Sixth in a series about Blue Mound.
One of the more prominent features in Blue Mound today is the extensive quarrying of limestone in and about the hamlet. When I moved there in 1945, there were two inactive quarries occupying less than 10 acres total. Then between 1950 and 1998, much of the area was purchased by M. M. Green for quarrying. Now most of the immediate area has been mined although some of it has been reclaimed.
The presence of abundant limestone rock in the area has long been known. The first mention was in a land surveyor’s field notes dated June 4, 1841, to wit: “There is excellent lime-stone [sic] quarries on and near this line.” Marshall Purcell related the following in a 1978 interview with the Chillicothe Constitution-Tribune: “As a boy (he was born September 4, 1883) I puzzled over the mysterious of the profusion of large lime rocks and ledges in the Blue Mound hills where I lived and played. Later that mystery was solved and many of the local roads are covered with crushed rock from those quarries.”
Before the quarries were developed in the mid 1930’s, there was an attempt to utilize the abundant limestone rock in a different manner. Gary Maberry found a Chillicothe newspaper article dated June 17, 1930 entitled, “Lime Crusher to Operate.” It was touting a demonstration of how to turn “useless” limestone rocks laying around on the landowner’s properties in the Blue Mound area into lime for their fields at a cost not to exceed $2 per ton. This demonstration was to occur on the Frank Burner farm on the 19th and the D. P. Barnes farm on the 20th. There were 19 farmers signed up to crush 25 tons.
Since that time, there have been two types of rock quarries in Blue Mound; one funded by the WPA in the mid 1930’s, and another in the mid-1940’s. The later one was started by M. M. Green, a commercial one, that still exists today, and is now operated by the Norris Quarries (a subsidiary of the Con-Agg Companies).
The WPA or Works Project Administration was a Federal program that granted money to local agencies for specific local projects. The WPA was created in 1935 and ran until 1943 under U. S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal. Its stated purpose was to provide useful work for millions of victims of the Great Depression and thus preserve their skills and self-respect. There were two WPA quarries in Blue Mound; both on land leased from John Perry.
These two were abandoned by the time I moved there in 1945. One was almost directly behind our house just east of the schoolhouse and the other one was directly south of John Perry’s house about a quarter mile east of our place.
It is difficult to say how long they had been abandoned, but some of the metal equipment had already rusted. Donald Barnes, who lived in Blue Mound from 1921-1936, didn’t remember any rock quarries and neither did Howard Brown who lived there from 1917-1929. It is hard to believe that these quarries started up, flourished and went defunct in no more than eight years.
I queried the National Archives, but they didn’t have any records of a WPA rock quarry in Blue Mound. They did, however, have records for one in Livingston County located in Section 17, Township 59 North, Range 24 West (Jackson Township) beginning in late 1936. The funding for that project was rescinded in early 1937 for unspecified reasons.
A Chillicothe newspaper article dated 12/05/1938 stated that rock from the quarry on John Perry’s land was the first rock to be laid on Blue Mound roads. Also, someone mentioned that some of the rock from these quarries was used to pave Highway 65. I contacted Thomas Gubbels, a Historian for the Missouri Department of Transportation, and he had this to say about it: “I also checked to see if I could find any reference to WPA involvement with the construction of Highway 65 through Livingston County. I did not find any records indicating that gravel from a WPA quarry was used in the construction of Highway 65. Most portions of Route 65 through Livingston County were established as gravel roads in 1931-1933, a few years before the WPA was created. However, I noticed that other segments of Highway 65 were not completed until 1940, and it is possible that gravel from Blue Mound quarry was used in some of these later road projects within Livingston County.”
Other information about these quarries came from interviews as follows:
Reva Maberry and her daughter June Lazure, related that the lease to WPA saved her dad, John Perry, from bankruptcy during the depression. Reva also related that this project provided employment for a lot of the locals, and that her uncle walked about two miles each day to spend eight hours working in the quarry.
Willa Jean Estes told me this about the quarry: “The first rock quarry at Blue Mound started when I was about 7; now that is almost 77 years ago. It was a WPA government project. My dad drove a gravel truck and helped gravel many of the roads around there as well as many more for miles around. He and another man or two drove the trucks, dumped the gravel and then spread it out. He didn't get paid much. As I remember it wasn't more than $15 every two weeks. But one thing for sure it gave a lot of people employment when they needed it most.”
Beulah Marie Burks remembered her grandad telling how he had to walk 10 miles one way to work when they started up the WPA. The first thing he did when he got a paycheck was to buy a Model T car.
Marj Locker found two items in the Chillicothe newspaper directly related to the WPA quarry at Blue Mound: March 22, 1939 – Mrs. John Jenkins, Miss Norma Lee Jenkins and Pearl Wooden visited Blue Mound rock quarry, and March 16, 1940 – Roy Jones was injured in a dirt cave-in at the quarry at Blue Mound.
So the quarry was obviously run by the WPA, but I have been unable to locate any other records about it. What remained in 1945 was an old equipment shed that contained some oil barrels, some industrial strength wheel barrows, a crushing machine, and a place where they loaded the crushed materials for distribution. There was a fairly sizeable pit south of John Perry’s place and a smaller one south of where we lived.
