Sunday, January 06, 2013

Schoonmaker Quarry---One of the First Limestone Reefs in World Defined as Such

Wauwatosa, WI is the site of this National Historical Landmark, Schoonmaker Quarry.

Wauwatosa is my hometown if I have one---having lived there for a little over a decade. When I was a student at Marquette High School, my route to and from school was right past Schoonmaker Quarry on the left side of State St. heading east. I can still visualize the area because I practiced on Marquette High's Sophomore Team as an Offensive Lineman [some contend that I'm still offensive!] at Hawthorn Glen, atop the same Reef Formation, if I'm right, because the entire ridge ran for a good mile-plus, with Hawley Road rising to span it just east of Hawthorn Glen all the way west to the "Village" at the junction of State and Harwood.
What remains of the quarry is now located on private property, north of State street, between 64th and 66th in the village of Wauwatosa and is a National Historic site known as Schoonmaker Reef. It is not accessible to the public at this time. The fossil reef was discovered in 1844 by Increase Lapham and Fisk H. Day., but not recognized as significant until 1862 by James Hall. It is a 425 Million year-old fossil reef that grew during the Silurian Period. It is significant not only because of its age, but because it was the first of its kind to be discovered in North America and among the first to be described in the world.
It turns out that the Silurian Period from around 443-416 MMYA generated these limestone reefs in an ancient ocean. When I was a kid, I studied the Cambrian, Devonian, Carboniferous, Silurian and of course the Triassic, Jurassic & Cretaceous in The Book of Knowledge my parents gifted to the kids when I was about 5-6 years old. Then came that ginormous asteroid that was recently discovered beneath Yucatan which wiped out the dinosaurs, but somehow allowed tiny ancestors to primates [that's us!] to survive and eventually proliferate.
You may have heard Milwaukee referred to as the Cream City. Milwaukee got this name because of the light-yellow or cream colored bricks made from red clay with large deposits of lime (and sulphur) from the Menomonee River Valley. Although light colored when first constructed, cream colored bricks are very porous and tend to absorb dirt making them dark over time. Well constructed cream city brick is known to be very durable.
I always thought Cream City referred to a dairy product [!?!], but the limestone & clay mix gave the bricks a characteristic hue the color of buttermilk---but nobody was going to call Milwaukee the Buttermilk City...! Here's another hint at what made Milwaukee famous:
Eastern Wisconsin, particularly Waukesha, is well known for its Silurian mineral spring water. Silurian water is pure and relatively free from organic matter. Because of the porous nature of the Silurian rock formations, as water runs through the rock, it is well filtered and becomes very clean. It is said to have medicinal properties for persons suffering with diseases such as diabetes, bladder and urinary problems, indigestion, chronic diarrhea, dropsey, Bright’s disease, torpid liver, and “female weakness”. Mary Todd Lincoln visited Waukesha after the death of her son Tad in 1872.
Of course, besides its curative powers, the water in the Greater Milwaukee area had the best water in the Middle West for beer, or so I was told while working with old brewery hands at the Schlitz Bottle House for two summers way back in the day when Schlitz was the best selling brew in the USA. [Actually, they said that Northern Wisconsin also had wonderful water for beer flowing southward from Lake Superior, but nobody was going to build huge breweries up in the piney woods. But small beers like Leinenkugel and Rhinelander Export make great local beers from Lake Superior, as does Heilemann's Old Style and Hamm's along the St. Croix Valley.]

Here is more than you may want to know about the Silurian and its reefs in a magnificent 15-year old presentation online by the Milwaukee Public Museum, a place where my late Aunt Rosemary used to take me when I was a young child back before the dawn of time.

No comments :