Due to quarries in the Riley,
it could be said that Bluffton was built under water
Former quarry near Tom Fett Road bridge
Did you know that the Big and Little Riley Creeks hold deep, dark secrets?
This sounds creepy, and even crazy. But, its secrets border on being surprisingly dangerous.
Laugh if you must, but …
Examine older Bluffton buildings on Main Street and older church building,. Each has one thing in common. Their foundations hold stones dug from Riley Creek, all way from Orange Township, through Bluffton, on to Pandora.
It could be said that Bluffton was built under water.
Because of this, if not careful, hikers wading either stream today could find themselves in deep water.
In these harmless appearing waterways lurk several forgotten stone quarries and fire department cisterns created in the era prior to 1900. These surprise hikers with sudden drop offs of 5 to 10 feet or greater.
The quarries, dug by hand in a laborious process, operated from 1842 to 1900. Today they are unmarked forgotten deep watery pits, making them like trolls awaiting someone to drop in for a visit.
When the water level is low you might detect the locations of some of these small quarries.
One hint is a sudden, unexplained, wide place in the stream.
To create a quarry, workers needed to bypass the stream with a dam. That enabled workers to pry layers of stone loose and remove the stone to the creek banks. The depth of each quarry varies.
However, a forgotten fire department cistern dug in Riley Creek north of the Cherry Street bridge was wide and deep enough to swallow a large tractor used in clearing the creek bank. That incident, about 30 years ago, resulted when the village hired someone to clear debris in the stream. No one knew the pit existed. They know it today. And, they filled it in – or at least they should have.
Little Riley quarries
A hike down the Little Riley into Bluffton provides many wide places requiring special precautions. The first, just west of the bridge on Lugabill Road near Little Riley Creek Farm, eventually became a popular swimming hole.
Another former quarry is at the bridge on the north side of Grove Street behind the Rob and Janice Young residence. Following the stream, another is on the east side of the Bentley Road bridge, just north of the J.D. Yoder and Lynda Nyce residence.
Continuing downstream the next quarried area is on the east side of the Elm Street bridge.
Big Riley quarries
Coming downstream on the Big Riley toward Bluffton from Orange Township was the Rayl quarry. Tread carefully. It’s exact location is not known, today. Youngsters were discouraged to swim there, because of its depth.
Moving closer to Bluffton just beyond Fox Hill lay Hoover’s quarry. This quarry was another popular swimming location for Bluffton youngsters. Fox Hill, a popular spot filled with stories from a generation of 90 years ago, needs its own explanation and description. We’ll tackle that later in this website.
Continue walking the creek through town and you’ll come upon several wide places in the stream hinting of additional one-time quarries.
Around 1900 a small quarry existed on the site of the Howe Tennis Courts across from Harmon Field. This site was filled in during the 1920-1935 era.
Just south of the Cherry Street bridge was another small quarry.
And, just south of the Jefferson Street bridge was another, in operation before the National quarry was born. Eventually filled in, that quarry was directly south of the National Quarry.
L.J. Siddall operated one of the earliest Bluffton quarries. A miller by trade, during his slack season he and a son quarried stone along the Riley. Former quarry just north of Grove Road
It is thought that his mill was located just off the North Main Street bridge on the Buckeye side.
The late Dr. Howard Raid, Bluffton University professor, researched early Shannon and Bluffton businesses. His research found that Siddall operated the quarry at the site of the present Buckeye.
Beyond Bluffton several wide places – one-time quarries – exist along and in the Riley. The first is immediately west of the swinging bridge on the Bluffton University nature preserve. Two more may be found on both sides of the bridge crossing Tom Fett Road.
One of the community’s most significant quarries, just west of the Phillips Road bridge, lies the Mullett quarry where the creek makes a slight turn toward Pandora.
Today evidence of this quarry exists from the Bluffton side as a small waterfall and rapids may be almost visible from the Phillips Road bridge.
Continuing on the Riley near the Suter farms on Pandora Road existed one of several former Schumacher quarries.
These should not to be confused with the larger Schumacher quarry located along the Riley about three-fourth of a mile directly south of Pandora. This quarry today is Spring Lake.
Where to find Bluffton quarry stone
Today, most Bluffton older building foundations are made of local quarry stone. Simply walk down Main Street, examine the town hall and each of the retail buildings next to alleys. You’ll notice quarry stone where ever you look. Also check several churches.
Rapids at Mullett quarry
College Hall on the university campus is another example of local quarry stone. The five-foot foundation wall after 120-plus years appears to be as good as new. That very thick wall extends into the ground another five feet.
Howard Raid believed that the stone for College Hall came from the Mullett quarry.
Several other area building foundations have Mullett quarry stone. These includes several rural school buildings, among them the Bucher school across from Ebenezer Mennonite Church, and Hilty school, at the corner of State Route 696 and Grove Road.
The stone from the Mullett quarry was also probably used in the construction of First Mennonite Church. Like College Hall, and built five years later, the foundation of the church also extends five feet above ground with an additional five feet below ground.
This feature will continue in several segments. In the meantime, a life jacket is recommended hiking gear should you be so inclined to walk the creek.
Much of the material in this story was taken from a feature written by Darvin Luginbuhl in the Dec. 22, 1985, Bluffton News.
Schumacher stone quarry. Operated by David P. Schumacher, on right. This photo was taken circa 1902 on the north side of 8075 Bixel Road, near Suter’s Strawberries.
Photo take in 1978 - Riley Creek drops off slightly between Bluffton and Pandora at the former Mullet quarry. The area is between Phillips and Bixel Road, west of Bluffton. In September the immediate drop off point gives the appearance of a small falls. The creek gets deeper in the abandoned quarry area. It is a popular spot to fish for people and great blue herons.
Quarry at Tom Fett Road
Quarry north of Grove Street
Former quarry - now location of Howe Tennis Courts
Former quarry on the south side of Jefferson Street - now filled in.