The existing quarry came in after I moved to Blue Mound in 1945. Johnny Hoyt in his book, Not Much of Anything: A History of My Life, had this to say about the existing rock quarry, “As I look at Blue Mound, at one time there were two stores and a drugstore where we people on Saturday nights would gather. This area now is a rock quarry- There have been two houses burned in the last years, merely to get them out, as the rock under the houses is more valuable than the houses. Mr. Green, the owner of the quarry, told me at one time where they were working at that time the rock was 36 feet thick, yielding over 220,000 tons per acre. They are building roads, making it possible for us to go many times farther in a day than it was possible in those days.”
Later, Charlotte Condron provided the following sequence of events and information about the properties that were purchased by the Greens:
“Merrill M. Green started a quarry south of Blue Mound on the east side of the road on land owned by Everett Haynes in 1950. Edwin Haynes and family lived in the house near the quarry. As the quarry grew, Green bought the John Perry land from his children, Ruby Perry Condron, Reva Perry Maberry, Rolla and Bacil Perry.
From the four corners to the west about a half of a mile on the north side of the road there was a house built by the Browns. Later the Shattos, the Gibsons, and Isaac Ireland owned it before the Greens bought it. Jerry and Charlotte Condron rented the house for 5 years from December 1966 to November 1971. Jerry operated the dozer for Green’s and dozed in this house in 1975.
The little grey house just east of the school house was moved by Charles Sutherland from beside the 2nd house north of the school on the west side of the road (Ocal Berry and his family lived there before it was moved). The Sutherlands sold it to the Greens.
Bob Dillard owned the place just north of the school. Warner Bachman was the next owner. He sold it to the Greens in 1965. The Greens rented it a few years before it was dozed down.
Lelia Davis owned the land across the road from the Dillard’s property. It was last owned by Bill Hughes before he sold it to the Greens.
The Dillard house was directly north of the quarry. Jim Berry, Stanley Odell and Glen Ferguson owned it before the Greens bought it. They rented it to Claude Spainhour for a few years and the house is now used as a storage shed.
Stella Porter sold the old schoolhouse and property to the Greens in 1998/99. The old school house remains and is used as a lab for rock inspection and storage.
M. M. Green died in 1974, but the company continued on, under the management of his wife (Blanche), their three children and their spouses. Donald, the oldest, was the President. Donald died September 4, 1998. On June 1, 2000, the remaining family members transferred ownership to Hunt Midwest Mining, a Division of Hunt Enterprises which includes the Kansas City Chiefs.”
An asphalt plant (Bentley Trucking/Paris Asphalt Company) operated from 1991 until summer 2001 when it was purchased by APAC-Central Missouri Division out of Columbia, MO. It remained in operation until at least 2004 in an area just south of the quarry entrance on the west side of Route Z just a short distance from intersection of Route Z and LIV 240. In 2019, Hunt Enterprises still owns all of the mining area shown in red on the map below (the arrow points to the 12 acres that was reclaimed and sold to Rickey McCracken), but the active quarry west of the Route Z is currently leased and operated by Norris Quarries (a subsidiary of the Con-Agg Companies).
My own personal recollection of the existing quarry began with the excitement of the daily dynamite blast which occurred about 4 p.m. each work day. There was the obligatory “fire in the hole” auditory warning, a slight rumble of the earth, a tower of blasted rock going skyward, a mighty roar, and then some after-noise as individual rock particles plopped back to earth. The bigger ones fell first followed by smaller and smaller ones. Then, quarry workers would come over into John Perry’s hayfield and load up the bigger ones that had drifted over with the wind and haul them back to the quarry. According to the quarry workers, a perfect “shot” was when almost no rocks went up into the air. They seemed to have a lot of imperfect shots. The blasting did seem to affect our “living” water wells. At least they seemed to go dry more often after the quarry moved in.
My brother John and I got a big surprise one day while we were watching them put the big rock chunks in the crusher to make gravel or lime. One person was at the top of the conveyor belt that took the rocks to the crusher and he would pull out any roots or other debris among the rock fragments. He also had quite a little pile of unexploded sticks of dynamite. When he saw that we were watching him, he picked up a handful of them and threw them into the crusher. Wide-eyed, we hit the deck only to see him laughing at us. He explained later that the pressure of the crusher wouldn’t set off the dynamite, it needed the electrical spark that went through the blasting caps that actually started the explosion. Needless to say, we were much impressed by this.
Another memory involved our old cars. I had a 1929 Chevrolet that only started once in a while. My brother had a 1946 Chevy that would start, and we spent a lot of time pulling that older one trying to start it. On this particular day we pulled it all the way down to the quarry and still couldn’t get it started. We pulled into the quarry, turned it around and had started back to the main road. I was the one pulling and my brother was in the one being towed. As we approached the main road (Route Z), I pulled over into my lane as a car was approaching. A door came open on the towed car being pulled and my brother reached over to close it and subsequently veered over into the middle of the main Blue Mound road and hit Edwin Haynes’ car as he was coming south resulting in extensive damage. Not a good scene. Neither one of us were old enough to drive. My memory is little blurred on the outcome, but the word “grounded” comes to mind.