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Local History Index: Business Index

Quarry / Quarries

also see Lime Kilns

Compiled and Edited by Michael R. Reilly

Last Revised 02/20/2014

    Retrospect: Massive fire took out old Templeton quarry

Below banner headlines on its front page, the Friday, July 23, 1909, Menomonee Falls News reported a mighty fire in Templeton (east Sussex) a century ago on what later became the site of the Mammoth Spring Canning Co. (1920-1996).

With the coming of the Milwaukee, Menomonee Falls and Western (Bug Line) Railroad in 1890, a quarry was built on the southwest corner of Waukesha Avenue and Main Street in what was called Templeton back then.

The limestone quarry’s three lime kilns were the skyscrapers of Sussex/Templeton, 35-foot high furnaces built of stone and fire brick.

Gondolas filled with limestone were winched up inclined railroad tracks from the quarry floor to the top of the kilns on railroad flat cars to feed the stone into the white-hot kilns.

Twenty feet below the kiln tops were fire holes where workers would feed in cords of wood to burn the stone until they were molecularly transformed over a three-day period from hard rock limestone into lime chunks.

At the base of each kiln was a draw hole where the finished product was removed with long hooks and crowbars. After they cooled, the lime chunks could be pulverized to a fine powder.

The lime powder was used in the mortar that held bricks together, though it could also be used to make cement, whitewash or quicklime.

The limestone quarry was a huge business in old Lisbon before the invention of Portland cement. At its height, the Templeton Stone Co. employed as many as 50 workers earning from 12˝ to 15 cents an hour, while local farmers cleaned out their fence rows and wood lots to sell wagon loads of 4-foot long cord wood for the company’s kilns.

At noon, Tuesday, July 13, the lean-to sheds and worker platform floors caught fire around the kilns. The wind-driven flames soon set fire to the railroad trestle. Then the empty box cars next to the Bug Line went up, followed by massive piles of dry cord wood. The growing fire turned one of the workers’ flop houses to ash.

The conflagration drew townspeople and farmers to the scene to do what they could do with pails of water. Neither Sussex, Templeton or Lisbon had a fire department in those days, so someone telephoned Menomonee Falls and Waukesha to send fire pumpers.

The first to respond was the Menomonee Falls Fire Co., which sent a flat car loaded with firefighters and a pumper down the Bug Line tracks.

As the newspaper told it, “An engine and flat car brought the MF engine to Templeton in 8 minutes.” Some fudge factor went into that number, however, because the Falls spur was about 6.3 miles away. To arrive in 8 minutes, the engine pulling the loaded flatcar would have had to average 54 miles per hour the whole way.

The Falls firefighters helped put out the fire, but not before it had consumed all it would burn. A change in wind direction and velocity also helped, as did local townspeople and farmers.

The Waukesha fire company showed up a half-hour later, but the fire was under control by then, so they never unloaded and returned to Waukesha on the Soo Line Wisconsin Central Railroad tracks.

Before it burned itself out, the fire threatened to blow up a dynamite storage bunker. The bunker boasted 3-foot thick mortared stone walls with a thin arched flat stone roof, so that if the explosives were set off, they would blow up through the roof rather than out the sides. Fortunately, the fire never penetrated the bunker’s iron door.

When they heard about the fire, the Chicago owners of the quarry/kiln complex took the Soo Line Railroad to Sussex. When they got there the following day, they promised to rebuild. They also donated $58 to the Menomonee Falls Fire Co. as a gesture of thanks.

Rebuild they did, only to have it burn down again in 1916. The Kraemer family of Richfield bought the burned out abandoned quarry and lime kilns two years later for $500. Together with some investors from Sussex, they began the Mammoth Spring Canning Co. in 1920.

The last remains of the old cannery, a massive hill of crushed rock that neighbors dubbed “Mount Sussex,” were recently removed by the site’s future developer, Bielinski Homes.

If the developer’s planned condos ever do go up, they will look over a water-filled former quarry that is now full of fish.


The Water-filled swimming quarry in Templeton

In July 1980, two local Sussex area divers, Mike and Carol Fosdick, spent 90 minutes on the bottom of the Sussex Quarry swimming hole. In the depths below the high dive, which was over 20 feet down, they found a boys bicycle and a silver plated fruit compote bowl. Sussex trustee and Park Board member Carl Senger is attempting to land the retrieved treasures. Photo by: Keller

The sister village of Sussex, Templeton, came into being in the later part of 1886, with the arrival of the first railroad to bisect Lisbon, the Wisconsin Central.

This led to Olde Sussex (Maple and Main) losing part of its leadership and business. Most notable, a prominent Sussex leader, James Templeton, left his post office and general store to go to the emerging new community of Templeton" with James Templeton moving the post office successfully from Sussex to his namesake village.

Quickly, there was the conversion of two adjacent farm fields into quarries, that produced as their main product, burned lime by the use of 35-foot high kilns. One was east of the Wisconsin Central tracks, and only lasted a few years, but the one in downtown Templeton southwest of the intersection off Main and Merril Streets was started in 1890, with the coming of the second railroad to Lisbon, the Bug Line. This was a big success, and initially had a name of the William Elliott Quarry. It lasted for 26 years, until a disastrous fire in 1916. It grew to employ 50 workers, who earned between 12 and 15 cents per hour, quarrying stone, hauling it to an inclined railroad that arched up out of the quarry to the top of first three and later six lime kilns.

Considering that the track was about 20 to 30 feet into the rock and the kilns were 35 feet tall, there was a lift of near 60 feet before the gondolas of stone could be pushed along the brink of the top of the fire belching kilns where it was dumped into the inferno.

Wood lengths of northern hard woods mainly were fed into the kilns 24-7 to make a continuous operation during a sort of 9-month cycle from mid-March to mid-December.

Now after 26 years of operation in 1916, a disastrous fire destroyed the wood piles, warehouses, kilns and the pump house. The business was dead, never to be revived. In 1918, the Kraemer family bought the now-rundown acreage, and the water filled quarry for a reported $5,000.

In Sept. 1920, the Mammoth Spring Canning Co. was built and it operated until its last shipment out in March, 1996. By the turn of the century, the buildings were being torn down. Sussex had some grand plans to redevelop the site, but nothing came of it for 17 years.

Then a developer, Art Sawall, had a groundbreaking June 24, 2013, and 2014 should see the first two completed massive upscale retail buildings takin in tenants, with further development to follow.

Meanwhile, through all these years, since 1916, the water-filled quarry has remained, and from 1916 to 1991, it was a community gathering area for swimmers in the summer, and ice skating in the winter. During the early years, it was a place to gather ice blocks for refrigeration locally.

In 1980, during the height of the municipal swimming season, there was a volunteer couple that did some snorkeling in the quarry to ascertain the depth, clarity and what had happened to the bottom of it.

Village Trustee Carl Senger was present as Mike and Carol Fosdick spent well over an hour at the depths of the quarry.

They found that the deepest part was toward the west and was 30 feet deep. There was a layer of decaying leaf residue that covered the depths, and when disturbed, it clouded the water. They also found barrels of pan fish present.

Most interestingly, there was the still intact rail line east to west in place on the quarry floor.

The quarry continued as a swimming hole until it was closed in 1991 because of the American Disabilities Act.


 

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