Schoonmaker Quarry


In 1856 the Schoonmaker family came to Milwaukee and in 1857 with Isaac Van Schaick purchased a quarry. The quarry produced a high quality limestone; the lime being 40 per cent magnesia. It also produced a very fine quality of road metal. The rock was formed from coral and underlining it is crystallized limestone. In 1880 it was said to be the only pure limestone in the state and the only stone that is not amalgamated or corrupted.

Approximate Location of Schoonmaker Quarry

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The quarry manufactured cut stone for building purposes. It also manufactured “flux stone”, a purifying agent in the steelmaking, and supplied stone to the Bay View Rolling Mills. More about the rolling mills.

John and later with his brother Nicholas owned 97 acres of land, and constructed a 7 acre lake upon it, which was fed by springs. The lake was stocked with German carp. Mr. Schoonmaker was an avid gardener and used the lake water to irrigate the gardens. [1]


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.

Close up of fossilized reef in Soldiers' Home Reef

Close up of fossilized reef in Soldiers' Home Reef

There is a similar reef in Milwaukee county, named Soldier’s Home Reef, also a National Historic Landmark. It lies on the Soldier’s Home grounds at the junction of Wood Ave. and General Mitchell Blvd. The Soldiers Home reef shows the natural topographical features of a reef formation while the Schoonmaker Reef was quarried so it was possible to obtain a large number of fossils from deep within the formation. The geological research done on the Schoonmaker property indicates that the area may have been once covered by an small ocean.

The Silurian Period occurred about 443-416 million years ago. The theory is the climate was warmer during this time causing glaciers to melt and the seas to rise. Continental plates were colliding forming mountains. The higher land elevations caused the oceans to recede leaving some shallow land locked oceans. Eventually the water from these small oceans evaporated. The sea plants and organisms left had to adapt to land life or perish.

As early as the 1830s limestone was discovered in the hills in this area. Limestone is very important in the building industry. It is a key ingredient in cement, mortar, and concrete. Limestone is formed by the compression of the remains of invertebrae animals (animals with no backbones) for millions of years. Basically what happens is the organisms die and pile up on the bottom of the sea bed. Sand and mud fall on top of the organisms and over time the weight compresses into limestone.

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.

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. See more about Mary Todd Lincoln in Waukesha

The Schoonmaker’s were not the first to have owned the property where the limestone quarry was located, but they did operate it for more than fifty years and owned it during the period when much of the geological research took place.

Timeline of Schoonmaker’s Quarry

  • Joseph Higgins – first known person to have burned lime, although burning of lime may have started as early as 1833.
  • Silas Brown – operated the kilns in the 1840’s
  • Between 1850-1857 various people ran the limestone operation at various times.

  • Daniel McCormick
  • Mason S. Daniels
  • Laura Hale
  • James Cannon
  • Zebulon Hall
  • William Watkins
  • Anthony Green
  • Isaac Van Schaick and John Schoomaker purchased the property in 1857
  • Isaac Van Schaick sold his interest in the property
  • Nicholas Schoonmaker, became a partner with his brother
  • 1909 the limestone business ended
  • George Francey of G.D. Francey Coal, Stone & Supply Company bought the site to produce crushed stone.
  • Tom Francey installed an innovative plant for crushing stone in the 1930s
  • Sidney Fuller leased the quarry from the Francey family after Tom’s death
  • Bliffert Concrete company purchased the quarry in 1948 but continued to lease it to the Fuller Company
  • 1950 the site was abandoned
  • Much of the quarry was filled in and built over.
  • The area has been occupied since 1972 local businesses.
  • Thanks to the efforts of Joanne Kluessendorf and Donald D. Mikulic the Schoonmaker Reef received National Historic Landmark designation in 1998.

See also:
Joanne Kluessendorf and Donald D. Mikulic (December 18, 1994). National Historic Landmark Nomination: Schoonmaker Reef / Wauwatosa Reef, Schoonmaker Quarry, Raphu Station, Francey Reef, Francey Quarry, Wauwatosa Quarry PDF (406 KB).

Accompanying 4 photos, exterior and interior, from 1899, 1970, and 1990 PDF (729 KB)
National Park Service

[1] Andreas A.T.,Proprietor, History of Milwaukee, Wisconsin (Milwaukee, Wisconsin: The Western Historical Company, Chicago, 1881), pg. 1641.

[2] Kluessendorf, Joanne and Mikulic, Donald D. National Historic Landmark Nomination: Schoonmaker Reef / Wauwatosa Reef, Schoonmaker Quarry, Raphu Station, Francey Reef, Francey Quarry, Wauwatosa Quarry; 1994.

[3] The Virtual Silurian Reef, Milwaukee Public Museum, Inc., 1997

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