A Legacy Set in Stone

| 28 Sep 2011 | 02:13

    After almost a hundred years of operation, the old Limecrest quarry is no more. Limestone is no longer being mined there and the pumps that cleared the water from the pit have been partially turned off. Now the quarry is a beautiful lake 52 feet deep encompassing 35 acres. And the water from the natural spring is still rising at the rate of two inches a day. The water is a deep blue that turns translucent green near the shallow edges, it is breath-taking. Limestone has been quarried in this area since Colonial days and has been an important part of the local economy. For hundreds of years, lime has been mixed with sand and water and this mortar held together brick or stone. It was also used in interior walls as a plaster by mixing the lime with sand, water and goat hair. Families often kept a bucket of hydrated lime in the outhouse where a scoop would hold down odors. It was also used for agricultural purposes to sweeten the soil. The quarrying of limestone was one of the leading industries in Sussex County by the turn of the century. A large quarry would employ many men and the jobs required skill as well as strength. In the days before steam or electric shovels, drilling was especially difficult and required close teamwork between a driller and his helper. The driller would hold a straight steel drill and his helper would hit it with a sledgehammer. Between each hit, the driller had to turn the drill slightly so that it would cut a round hole. It required great skill to do this hour after hour without hitting the driller's wrist. Coopers who made the barrels the lime was shipped in, carpenters, burners, blacksmiths, woodchoppers, drivers and laborers were also employed. There are still limekilns evident about the county as well as ruins of old lime-burning plants. In the early part of the century, Thomas Edison leased the limestone quarry and touted the use of lime for agricultural products. After he sold it, the quarry passed through the hands of many owners. Among those are Limestone Product Corporation of America, Penn Virginia Resources, Medusa Cement which merged into Southdown, Cemex USA which leased 57 of its 400 acres and the mineral division to Oldcastle Stone Products. Cemex sold to Limecrest Quarry Developers who continue to mine only granite for rip-rap, railroad ballast, septic fields and construction aggregates. And who now continue to watch the old quarry fill up with water. At one of the buildings owned by LQD, there is a miniature of the quarry exactly as it was in 1929. About the size of a ping-pong table, it was constructed by Berthold Audsley Studios, date unknown, detailed down to the telephone wires. Mike Keefer, local mining engineer employed by LQD, explained the workings of the model, basically the same today except for the equipment. Holes were drilled into the limestone and blasted. The resulting shot rock was then loaded into vehicles and hauled to the primary crusher. It was then ground down through several layers of crushing to a certain size, depending upon usage. Keefer told of a major upgrade in the ‘90s when the fine powder used for agriculture was mixed with a binder and formed into pellets. The first rain would then dissolve the binder and release the limestone into the soil, thus eliminating the dust that accompanied the powder form. The 1929 model shows the elevation (above sea level) of the pit at 580 feet while the current level is 170 feet below that. The Historical Society hopes to obtain this miniature to preserve it for future generations. Meanwhile, it will be very interesting to see the next evolution of the old quarry. Article by Judy Dunn The above information was taken from articles by Vera Gibson of the Herald and Dick Drew. Many thanks to Mike Keefer and to Susan Simovich of the Sparta Public Library. The next meeting of the Sparta Historical Society will be on Sept. 9 at 7:30 p.m. in the Sparta Ambulance Building, 14 Sparta Avenue.