together, all the quarries employed 300 people.
The reason many buildings in Dell Rapids are made of quartzite coming from the native quarry was a fire in the winter of 1888. On February 14, 1888, soon after one of Dell Rapids worst blizzards, a defective lantern started a fire in M.E. Pollard’s family store on the south side of Main Street. Unable to stop the fire because of frozen fire equipment, the townspeople watched the fire destroy 11 buildings until it was stopped by a small quartzite building. Several of these buildings were replaced by quartzite buildings.
After some years of competition, Superior Construction Company and Simpson Stone Company would “corner” the quarry industry in Dell Rapids. Soon after the takeover of the quarry industry, steam-powered crushers would be installed, but the railcars they used would still be drawn by horses.
The height of the quarry industry in Dell Rapids was the early 1900’s. Five hundred men were at one time employed, primarily in getting the stone ready for use in paving the streets of large cities. The quarries would soon enough have problems of railroads, a world war, a decreased demand for quartzite, and later a depression.
It started in 1918 when the Simpson and Superior quarries were forced out of business when the government, preparing for World War I, began requisitioning all railroad cars for hauling coal and other types of ore in the east. Concerned local businessmen signed a petition and sent it to the state board of railroad commissioners requesting that it require Milwaukee Railroad to resume its daily stops.
After World War I, the Superior Company was replaced by Wisconsin Granite Co. Simpson returned to business, but only briefly as they sold out to L.G. Everist Co. in 1929 for $21,000. The depression soon caused the Wisconsin Granite Co. to close its operations. L.G. Everist seemed unaffected. As late as 1934, Everist employed 200 men 24 hours a day. A general slowdown was reported in 1935. A new contract with the silicon steel industry in 1936 caused a revival of the quarry industry.
A number of groups, ethnic and otherwise, have been reported to have worked at the quarries. First it was the Scotch. They were replaced by Norwegians. Many residents remember African-Americans working at the quarry and living on the west side of the pit. Even some Chinese were reported to have worked at the quarry. Transients and men laid off from steel mills in the east, also worked at the quarry. Finally, labor got so cheap during the depression that local people could be hired economically.
Work at the quarry has not been without its hazards. In 1929, when Simpson sold out to L.G. Everist, 29 men were reported to have quarry TB or quarry “consumption.” Men with this disease were literally coughing their lungs out trying to expel years of inhaled rock dust. Conditions are better now due to mechanization of the “east” quarry in 1948, and the installation of a dust control system in 1974.
Accidents at the quarry seem to have been worst during the late 20’s and early 30’s. In June 1929, Authur Stengel and two other workmen badly underestimated the strength of a dynamite blast. Stengel was killed by a flying piece of rock. In March 1934, Dan Welch lost his right hand and eye in a blasting accident. In October 1934, Otto Anderson was killed when a crane derrick crumpled, and he was pinned under the rubble.
The “west” quarry, while not used to the great extent the “east” quarry was, has an interesting history nonetheless. In 1931, the old west quarry was standing idle until November as part of a government project. The city reopened the quarry, then owned by Wisconsin Granite Co., to get building materials for streets and sidewalks.
In 1942, the west quarry closed. The next years would be ones of inactivity as reported July 23, 1953, in the Dell Rapids Tribune:
“Once a thriving industry, the ‘west quarry’ is silent, never to be reactivated and, no doubt, within a short time that will remain of the site will be the pit where thousands of tons of quartzite have been quarried and used over a large territory for buildings, paving stone, and other construction work.”
Showing the accuracy of this prediction was this article, also in the Dell Rapids Tribune, July 5, 1962:
“Back against one side of the old west quarry site are more than 20 little rusted cars that were once filled up with rock by hand and then pulled up the long track to be dumped. They, along with a pile of twisted track, are the only evidence of the operation that ceased nearly 20 years ago.
“Across the open pit a huge shovel bites into the loose rock and with its 25-ton-capacity scoop it fills a truck in a matter of moments.”
The story went on to say the ore was being used in a flood control project. After that, the quarry was closed, remaining closed to this day.
In the area of flood control, the east quarry served a purpose during the flood of 1969 when a dike broke and 1,971,000,000 gallons of water poured into the pit. A stronger dike was built later.
Twenty-five-pound rock hammers were used in the early days of the quarry. They are gone now. Replaced by mechanical power, the early workmen of the quarries left a legacy of these quartzite buildings that could last for many more generations.