While you visit beautiful and historic Montello, imagine it as a new settlement in the new State of Wisconsin in 1849 when the Muirs and others were moving to Marquette County. If you've visited Site 21A, you'll have read about the early days of Montello on the historical kiosk there. If you haven't been there yet, make that your next stop.
The Muirs would have come to Montello to file papers once it became the County Seat. Daniel also came to revival meetings.
In a letter from John Muir's sister Margaret, she wrote,
Father has just arrived from the creek. There have been many revival meetings held there lately. There have a been a few at French’s mill and a good many at Montello.
One can't get a clear understanding of the beginnings of the Montello granite quarry unless consideration is given to what Montello was like in its early years. Sitting at the confluence of the Montello and Fox Rivers, water power was an important factor in the community's settlement and subsequent growth. Besides water power, the Fox River was the main means of transportation between the Great Lakes and Portage and, after the building of the Portage Canal, the Wisconsin and Mississippi Rivers. Goods flowed on barges and steam ships along this water route and businesses grew as Montello received and shipped shingles, cranberries, wheat, hogs, wool and more.
In 1855 the Daily Milwaukee News of May 8 reported on Montello, saying "it has two of the largest water-powers in Central Wisconsin" (the Fox and the Montello). With a population of 800, the report said that Montello was "destined to be a large manufacturing town."
In a bid to entice investors here, the article went on to say, "There are three manufactories that would be successful in Montello---a sash and blind factory, a tub and pail factory and a woolen factory."
Jason Daniels was the first settler in 1848 to dam the Montello River. That first dam lead to a grist mill and woolen mill. The dam later became the power source for the granite quarries that operated in Montello.
In 1866, documents trace the ownership of the mill property to the Wisconsin Industrial Association, a Corporation of the State of Wisconsin, for $3100 on January 29, 1866.
On September 25, 1869, the Semi-Weekly Wisconsin newspaper out of Milwaukee reported on Montello and said, "It (Montello) has an excellent water power, improved by a grist-mill and a woolen-factory and a surplus power sufficient to drive considerable other machinery. This property is owned by a joint stock company called the Wisconsin Industrial Association. The Mill has a capacity of two hundred barrels of flour per day. The Factory is a four story building of stone, supplied with first-class machinery, and is complete in all its appointments with a capacity of manufacturing two hundred yards of woolen cloth per day."
Investors, businessmen and citizens of Montello expected the Railroad to come into the city as early as the 1850s. The railroad finally came to Montello through a spur of the Wisconsin Central that ran from Packwaukee to Montello in 1882. With no turn around, the trains backed in and drove out or drove into Montello and backed out. The station close to where the office of the Marquette County Tribune is now located, across from today's city cemetery. The Montello Library was once a railroad warehouse.
The Montello Express wrote, “The Railroad! Yes, Montello has got a railroad! The culmination of fluctuating hopes—the thing coveted for so many long years, and the reward of a sleepless anxiety. Do you hear? We have a railroad! Now don’t get drunk, but let us have a sober jubilee. It is a thing of life, of beauty, of interest, not to be worshipped, but to be admired. Do not stop now to inquire about the mysteries or the influences which brought it. We have got it, and like a new-born babe, it has come to stay; so now let the people settle down and enjoy the fruits and proceeds of a long warfare. We are now open to the rest of the world; let us all rejoice and be glad. Now to business.”
Granite is an igneous rock formed as liquid magma solidifies deep within the earth. The granite in Montello is about 1,765 million years old. Granite consists mainly of quartz, mica, and feldspar. Geologists tell us that this ridge of granite in Montello once stood 200 feet above the Precambrian surface of the earth. Then, it was covered by the late Precambrian sea. Later, glacial movement back and forth over thousands and thousands of years scraped away surrounding land, leaving the exposed granite. Over 12,000 years ago, the last glacier moved over the land and marks (striae) on the surface show that the giant sheet of ice moved in a westerly direction. Although the long ridge of granite in Montello is connected to the granite found in Red Granite, Montello’s is unique in its density, hardness, and strength. This portion of the cooled magma must have been under much greater pressure as the granite was formed. This unique character is why Montello granite became so famous and sought after for memorials. Besides its rich color, its strength assured people that the monument would outlast any other.
Many people were interested in quarrying during the building craze after statehood and into the twentieth century. Granite, limestone, sandstone, and more types of quarries opened up across the country as stone was needed for rail beds, road beds, building blocks and the prosperous memorial business. Filed in Register of Deeds office on September 22, 1881, are three trust deeds of $1.00 each transferring all rights to remove and quarry granite, syenite and other rock for 15 years. These rights were transferred from C.B. King and James H. Anderson, co-partners under the firm name of the Montello Granite Company to Charles L. Colby and Edwin H. Abbott, Trustees.
The Montello Granite Company was formed as a partnership registered in the State of Illinois by Claude B. King and James H. Anderson. Despite many historical reports that King was “a newspaperman from Chicago,” the 1870 Illinois census places him in Ottawa, Illinois in LaSalle County. His occupation is listed as real estate broker.
