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WESTFIELD QUARRY LINE, 1850 and beyond
Westfield, the original Village in the Fayette Valley was build on limestone slabs and blocks, dug out of the top of the hill on the north side of the Volga River, from today's Hwy 150 bridge to the Hwy 93 bridge.

Early quarry workers were not stone masons by trade, but local men doing their own building or supplying stone to others for barter.  The early removal of limestone was almost always near the top of a hill were exposure was not right on a cliff face, but where draft animals could get into the area.  It was easier to work from the top down with gravity to help bring the stone down hill, plus often near the top of a hill fractured limestone would be exposed that could be removed by basic hand methods.  The road to the work area was hand cut, dug, re-enforced and right on the edge of the drop-off in many areas.  In the case of the Westfield Quarries, right above the Volga River.


The stone used to make the foundations for homes and out-buildings in Westfield was removed by digging and prying, limestone slabs and blocks from the top of the hill on the north side of the Volga River, above the village.  There are six men working this specific site, four men and one dog are shadowy figures digging on the face of the fracture wall.  The entire top of the hill overlooking the river was a serious of pry quarries that ran for about 3/4 mile. Most of the structures would be build of rough-cut lumber from Alexander's and later Templeton's Mill.  




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In only twenty years the villages of Westfield and Fayette would be platted and built up to between 400-500 people, Upper Iowa University was built, there was an early iron bridge at the north end of Main Street, but river fords were used in all other locations.  At the time of the first use of the Westfield Quarry line, none of the structure on this map was present.  The Fayette area  had several log cabins and settlers along the Volga.  There were no frame buildings of rough cut timber/lumber until 1855.  The area that would become the town of Fayette was being cleared of timber and brush and planted to small field of wheat.  Even the UIU hill was being grazed and planted until the start of the Seminary in 1855. The Westfield quarry line was very active in the 1850's and into the 1860's, and moderately utilized throughout the late 1800's.  

You are looking down from the eastern end of the quarry line to the actual ford across the Volga River into the village of Westfield which would have been right in front of you.  The road leading over the top of the hill is the Westfield Trail to the south and the route out onto the prairies toward Maynard and Oelwein.  Grandview Cemetery, which opened in late 1853 on land owned by James Roberston, was a mile to the south along the hill line.  The village of Fayette which did not exist during the first years of development of Westfield from 1850-1854.  In these early years there would be just 10-12 families of small farmers and craftsmen in the Westfield area.  River fords around Westfield-Fayette tended to be a relatively broad expanse across the stream and the team driver would pick what he thought to be the best route.  Oxen and wooden sleds were used to bring the limestone down from the hill top, across the Volga River ford just to the west of the present Hwy 150 Bridge (2000) and then up the back into Westfield.  Westfield was the field area west of Hwy 150 Bridge, south up the hillside from Hwy 93, and west to the Mill Run Bridge (first bridge out of Fayette going west, across the dry run).  

Now you are across the Westfield Ford and looking west.  The Westfield Quarry Line runs along the top of the hill on your right, and all the way down the ridge to about the middle of the pic.  In the 1850's the limestone slabs and blocks, pried out of the quarries would be brought down and used for foundations in both Westfield and Fayette.  Around the corner of the hill to the left of the pic, Robert Alexander would be operating his saw and grist mill.  His brother-in-law James Roberston would be farming and buying land in the Fayette valley and hills immediately to the south of Westfield.  By the mid-1850's Templeton would be milling at Westfield and by the 1860's there would be a very large grist mill and woolen mill in front of you, and down in the grassy depression at the end of the tree line on your right.

In the 1850's a bridge at Westfield, like the modern Hyw 93 bridge at the right of the pic, was decades in the future.  There were however, three fords to the west leading out of Westfield.  On the right side of the pic (north) you can see the Old Mill Run, as the depression with brush along it.  Robert Alexander's first mill was to the left (south) of the Mill run, and actually back about even with the left edge of the pic.  Just below the Mill Dam was a ford.  Then straight ahead in the center of the pic and across what today is Klock's Island Park, then across the sandy "beach" at the west end of the park was a ford that led up the valley to the west and out on the prairies toward the area south of Randalia.  The third ford was in the area of the bridge on the right of the pic.  This ford led to the northwest up the valley and out on the prairie to Randalia.  Thee was no trail following modern Hwy 93.  Limestone was brought down from the Westfield Quarry Line from both the east and west ends, thus the ford at the right of this pic was also used.  In the early years the road leading up to the quarries was a common route out of Westfield and to the north into Knob Prairie (West Union) and to Randalia.  


