Term: quarrying industry in Wisconsin
Definition: Local stone has been used by residents for building and construction purposes since the earliest days of settlement in Wisconsin. Little of this work was done by any sizable quarrying operations until the 1850s, however. By the 1870s and 1880s, quarrying of stone had become a major industry. The Chicago fire of 1871 and the emergence in the late 19th century of "brownstone" homes gave particular impetus to the industry's growth and by 1890, Wisconsin ranked 12th in the nation in the number of quarries. Quarry production remained strong in the early decades of the 20th century. The eventual discovery of new stone-producing areas and the rise of concrete led to a decline in the state's production of stone products by mid-century.
The main quarry types in the state are granite, sandstone, and limestone. The principle granite producing areas were in Montello, Berlin, Utley, Marquette, Red Granite, Waupaca, Wausau, and Amberg. Most Wisconsin granite was manufactured into paving blocks and curbing used for growing urban communities around the state: only a small percentage went into the construction of monuments or buildings. Montello red granite was used for the sarcophagi at Grant's Tomb in New York City. By the end of the 19th century, Amberg in Marinettte County had emerged as one of the largest producers of granite stone buildings, monuments, and paving in the upper Midwest.
Sandstone forms a considerable portion of the state's bedrock. Most of the sandstone used for building purposes was found in the central and south-central parts of the state, although the darker sandstone known as brownstone found on the shores of Lake Superior was highly sought after in the late 19th century. The arrival of railroads in the nothern counties in the 1880s helped to increase production levels, providing new access to inland markets and an all-season method of transportation. Wisconsin's Lake Superior quarries provided building materials to local communities, allowing them to compete in style and architectural character with their counterparts in the east. The light-colored sandstone of the central region of the state was used locally throughout the second half of the 19th century. Only a small percentage of this sandstone was exported because it was too weak to handle in large amounts.
Limestone was the largest type of quarried stone in Wisconsin, used as a building stone for foundations, piers and bridgework, as a crushed stone for roadwork, and as the central ingredient in the manufacture of lime for building, agricultural, or industrial purposes. Only a small amount was used as an exterior stone on buildings. Limestone production was roughly divided into three major geographical areas with its own characteristics: the high bluffs of the Mississippi and lower Wisconsin river valleys, the northeastern part of the state near the Menominee River on down to the southwestern counties, and the broad belt from northern Door County to the state line.
View pictures related to the quarrying industry at Wisconsin Historical Images.
[Source: Wisconsin's Cultural Resources Study Units, Wisconsin Historical Society]