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Covell's Quarry

In the middle of the Nineteenth Century the Proviso township farmers worked busily to improve their farmlands.  Some were plowing, some planting crops and others were drilling their wells.  But by 1854, Marion Covell discovered he had something more than fertile soil on his inherited land.  The land appeared to be rock and nothing but rock.  Much disturbed, Marion Covell asked Captain Sooey Smith, a Civil War engineer, to advise him about his problem. .

"It's limestone," Captain Smith exclaimed.  "Marion, I believe you have a stone quarry here!"

Now he had to find a way to develop a quarry and give others the benefits of a new industry. At first he sold the limestone for 50 cents a wagonload to farmers who were willing to dig it themselves by hand. They soon forged a steady path from their farms to his quarry for now they had a way to fill their mudholes and make a passable road for their teams.  Covell was determined to find a quicker easier way to remove the stone and started blasting the rock with dynamite.

In the earliest days, quarry blasting meant a weekly paycheck, no matter if cracks appeared in plastered walls or ceilings. Housewives covered them with wallpaper; dishes shook, rattled and rolled from the tables; rocks flew in the air looking like a flock of pigeons overhead to land on nearby Bellwood rooftops. At times, the ground shook so severely residents in Hillside wondered if they were experiencing the tremors of an earthquake. Complaints were received from the Bellwood Community Association asking cooperation from the Hillside Board of Trustees to curb the heavy blasting nuisances.

The story is told that Robert Heller tried to deliver his weekly load of corned beef from his grocery store in Maywood to Murphy's Restaurant on Harrison Street, just opposite the Mount Carmel Cemetery entrance.  (Murphy's became renowned for their corned beef and cabbage)  As Heller passed the quarry his horse was struck by a rock.  The horse bolted taking the supply of corned beef down Harrison Street and Murphy's had no corned beef that week to serve the mourners after the funerals.

Despite the many complaints Marion Covell continued his growing quarry business.  In 1888, The Proviso Stone and Gravel Company was formed with Marion Covell as the vice president.

In the early 1900's, "Mike" Power (the father of Irene, Herbert, Raymond, Minnie, Harold, Lawrence and Lucille) came with the first steam crane built in Michigan and demonstrated it to the quarry company.  It removed the top soil so they could drill and blast the rock for making highways and other construction projects for the entire Chicago area.  Later, the stone company purchased a second crane and employees were needed.  (The first crane in operation at the quarry.  Photographs are from "Progress, Pride, Growth, 1905 - 1980, 75th Anniversary --Village of Hillside".)

All the quarry cars used for the removal of stone to the stone crusher were made by men in the shop as well as all parts and tools needed to service or repair the equipment.  Finally, silos and a dust plant were under construction.  Railroad cars came in from the Great Western Railroad that ran east and west through Bellwood and Hillside to be loaded with powdered limestone. By this time many residents of Hillside, Bellwood and surrounding communities were working at the quarry.

"Mike" Power was the master mechanic for the quarry and died at the quarry on Mother's Day, May 11, 1930. He was accidentally electrocuted that Sunday afternoon by a faulty electrical cord and socket used to light the area inside a locomotive which he was repairing. He was in the firebox on the steel grates and it burned holes through his soles when the accident happened. The Bellwood fire department worked over him for more than two hours but to no avail.  (The quarry in full operation.  Photographs are from "Progress, Pride, Growth, 1905 - 1980, 75th Anniversary --Village of Hillside".)

Joe Gipson, a very large man of African descent and a World War I veteran, became the foreman of the dust or limestone plant which also supplied bag cement to the road builders and contractors.  Joe Gipson came from Canton, Mississippi.  It is told he once won a bet with several truck drivers that he could carry six 94 pound bags of cement at one time and proved it. He could also hold a 94 pound bag with his teeth.  Joe was known by the townspeople and was well liked by all.

The mining operation was a good source of low-cost stone, a material basic to the development of early roads.  When Marion Covell became the Commissioner of Highways for the Township, he initiated the use of gravel for roads and used Madison Street in the western suburbs as a demonstration site to prove its merits. 

However, its nuisance value continued through the years with constant efforts by the communities to halt the blasting.  From a tiny hole made with a pick and shovel, the quarry continued to operate reaching a depth of nearly 300 feet and covering an area of over 70 acres.  Nearly all of Marion Covell's farmland was consumed by the quarry.  (Photograph from "Bellwood, 1900-1975: The Heart of Provsio Township, A Diamond Jubilee History from the Beginning to the Present with an Emphasis on the Formative Years")

Its ownership changed hands several times: The Proviso Stone and Gravel Company sold it to A. C. O'Laughlin, who in turn sold it to the Consumer's Company.  Records list the Consumer's Company as being established locally for forty years, having 200 employees in 1940, with a monthly payroll of $20,000.  It changed ownership again when Consumer's sold it to the Vulcan Materials Company who in turn sold it to the Hillside Stone Corporation.  In 1976 it was sold to the Commonwealth Edison Company, and in 1979 was acquired by the John Sexton Sand and Gravel Corporation.  The former quarry is now the landfill found just north the Eisenhower Expressway and west of Mannheim Road


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Last Modified:  02/10/2002