Viewed from the west end of Klock's Island, looking to the north down the Volga, the Westfield Quarry Line runs the full length of the ridge visible in the pic.  There would have been a ford just this side of the present bridge which would have been used to bring limestone down to Westfield.  The ford to the west would be right at your back.  In the early years the area to your right, Klock's Island would be known as Holmes Pasture, as it was utilized for grazing a small number of cattle.  Robert Alexander's Mill would be to your back, and around the bend of the Volga, upstream about 1/2 mile.  

Fractured limestone slabs/blocks would be used for all of the early foundations in the Westfield area.  There were probably some relatively basic lime kilns around the top of the hill in the quarry areas, as lime would be an early necessity and the top of this hill seems to be the major area of quarry activity, and probably remained so into the 1880's and perhaps beyond.  In the later years, draft horse would supplement the use of oxen, and there would be a few more tools available such as larger malls and metal pry's, and sometimes wheel barrels.  

Almost no remnants of the limestone foundations in Westfield are left. The have been pushed in or dozed as their structure were abandoned or to plant a small field.  This foundation is across the Volga off the west side of the "beach" at Klock's Island.  In the early years trail to the west forded here and ran up the valley to the left side of this pic and over the hill, and along the hill ridges into the prairies to the south of Randalia.  These foundation stones were part of an early farmstead in the area.  It is likely in the early years, that a craftsman/merchant located along this ford area.  Robert Alexander's Mill would have been to your back as you look at the pic, about 3/8 mile up the Volga.  

This is what the first early settlers into the Fayette area looked for, naturally fractured limestone that could be easily removed by pry techniques and in slab sizes easy to move on wooded sleds pulled by oxen to a building construction site.  If one knows what to look for, there are still places on the Westfield Quarry Line where small limestone stacks well over a hundred years old can be found.  This quarry line sits directly over the Volga River, thus there has been no value as pasture and farm land, or it would have been destroyed like almost all other historical areas.  It will be a just a matter of time.

You are looking down the Volga River from the west end of the Westfield Quarry Line.  The trail up to the quarries at this end was just to the left of the pic and relatively steep from the valley below, which was a creek bed that drained the tall and wet grass prairies to the northwest.  There were many such small streams feeding the Volga.  The natural watershed was present and a constant flow of clear, clean water into the Volga kept the river flowing at about twice the rate seen today.  As soon as deforestation of the hills and plowing of the prairies occurred the flow rate started to decline, salutation accelerated, and flooding increased, as the water table gradually declined.  Water quality became rapidly unsafe in the first years of settlement in pioneer areas from the biological pollution of the water table from animal and human sewage, then as towns and farms grew chemical pollution increased.  Looking down the ridge in the above picture, the quarry line starts 2/3 the way up the left side of the pic.  The picture below shows the same area in about 1911.

You can see the west end of the quarry line just about the men in the above pic.  This is the first bridge across the Volga in the Westfield area and is in the approximate location of the present Hwy 93 bridge.  The dirt road at the west end of this bridge led up the valley to the northwest and toward Randalia.  There still was no road following present Hwy 93 over the hill to the west.  In the early years of the mid 1800's the top of this hill was rapidly denuded of trees.  There was no though of preservation, just use of trees, land, water, rock, etc.  Just below the bridge you can see a good example of a Volga River ford, this being the ford to Randalia and the ford over which stone would be hauled by ox sled.  At the other end of the quarry line there would be a similar trail/ford.

In the pic below you see a close up of the exact same area as the 1911 pic above.  The quarry line is exactly in the middle of the pic and runs completely from left to right.  This shot give a little appreciation of the fact these men were leading ox teams on a trial built right on the edge of the limestone bluff above the Volga on the west end of the quarry line.  Even on the eastern the quarries and trail where on the edge of a very steep hill.


The trail along the quarry ridge ran right up to the limestone quarry areas so the slabs of limestone could be pried out, sorted and stacked then loaded onto ox sleds.  The tree and brush growth would not have been present during the major use of the quarries.  Everything would have been denuded, and actually one would have been able to stand in Westfield or at Holmes Pasture (Klock's Island) and watched the men and oxen at work.  The quarries out not have been worked constantly, just when building material was needed.

The picture below was taken about 1905, from a slightly different angle from the 1911 pic.  You can see the denuded hill top.  The quarry line can be seen through the bridge, about in the middle.  The area of the Volga River Ford is not as overgrown with willows and native forbs, so a better idea of the broad width of a ford can be appreciated. 

