Saturday, July 16, 2011

Breaking rock on a hot day

I know that the young man in this photo with an "x" on his chest is my great-uncle, Joseph E. Brown. He and other members of the crew probably were photographed at the Rees Quarry northeast of Durham in Marion County by another great-uncle, Alpheus E. Love, in the late 1880s.

We're in for a hot spell between now and Thursday, if forecasts are believed --- highs in the upper 90s and heat indices, higher; a good time to be grateful for air conditioning. And, if you've got it, to be grateful for work that isn't outside.

I've been looking at these two old photographs this morning, thinking about just how hot you'd have gotten breaking, loading and hauling rock in this kind of weather at the old Rees Quarry at Durham. Or at least I'm reasonably sure this is the crew at the Rees Quarry, just northeast of Durham, some time in the late 1880s.

Durham, now a ghost town, is located in southeast Marion County along English Creek (which rises in Lucas County's Williamson Pond) not far upstream from its mouth on the Des Moines River. Harvey, the little town a mile or two to the southeast and closer to the river, has survived. Durham actually has been eaten by a much larger and newer limestone quarring and mining operation.

Because the limestone near Durham, in the St. Louis formation, is not of especially high quality it is no longer used for building, but instead is crushed --- to surface roads and and for other puposes.

All I can tell you for sure about the photo is that the young man with an "x" on his chest is my great-uncle, Joseph E. Brown, then somewhere in the neighborhood of 18. The photographer probably was his brother-in-law, Alpheus E. Love, but I can't prove that. Both lived at Columbia, also in Marion County, but to the west and south.

Uncle Joe was my grandmother, Jessie's, only full brother. Both Jessie and Joe had 11 older half-sisters and half-brothers, however. One of the brothers was Jonathan Edwards Brown, a stonemason who lived at Durham with his family and specialized in building barn foundations --- barn construction was a growth industry in Iowa during the 1880s. The fact Uncle Jonathan lived there probably explains how Uncle Joe, a blacksmith by trade, found a seasonal job at the quarry, and why Uncle Al came trailing along with his camera.

If enough of the quarry crew bought copies, Uncle Al could have made a buck or two off this photographic endeavor.

I'm speculating that the man at far left in a vest is the quarry boss, perhaps Mr. Rees himself. Maybe someone sometime will happen onto this photo and be able to tell me more.

Quarrying was a major industry in Marion County at the time this photo was taken. There were small limestone quarries up and down the Des Moines River valley. And sandstone --- the red rocks after which the ghost town of Red Rock and the current, vast Army Corps of Engineers Red Rock reservoir, or lake, were named --- was quarried at Red Rock (due north of Knoxville on the north bank of the Des Moines) and shipped as far as Des Moines and St. Louis for use in major building projects.

Marion County limestone, because of its quality, was used for the most part locally, principally for foundations.

Anyhow, this would have been hot work on hot days and I wouldn't have cared to do it. And it needs to be kept in mind, in these days of on-the-job shirtlessness and shorts, that the men would have worked in the heat fully clothed. A male at that time would no more have considered baring his chest in public than would a woman have considered baring her knees.

Uncle Joe, unfortunately, did not live happily ever after. He suffered from tuberculosis, which also took the lives of at least two and perhaps three of his half-siblings, although that would not have been affecting him when this photo was taken.

At age 24, in 1895, he married Anna Stone and soon thereafter, because of his deteriorating health, they moved to Burr Oak in Jewell County, Kansas, hoping a dryer climate would help. Their son, Ronald, was born at Burr Oak in 1897.

In the fall of 1898, Uncle Joe came back to Columbia, loaded his widowed mother Chloe, sister Jessie and niece Verna into a covered wagon and drove them to Burr Oak, where the family remained as a tight-knit unit until his death on Sept. 25, 1899, just a few days past his 28th birthday.

The family brought his body home to Columbia for burial a few days later.

Here's a broader --- and badly faded --- view of the quarrying operation.

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