Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Growing Up in a Quarry Town

I grew up in the town of Thornton, Illinois, a suburb just south of Chicago.

With a population of 3,700, we knew almost everyone in our town. We didn't have much of a downtown - just a small grocery store, a pharmacist, a filling station, and our favorite hot dog stand.

What Thornton did have was one of the world's largest limestone quarries.

In fact, I remember owning a t-shirt, printed in the 1970s, that boasted of this distinction. It read:

Home of the World's Largest Limestone Quarry

(and on the back)
Drop In Sometime...

Today I learned that the huge cement/stone chute that overlooked one of the main roads is being torn down. It made me think of how integral the quarry was to my childhood. It was a part of the landscape...the backdrop for our lives.

If you lived in Thornton, you were used to dust. Lots and lots of dust. The fine gray dust from the quarry was aggravating to housewives who struggled to keep surfaces clean and polished.

In addition, every day at the same time, a huge blast would literally shake the village. I remember the sound rattling the walls of our house and picture frames needing to be readjusted. Visitors, surprised at the boom, would exclaim, "What was that!?"

"What?" we'd say. Thorntonites barely noticed the sound.

In junior high, our school was located at the edge of the quarry. I remember running the mile with a view of the gigantic hole in the ground. I believe the hole was larger than our entire town.

As school kids, we took field trips down into the quarry. We rode a bus - and from the bottom, our town looked like a small miniature of itself. We used picks to chisel out some fossils, and learned about stones and excavation.

The Quarry was a bit rough and tumble - a lot like the people in our town. We were blue collar. We didn't have the fanciest cars or homes - but we were solid. It was the kind of town where games of kick the can happened in the streets and people sat on the curbs to watch parades. Thornton, with all of its blasts and rumblings, was a good place to grow up.

Internet sites say that Thornton Quarry is one of the largest in the world. It was started in 1924, by Colonel Hodgkins, and since 1938 has been operated by Material Services Corporation. It stretches 1.5 miles long and .5 miles wide. It is 400 feet deep. The interstates (I-80/294) pass over the quarry.

You can still tour the quarry! Next reservations are for October 2015 - so you need to plan ahead and be 18 years old. The cost is $20 a person - and the tour the first Saturdays of June and October. For more information, email: meloitz@att.net or write to: Quarry Tour, P.O. Box 34, Thornton, IL 60476.
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