Cement Quarry Caves

Sometime back in the 70s, I heard that the Marquette cement plant was going to blow the caves that had been made to quarry limestone in the days before heavy equipment made removing overburden easy. (Click on any photo to make it larger.)

It might have been The Missourian’s story with a whole page of Fred Lynch photos on Page 6 that tipped me off. Here’s the link to the story about the caves. You’ll have to page back to see his pictures.

Pitched story to architectural magazine

I pitched the story idea to an architectural magazine. They wouldn’t give me an assignment, but they said they’d look at whatever I shot. I don’t recall if they eventually turned the story down or if I never got around to submitting it to them. I think it was the latter.

So, the Kodachrome slides spent 30-plus years in storage, where the color shifted slightly.

Edward Hely founded company in 1904

The Missourian’s story said that Edward Hely started the stone company in 1904; it bore his name until 1931, when it became the Federal Materials Co. The quarry was known as the Blue Hole because of the color of the water when it filled up.

Marquette Cement bought the property in 1976.

By the time Marquette Cement bought the property in 1976, the two quarries were separated by just about 100 feet, most of which was taken up by a network of caves. Federal Materials found it easier to dig horizontally to extract the limestone than to remove 35 to 50 feet of overburden – earth and lower grade stone – to get to the rock.

When the tunneling stopped, the quarry was about 375 feet deep. The pillars averaged 150 feet in height and were 35 to 45 feet in diameter.

Caves collapsed in 1981

In its May 17, 1981 edition, The Missourian pulled out all the stops to cover the collapse of the caves. Fred captured the action and reporter John Ramey wrote a first-person account of seeing a million tons of rock collapse on itself. The story said that crews spent two months drilling 850 blast holes and loading them with 600,000 pounds of dynamite. Some of the deepest 200-foot holes contained as much as 1,400 pounds of dynamite.

You could walk a long way

Present-day Buzzi Unicem plant manager Steve Leus was part of the team that handled the blast. When he gave me a tour of the plant and the quarry last fall, he said, “I was in the caves myself. It was massive. You could walk a long way before you came to the end of that cave.”

Columns were massive

“The columns were massive,” he continued. “They had to be to hold up that roof.”

They way they mined in those days, he explained, was “they drilled into the side of the limestone, then they blasted, then they mucked it out. Basically what they ended up doing was tunneling.”

You wouldn’t make that mistake twice

“They had a feel for what size column to leave to support the roof, and, if they didn’t, they didn’t make that mistake twice,” Leus said.

Some of the tunnels are under Sprigg

Leus pointed out some of the tunnels that extend under Sprigg Street. “We don’t know how far back they go,” he said. Present-day safety regulations make it complicated to enter what is considered a mine, so no one in recent history has explored the caves. (I’ll have pictures of those in the future.)

Seep water poured down sidewalls

Ground water would find its way into seams and leak down the walls of the quarry. Pumps would send it on its way through underground pipes until it made it back to the Mississippi River.

Quarry was about 375 feet deep

When Marquette Cement acquired the Federal Materials quarry, the deepest part was about 375 feet deep. Access to to the bottom was over rough, steep and curving haul roads.

Shafts of light and darkness

You were constantly moving into areas of shade and darkness when you drove along the haul road and through the caves.

Enough stone for another 10-15 years

Leus said there is enough stone in the quarry to last for another 10-15 years. They’re expanding to the north and west now since they’ve gone just about as deep as practical at this point.

A 1981 story estimated the reserves would last about 30 years, so either production has slowed or more rock is being extracted than predicted. The cement plant owns property near Scott City that could be mined in the future.

A place of beauty

There was something to shoot in every direction. This made me think of the grand canyon.

A shame to lose them

It was a shame to lose these beautiful features, but safety regulations would bar anyone from seeing them today, so it may be better that the stone was turned into the Bill Emerson Memorial Bridge and roads and buildings in the region.

More photos to come

I’ll have more photos of the quarry and the cement plant taken last fall. Some of the photos from the 9th floor of the plant show spectacular views all the way to Academic Hall. The day was so clear that Crowley’s Ridge was visible in the distance.



Cement Plant Quarry Fills Up

Whenever I’m in Cape, I hop on my bike and take a run down to South Sprigg to look over the edge of the cement plant quarry. I’ve always been fascinated by the place.

I saw a brief story in The Missourian in the past couple of weeks that the high water and flooding has caused the quarry to fill up. I kept waiting for a longer piece and now I can’t find the original one.

In the meantime, my mother’s neighbor across the street, Bill Bolton, sent me this photo showing that the water is way above the conveyor belt that carries the blasted material over Sprigg St. to the cement plant.

Last week there was a story in the paper saying that huge sinkholes have opened up and swallowed so many pieces of Sprigg Street that it’s closed “indefinitely.”

2002 Blowout

To put Bill’s photo in perspective, there was a huge blowout in July 2002 where a 25-foot-tall plume of water came blasting in. You can click on any photo to make it larger.

Conveyor area still dry

Even with that massive inflow of water, the conveyor area was still high and dry.

By fall 2002, flow was stopped

By my October 2002 visit, the flow had stopped and pumps had taken the water level down substantially.

Nearly drained by October 2003

The water was almost completely gone by Oct. 15, 2003.

Fall 2010 aerial photo

This is what the quarry looked like from the air on Nov. 6, 2010. The paved road on the right is S. Sprigg Street.

Seep water from Cape LaCroix Creek

Nov. 10, 2010, I took a tour of the cement plant and was given my first trip to the bottom of the quarry since the mid-70s. I’ll run photos of that later, along with pictures of the massive caverns that were blasted out by the early miners.

Buzzi Unicem Plant Manager Steve Leus said the water in the photo was coming in underground from Cape LaCroix Creek. Under normal circumstances, pumps can handle the flow.

The caves on the right are from some of the early mining. They extend under Sprigg Street. Steve said they’re not sure how far back they go.

Water rising April 2011

The river was just reaching flood stage at Cape when I took this photo on April 17, 2011. The lower portions of the quarry are beginning to hold water, but it’s a long way from where it was when Bill took his photo a few weeks later.

1966 aerial shows expansion

This aerial I shot of the cement plant and quarry shows just how much rock has been taken out in the last 45 years.


Natatorium Gets Finishing Touch

I mentioned in the last post that the Marquette Natatorium was sporting  new coat of paint when we drove past it Easter Sunday. I commented that the only thing it needed was to have the black accent applied to the name.

Black is back

When I drove past it this morning, someone had filled in the black. It looks good as new.

Don’t worry. This is the last post on the Marquette Natatorium for a long time. Unless, of course, they announce that it’s turning back into a swimming pool.

Natatorium Gets Paint Job

At the end of January, I posted a picture of the Marquette Natatorium taken in October 2009 paired with a photo my wife’s niece, Laurie Evertt (of Annie Laurie’s Antiques), shot January 29 of this year. Her photo (above) showed it looking pretty shabby.

You can follow this link to read comments readers posted after I wrote a little bit about the history of the indoor swimming hole.

Good news: Natatorium looks spiffy

The was some speculation that the building might be headed for the wrecking ball, but we had a pleasant surprise when we drove past the place on Easter. It was sporting a spiffy new paint job.

It needs some black paint inside the carved name to make it look like new.

It’s no longer being used as a swimming pool, but it appears the building will be around for us to appreciate for a few more years.