Sussex Swimming Quarry
edited by Michael R. Reilly
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.
Old Sussex swimming quarry
Posted Sussex Sun, June 8, 2010
Quarry view about 1925
Hidden in the middle of Sussex in land formed by the triangle of Main Street, Waukesha Avenue and Silver Spring Drive is a 120-year-old water-filled quarry. It was constructed in 1890 with the coming of the Bug Line Railroad to Templeton – then the eastern part of the dual community of Sussex-Templeton.
The quarry was set up in 1890 to take advantage of a surface outcropping of Niagara Reef dolomite lime stone that was burne in a set of three lime kilns to produce various forms of quick and slack lime that had various uses. The most prominent use was to make plaster and a binding agent for mortar that was used to cement bricks in construction projects.
Fuel for the kilns came from the northwestern Wisconsin forests. The fuel didn’t have to be the best wood but rather the twisted, gnarly wood that was refuse from the vast lumbering businesses in central and northern Wisconsin was used.
The wood had to be cut into four-foot lengths and split into smaller sizes so it could be continuously fed into the lime kilns nearly round the clock.
The kilns were 35-feet high and rail tracks would incline to the top to carry the quarried stone from the quarry floor to the top level of the kilns. The kilns had side roofs over the middle level where workers would feed in the wood to burn the stone over a three-day process.
Below the roof and the wood-burning opening floor there was a bottom access hole where workers would insert long steel hooked rods to remove the burned lime. The entire process would start with stone going in on top, wood into the middle and removal of the burned lime from the bottom. Temperatures in the kilns would reach between 500 and 900 degrees centigrade. When the lime came out it would be red hot – almost transparent – and would give off light that would glow in the cooling floor.
By 1920, all kiln work in Waukesha County was passé as products like Portland Cement started to take over the market.
Reports from different local sources tell of 10 kilns once in operation in Sussex-Templeton, but some say there were 17. Today, only one kiln still stands and it is located behind Quad Tech. Another’s remains can be seen near Swan Road a little east off the south shoulder of Lisbon Road, but not everyone confirms the landmark’s origin and claim it is just an old pile of rocks.
Back to the quarry
It is behind the former Mammoth Spring Canning Company land on Main Street across the road from M&M Restaurant. It can be seen through the trees and brush if one takes the Bug Line Recreational Trail from Silver Spring Drive to Main Street.
Originally the land that the quarry would be on was claimed in the 1840s by Edwin C. Hartsen who bought it for $1.25 per acre. According an 1859 property map, William Weaver owned it who passed it to his son J.R. Weaver in 1873 and by 1891, William Elliot, a relative to the Weaver clan, opened the quarry and lime kiln business. It went through a series of owners and in 1914, it was reduced to 14.25 acres and was a company owned by Templeton Lime and Stone Company.
On July 13, 1909, a massive fire destroyed the quarry. It was later restored only to burn down again in 1916 and by that time this type of business venture was obsolete. The demise of the company left 50 people out of work who were earning 12 to 15 cents per hour.
After the 1916 fire there was no pump left to remove the water from the springs and the quarry filled with about 22 feet of water. In 1918, the Kraemer family from Rockfield bought the site for $5,000. Most of the land facing Waukesha Avenue was subdivided and sold as lots.
In 1920, the canning company was built here for about $62,500 and operated until March 1996. Meanwhile the canning company allowed kids to swim in the water-filled quarry.
In the early 1950s, the Sussex Lions Club with member Al Halquist blew off a piece of surface stone to make an enlarged wading/swimming area and the village took over running a summertime recreational swimming area. The swimming hole was eventually closed down due to the American Disabilities Act. Today the quarry is overgrown with trees and algae bloom and is the home to flocks of water fowl. There have been discussions to develop a walking path around the entire quarry hole so those using recreational trails could use it and possibly boat in it.
Pic and caption from the 1978 pile of photos, but “Spring is ONLY a Week Away”? Looks like the dead of Winter! No actual photo found.
Early opening, Sunday June 11, 1978. 50 cents per person when entering if not registered.
Instructor Mary Hofmann with Beginners One class. 1978
Life Guards and Swimming Instructors, 1978, L to R, front row, Debbie Schmidt, 17, a sophomore at UW-Stevens Point, 1st year as a quarry guard; Mary Hofmann, 18, 2nd yr as guard and instructor attends WCTI; Jayme Mercier, 19, 2nd yr for the Sussex Rec Dept, head life guard this year, sophomore at UW-Madison; back row, Chuck Burki, 18, 3 yrs of guard and swimming experience, attends MATC; Mike Cibulka, 17, 1st year as guard, attends Hamilton High School, lettered in track; Jan Burki, 17, 2nd yr of duty at quarry, a Senior at Hamilton. The swimming program is under the direction of the Sussex Park and Recreation Committee.
Swimming lessons at quarry July 1979. Using the Mammoth Spring Canning Company owned water-filled quarry. Sussex and Lisbon used the 20 ft water depth quarry from 1916 thru 1979 and until 1991 for community [Sussex] swimming. Access was from Silver Spring Rd., through the then Hardiman’s Petro Pantry. This photo shows a life guard/swimming instructor teaching beginners group near the high dive area. Sussex never lost a person to drowning “during organized swimming” from 1916 to 1991. It was closed because of the American Disabilities Act. Photo by Fred H. Keller
On hot days, Sussex-Lisbon children are taking long dips in the Sussex Quarry. Open swimming for card holders is from 1-8p. daily. The quarry has a roped in wading area for non-swimmers and two diving boards and rafts in the deep area for proficient swimmers. Lessons are given to registered groups every weekday morning by qualified instructors hired by the park and recreation board. June 1980, photo by Fred H. Keller.