The Verba Quarry- By Nate Newmeister

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Picture of the Old Verba Quarry. It is a flattened, excavated landscape with a railroad track going around the edge.
Old Verba Quarry

The picture on the opposite page is a copy of an original picture of the Verba Quarry in Mt. Vernon, Iowa taken prior to World War II. The Verba Quarry is located in the Southeast quadrant of Mt. Vernon (See highlighted below).

Online Map of Mount Vernon, printed off from MapQuest. It shows the location of the Verba Quarry in Mount Vernon

The picture below was recently taken from the same vantage point as the picture to the left.

Forested area dominated by a single tree with several branches

Today, the Verba Quarry and the surrounding area form Nature Park, a city conservation and recreation area.

Wodden sign that reads Nature Park

Body of water with several waterfowl on it, surrounded by trees in their fall foliage

In the late 1800s Billy Conklin was cutting stone from a pit south of town to be used for constructing many of Mt. Vernon’s most prominent buildings. This quarry was under the management of William Platner of Ivanhoe. At that time the quarry was producing about twelve railroad cars of stone in a day.

Julian Verba was the owner of the quarry from about 1918 until the 1960s. In the 1940s the Cappy Gaines’ family leased the quarry from Julian Verba for ten cents a ton. They operated it for twenty years. During this time 4-10 employees worked the quarry.

Most of the work was hard manual labor. A one man stone weighed up to one-hundred pounds, a two man stone weighed up to two hundred pounds. The limestone was sold by the perch, a hundred square feet.

Equipment included a crusher, a hammermill, a channel saw run by steam and a stiff leg which had grabbers to pick up limestone over two hundred pounds. Robert Gaines, Cappy’s son, built the crushing plant.

The quarry is spring fed. The quarrymen dug a sump pit to collect the water. This water was then pumped into the creek to the east. At some times, the water was spread on the overburden to wash off the limestone.

The first major consumer of the limestone was the Chicago Northwestern Railroad. Limestone block was used for bridge abutments and culverts. Crushed rock was used on the railroad bed. They built a railroad from the quarry to the main railroad so they could transport the limestone to build the railroad. During World War II, the steel rails were removed for use in the war. The rail bed in Nature Park can still be seen on the north and east side of the quarry. The line split with a spur going down into the quarry and the second spur went to the crushing plant.

Lots of the limestone from the quarry was used as foundations for many houses in this area. At least one house in Mt. Vernon is made entirely of stone from the Verba quarry. In the thirties, the Civilian Conservation Workers (CCW) used the limestone to construct buildings in Palisades Park and at Lake McBride State Park.

There are several actual quarries in this area. An area in the northwest part of Nature Park was a quarry, which later served as a city dump. Prior to the present alignment of highway 30, the quarry extended to a point south of the highway. This area was also a city dump for a number of years. Much of this area was filled in for construction of the highway. At this time, the Gaines began quarrying to the west. They quarried as close to the highway as they were allowed to go. The best rock was in this area. They stopped quarrying in the mid-sixties. Robert Gaines dammed the water at the southeast corner creating the pond in the park. The water in the quarry is approximately 5 feet deep except at the sump holes.

Entrance in to the park where the old quarry was. It is now a pond with woodland around it.

An early entry road into the quarry. This road was used by horse and wagon. A scalehouse sat on the left,

Alternate view of the pond surrounded by a wooded area

This was the last entrance into the quarry. Robert Gaines operated the quarry for 20 years.

Old railroad house in a park in mid-fall
A view of the railroad bed looking south from the park entrance
Trail in mid-fall next to a pond, surrounded by trees.
A view of where the railroad split into a spur
Sign showing the entrance to Palisades State Park
The entrance to Palisades Park
Lodge in Palisades State Park. A single story stone building in a rustic setting
The Lodge at the “Pal”
Cornerstone of lodge that read "ECW 1934"
The lodge cornerstone laid in 1934
Photo of an old wrought-iron bridge showing the limestone abutment underneath
A limestone bridge abutment near Bertram
Railroad tracks surrounded by trees and prairie grass.
A typical view of the railroad bed where crushed limestone was used for ballast
Photo of an old limestone house with a red roof and a stone path leading up to the house.
710 8th Avenue North, Mt. Vernon
Photo of a limestone foundation
A typical limestone foundation

The satellite picture is a picture taken in 1992 of the quarry. The part that I’ve highlighted was originally a quarry before they filled it in with a dump.

Satellite photo of the city of Mount Vernon

Most of the information that I’ve collected for this project was received from an interview with Bob Gaines. He actually went to the quarry with me and pointed out the various sites.

One interesting story that Bob Gaines told me about was finding horizontal petrified fir trees in the limestone. A sample of these trees was given to Cornell College who in turn sent the sample to Chicago for evaluation. It was determined that the trees were seven to eight million years old and had been placed in the limestone by a glacier.

The picture on the next page depicts some of the equipment used in the quarry. Bob Gaines and his father built all of this equipment.

Photo of heavy equipment (cranes, diggers, sifters) used for digging in the quarries