Scenic & Historic Dell Rapids
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Perhaps nothing has had a larger impact on the city’s economic development than pink quartzite. The first rock was quarried from a site at the west edge of town. The Simpson Stone Company owned and operated the “East” Quarry from 1885 to 1927. The stone first was used as building blocks that were cut by master stone cutters from Norway, Sweden and Scotland.
In 1911, stone crushing machinery was installed to produce crushed rock. Most of this was used on roads and streets. Before the depression of the 1930’s and mechanization, much of the hard labor was performed by blacks from South Carolina and Louisiana that came to work for the Simpsons.
Dynamite was used to break-off enormous slabs of the quartzite. The workers swung 25-pound hammers to break the rock before loading it into mule-drawn carts. Today the four separate pits now comprise one hole from which trucks haul the stone to be dumped into the crusher.
A disastrous water problem developed as a result of the “One-Hundred-years flood” in 1969 when thirty billion gallons of water ran into the pit. This proved to be very costly to the Quarry, but prevented devastating flooding in the uptown section of Dell Rapids and portions of Sioux Falls.
The Simpson Twins, Mary and Nellie, Operated the Quarry after their father’s death, until 1927, when they sold it to the L.G. Everist Company of Sioux City, Iowa.
Because of its color and quality, the rock has had a variety of uses throughout the United States, including in the construction of the Cook County Courthouse in Chicago, the J.C. Penney Headquarters Building in Dallas, and in many buildings in Minneapolis. Rail cars are regularly loaded with rock and pulled to Keokuk, Iowa, for use in the Ferro Silica Industry for the manufacture of quality steel. It is likely that farmers nationwide have a little bit of the Quarry in all of their heavy machinery. While rock from the Quarry is used nationwide, it is also exported. On a regular basis, Dell Rapids rock rides the rails to Canada. It has also been shipped to South America and many other parts of the world.
Following the disastrous fire of 1888, which almost completely destroyed Main Street, a city ordinance was passed requiring all Main Street buildings to be of durable construction. As a result, the Main Street buildings and many other structures throughout the city became clearly reflective of the huge quartzite industry. Most of these quartzite structures are still in use; however, some have outlived their usefulness, such as the lonely antique hitching posts that haven’t seen business in years.
Another, not-so-well-known industry that extracted its livelihood from the Dell Rapids soil was brick-making. Brick-making was an important industry according to 1884 records. Before any quartzite buildings were constructed in town, 12 to 15 men produced 20-to-30-thousand bricks a day from the exceptionally-fine clay found northeast of town. Nearby, flax straw was processed to help make the bricks. A good example of how the bricks were used is the Quentin Nemmers home east of Dell Rapids. Several other homes and some of the buildings on Main Street also were built using Dell Rapids Brick.