Both ends of the quarry had a trail up to the quarry line and to the top of the ridge that looked just like the trail below.  Remember this area has been untouched for well over 100 years, so natural movement of leaves, branches, soil, rocks, down hill has smoothed out, or rounded over,  the road in most places.

ALEXANDER'S QUARRY, THE MILL, THE VILLAGE--Robert Alexander moved down the Volga River from the Wilcox Cabin area, 2 1/2 miles southwest of present Fayette in 1850 and built the first Mill in the Fayette area just as the Volga comes around the corner of the southeastern hill of what is in 2000, known as Klock's Island Park.  Alexander took ownership of the land and hillside in this area and used the fractured limestone slabs and blocks on the exposed face of the hill just a hundred feet from his mill.  Alexander would have used wooden pry poles and simple hand forged iron hammers and chisels, along with basic hand shovels of wood or iron.  With his basic tool kit pieces of limestone would have been generally hand carried to the mill site on the north edge of the Volga and used for the foundation and support mill, which was built of hand hewn timbers and boards, in its first stage.  As with all mills, other setters/merchants immediately settle in the very near vicinity.  In this case, the Village of Westfield would spring up, initially with just a few lob cabins and rough cut lumber.  Throughout the 1850's construction of homes, stored, shops, mills continued from local stone and lumber.  The Village remained small with the number of families generally running from 10-30, and as Fayette just a mile to the east became more established from the mid-1850's into the 1860's, Westfield was simply absorbed, and the two villages became one, Fayette.  The people of Westfield built their structures from the trees cut off the hill sides and drug down to the village site.  When the saw mill became functional rough cut lumber could be purchased by cash or barter.  Money was always very scarce on the frontier.  In terms of money, people were poor, and survived by self-sufficient skills of building/making nearly everything, plus bartering labor/items.  Rough cut timbers and lumber was often easier to acquire and use than finding/cutting/dragging building logs to the construction site.  Early settlers knew a more permanent structure could be made by building on a stone foundation.  If nothing else just a could of layers of fractured limestone slabs under the timbers would be significantly better than placing the wood on soft/wet ground.  Even better was an actual wall or basement where the limestone was placed deep enough to be below the frost line.  Thus a much more stable building that would not shift and crack.  Also small cellars would remain cool and safer for food storage.  Almost every original foundation build in Westfield is gone today.  As the structures were removed for various reasons. The stone foundations were filled in or dozed out, and the land used for other purposes or crops.  Westfield is gone.   

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Slabs and blocks were sorted and used as they came out of the fractured layers.  Probably by 1860+, the fractured rock had been removed back enough to expose some large solid limestone faces, and then actual stone masons worked some of the quarry sited above Westfield.   The masons would have known how to use chisels and wedges to "cut" blocks of limestone for constructing whole building from stone, or to make a foundations of blocks cemented with lime mortar.  

Quarrying in Fayette from 1850 throughout much of the latter part of the 1800's was  carried out by hand tools and by channeling and wedging, according to the purpose for which the stone is extracted.  The first quarries, and majority of the stone from the Westfield Quarry line was simply taken by "prying" out naturally fractured rod and sorting the pieces.  However, later on, probably in the 1860's, more solid rock farther back in the hill was reached and actual stonemasons removed the rock in more regular sized blocks using hand tools.  Be the 1870's black power was used for blasting and quarrying limestone, but since this method would cause a lot of stone rubble, it was used to remove stone for roads, lime kilns and railroad cuts like the one blasted through the hillside at the southwest end of Fayette to Abutment's Bridge, and the Second Cut three miles to the west of Fayette, over which Hwy 93 travels.  Today both of these rock cuts are abandoned and all but forgotten and unseen, except for an occasional visit by the few remaining people who remember their use up to the 1960's.   


Hand tools alone may be used for quarrying stone that lies in easily accessible beds. The principal hand tools are the drill, hammer, and wedge. A row of holes several centimeters apart is made with the hand drill (actually a piece of iron in chisel form hardened on the end and turned in the hand as a heavy short handled hammer was used to hit it over and over),  partly through the layer, or stratum, perpendicular to its plane of stratification and along the line at which it is desired to break the stone. Each hole in a long row is filled with three wedges, shaped so that one may be driven down through the others, the method being known as plug and feathers; by striking each plug a sharp blow with a hammer, hitting them in succession, and by repeating the operation several times, the combined splitting force of the plugs and feathers finally becomes great enough to rupture the rock.  The first stone masons in the valley were tough. patient, hard working men. 