Wood derricks were set up quickly after the quarry began operation. Several ways of moving the granite were employed. First, guy wires were strung along the top of the quarry and a pulley system moved the granite. They were called Blondins and got the name from Charles Blondin (real name Jean-Francois Gravelet), the French tight rope walker best known for crossing Niagara Falls in 1859. Wooden derricks were then set up that used guy wires to stabilize them and then used big leg-like out-riggers. Steel derricks followed. Look closely at the photos and you’ll see all of these types of derricks in use.
Montello granite was highly sought after for monuments. Its fine grain and rich color made it very popular. There are Montello granite monuments across the US and General Ulysses S. Grant's and his wife's sarcophagi are made from Montello granite.
A large monument job that the Granite Company obtained was for Wisconsin regimental monuments at the Gettysburg battlefield. First news about the possibility of this work came in 1887 when, on July 2, the Montello Express reported: Hon L E Pond was in town on Thursday, and informs us that the monuments for the 6th and 7th regiments, at Gettysburg, will be made of Montello Granite, and possibly this stone may be used for other regiments.
On February 18, 1888, the Weekly Wisconsin ran a full page article on the Wisconsin monuments to be placed at the Gettysburg battleground at the locations of the Wisconsin regiments. The article said that the Wisconsin Granite Company was chosen to construct the monuments for the Sixth and Seventh Regiments for $1,000 apiece. All monuments were to be completed by May 15, that same year. The other regiment monuments would come from Ryegate, Vermont with some Wisconsin stone incorporated in the design.
A delegation of Wisconsinites toured the Gettysburg battlefield to choose sites for the monuments.
Below is a stack of granite bases for the monuments of the Wisconsin units that served during the Civil War at Vicksburg.
Montello granite was also used for building blocks and the waste used in road construction. The photos show men making blocks for pavement as well as building blocks. The water in the back ground is Montello Lake. The next photo was taken on what is now Park Street.
The first office building of the Montello quarry.
At the height of employment there were between 200 and 220 men in quarrying and manufacturing. At one time there were 80 workers cutting paving blocks and 11 full-time blacksmiths keeping tools sharpened and making tools and chains.
This photo shows how close the downtown was to the quarry. In fact, one of the reasons the quarry closed is because the deeper you go, the wider you have to go and the quarry was landlocked in the middle of Montello. Click on the Timeline of the Quarry near the top of this page to see the dates of the quarry businesses and its closing.
To cut the hard granite, originally they used a saw with big iron teeth a foot long and steel shot. The teeth pulled the shot through the granite.In the 1940s they came up with a two strand braided steel wire saw that was quieter and quicker and ran over some wheels. Sometimes the wire could be a couple hundred feet long depending on what we were doing. The grooves in the wire pulled a slurry of emery and water that dripped on the wire through the granite.The emery cut the granite, not the wire.They could cut about eight inches an hour, and the wire had to be changed every other day. Other granites could be cut about four feet an hour and the wire changed only once every three months. You can see the difference in the manufacturing costs.
There are two quarry pits in Montello. The quarry on Park Street is about 150 fee tdeep.On Montello Street the pit is about 85 feet deep.
When the quarry was in full operation, a small railroad inside was used to move the granite. The cars were called dinkies.
After the quarry closed, the last owners of the Montello Granite Company, Troost family, worked with the City of Montello in hopes that they would purchase the quarry property and create a park and historical site. The City had proponents both for and against the sale to the city which held up a decision until the family felt they could no longer delay payments to stock holders so they sold it to local realtor and Christmas tree grower Irv Daggett. Daggett offered it once more to the City, but again they could not make a decision so he took it upon himself to create waterfalls and the park that thousands of residents and visitors enjoy year round. In 1966 the Montello Lions Club built the small waterfalls you see as you drive into downtown Montello.
Want to learn more about the Montello granite quarries? This book is available at the Montello Historic Preservation Society, the Marquette County Historical Society, the Marquette County Tribune office, B&B Candy Store in Montello, and Reader's Realm Bookstore in Montello. All sales go to support the Montello Historic Preservation Society.
If you want to see a historic building associated with the railroad, go visit the Montello Public Library that is filled with cool stuff. That's some 4th graders a few years ago visiting the library. The red brick building used to be a warehouse that sat along the tracks. Imagine the train pulling in and travelling all the way down to the granite quarry. The building is a piece of history and the library still makes history today with fun activities and important service to the community. Visit the building and the link below.
Also visit J.P. Vaughn Hall at 55 West Montello Street. It's the home of the Montello Historic Preservation Society. You'll learn about the historic building on the National Historic Registry as well as view exhibits on John Muir, the Montello Granite Quarry, the First People of Marquette County, the woolen mill, and Veterans of Montello. Events are regularly held upstairs in the 1912 building as well. Link to the historical society is also below.