 By 1855, on the very frontier, Robert Alexander and James Robertson was motivated by the push from Eliz. Robertson Alexander to start the building of a college on a knoll 1/2 miles east of Westfield now owned by James Robertson.   Charles C. West, carpenter and builder, came from Brooklyn, N.Y.,  in 1855 to head the construction a Seminary building that would lead Upper Iowa University and development and dominance of the village of Fayette.  However, until into the 1870's, Westfield would remain a milling, manufacturing and commercial area as it slowly was just absorbed as a part of Fayette.  Upon arrival and discussion of the construction of a Seminary Building for Robertson and Alexander (both were very involved with the M.E. Church), Charles West studied the local timber and stone available for construction.  Apparently the early intentions were to build from locally rough cut timbers, using ruble limestone for foundation. Much like the early frame building our in Westfield at the time but on a bigger scale.  After taking note of the quality of the local limestone, Charles West recommended a switch in construction material and a drastic increase in size of the building due to the ability to produce a large block cut limestone building, if experienced professional stone masons were brought in from the east.  Within weeks a number of stone masons would arrive and start to locate and quarry stone in massive blocks weighing hundreds of pounds, and the Seminary would be started and occupied by 1857.  Charles West built the third frame building in Fayette.  My gggrandfather Reuben Hunt, Sr., arrived from New York in 1855, either with Charles West, or within weeks.  Reuben Hunt would construct, like Charles West, a small frame structure at the south end of Fayette, just at the eastern base of today's College Hill.  Reuben would end the College Hall project either one of the head masons or the head stonemason of the project.  Charles West would finish College Hall as the project chief.  Both men would go on the be major builders in the Fayette valley.  It took many masons to build such a large frontier building as College Hall, so Fayette would be blessed with a force of experienced builders in the early years. All of Reuben Hunts sons learned the mason and building trade, even though they went on to farm, teach, etc., they continued their interest in working with stone throughout their lives. This was typical of other sons of Fayette masons.   Masons also worked in brick and lime mortar and plaster.  

SHARPENING TOOLS USED BY THE EARLY STONEMASONS----How did they keep their tools in good working condition ? etc. From my own experience the following may be of help. Tools like pitchers, punches, points and chisels were made from high carbon steel. Often other tools or parts of farm machinery etc. were used. Lengths of hexagonal high carbon steel was also imported from Sheffield, England to Ireland for this purpose. This was cut in 8 inch lengths to make punches. A stonemason working on a simple forge would first heat the high carbon steel so that it could be worked to shape on an anvil. The tool, for instance a punch, was then put back in the fire, heated and withdrawn. Very quickly about 1 inch of the cutting end of the tool was cleaned on a piece of sandstone until it sparkled. About 1 inch of the tool was then dipped in cold water and withdrawn quickly. Standing in a dark place the colours running from the residual heat in the remainder of the tool were now watched as they ran into the cool cutting end. The colours always ran in the same pattern. The colour straw is preferred but hard to see. Straw runs just ahead of purple which is easier to see and is a good indicator where to find straw. When straw reaches the tip of the punch it is quickly dipped in water to fix it at straw. The punch is then stood vertically in a shallow trough of water (cut from stone) and allowed cool. The hardness of the stone and the pace of the work determined how long the punch would last, maybe only twenty minutes on hard granite. When about a quarter of an inch of the punch was worn away it was time to restart the procedure. Too much time at the forge was resented by employers and for that reason stonemasons/stonecutters sometimes had a smithy or forge attached to their house so as to do this work in their own time. Most would not let a blacksmith near their tools. . Patrick McAfee, stonemason



The work of Westfield quarrymen is forgotten,  the limestone foundations are gone, the quarry hillside edge has somewhat recovered and basically has been left alone for over one hundred years, even with the encroachment of the plow and dozer right up to its edge.  The quarry line is the lair of some of the native animals of the pioneer days.  Squirrel, raccoon, wood duck and the other small flora and fauna.  Even the whitetail deer and wild turkey,  again are roaming the ridge, after being brought quickly to extinction in Fayette County, Iowa by the habitat destruction of the "white tide."  A few deer were starting to be seen again by the very early 1950's and by the late 1950's there would be an archery hunting season and a short shotgun slug season.  The whitetail, like the turkey and some other game species adapted to the agricultural crops, however basically nothing lives on winter plowed field, tiled and drained of sloughs.  Nearly all of Iowa's natural habitat is gone or drastically changed.  

The old Westfield Quarry Line of the 1850's will remain the home of the whitetail, at least for a little longer.

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