Yoopee Dabba Doo!

September 2007.

Nestled in one of the many wild, desolate pockets of Michigan's eastern Upper Peninsula is the quarry of the Fiborn Limestone Company. In fact, much of Mackinac County is dominated by this same geology.


The turn-off to the Fiborn Quarry was a tiny two-track that I had to idle the Thundercougarfalconbird over with extreme caution so as not to bash the oilpan open on the crudely rutted path...it was so under-used that my car was literally pushing into the brush like a field mouse crawling into its den.

When I finally got out into the open clearing of the quarry, that familiar feeling of desolation enveloped me again–that feeling you get from suddenly turning your car off and hearing nothing, except the wind.


This was bat country...it was so lonely out here that it felt like nothing I did would have any recourse, and the sight of empty beer and bullet cases on the ground seemed to confirm this. Quarries are a great place to do...well, whatever. Wherever you find an inactive quarry, you find empty beer cans, bullet shells, 4-wheeler tracks, and spent fireworks. Because the abandoned quarry serves as the local de facto fuck-off spot.

Wanna blow shit up with doze home-made pipe bombs you got? Go for it, eh. Wanna rock some shots off at random junk with dat sub-machinegun Uncle Sam doesn't know you got, while drinking a six pack and riding a snowmobile with a fat, half-naked Yooper chick on da back? 'Merica, eh!


The terrain was eerily blank, and felt more like a scene from the Utah desert than something in Michigan. There was even a dried-up stream bed. The cracked ruins had an ancient quality to some of them, looking like something that had been slowly eroding out in the sands of some primeval Middle-Eastern badland since pre-Christian times. Or the Flintstones' town of Bedrock.


But this crazy moonscape of a hole in the wilderness had a name and a history. It was known as the Fiborn Quarry, and the ruins of the former limestone-harvesting operation that remained scattered about its barren white footprint in the lush green woodland actually dated to 1905, according to a detailed historical outline on caves.org.


The industrial past of this piece of land had denuded it of tree cover for many decades, and only now were low, scrubby plants and trees starting to poke through the scar tissue of the vast quarry floor.


This particular ruin is an ore-car loader; a railroad spur would have passed through it here:


The limestone here was especially high-grade, which is what brought about the quarry operations in 1905. The quarry's original financier was Chase Osborn, who later became Michigan's only Yooper governor.

The name "Fiborn" is an amalgamation of Osborn's name and that of the quarry's co-owner, William Fitch. Mr. Fitch was president of the Duluth, South Shore, & Atlantic Railroad (DSS&A), which was once the dominant railroad in Michigan's Upper Peninsula, stretching from east to west and connecting to major ports such as the ore docks in Marquette, which I detailed in another post.


Close-up of the concrete wall, which almost seems hewn from pure limestone:


Fiborn Quarry mined the pure karst limestone and crushed it on site for use in Algoma Steel's steelmaking processes, but also for calcium carbide manufacturing and road building. Fitch and Osborn eventually sold the quarry in 1909 to Algoma Steel Corp.

A small company village existed here as well, to house the peak population of 75 men who were working the quarry by 1927.


According to michiganrailroads.com, Fiborn operated its own standard-gauge railroad within the quarry for moving stone to the crusher and to load it into freight cars. Here was one of the 100-year-old rails still sticking out:


Their locomotives then connected to a siding of the DSS&A Railroad, who then transported the limestone wherever it needed to go.


Fiborn Quarry boomed up through World War I but after that it began to struggle, mainly because Algoma opened more-accessible quarries in Rogers City, and Fiborn closed down by 1936. The quarry was reopened briefly for the construction of US-2 when it was built through the area, but aside from that it has essentially remained abandoned.


There was the wreck of an old motorboat laying high and dry, bleached by the sun like the dry ribcage of a skeletonized bison on the Great Plains:


What made this site even more enticing was the presence of not just the quarry ruins, but Hendrie Water Cave, Michigan's largest cave system–which, I know isn't saying much, but the pictures and video I've seen of it looked pretty sweet. When the glaciers melted, the Hendrie River carved this 1,500-foot long cave system out of the karst, which is now home to a bat population, making it a popular site for both biology and geology students.


The cave was discovered in 1845 by State Surveyor Henry Brevoort (namesake of the nearby town). The Michigan Karst Conservancy has members who try to keep the place presentable (they are also the ones who put up the caves.org page detailing the history of the quarry).  


I actually was not able to locate the cave entrance, because it is off somewhere in the woods and I wasn't sure where to begin looking. But I will try to find it again one of these days...


This building I believe to be either the railroad house, or machine shop:


It is pretty much the only structure still standing here that holds some semblance of its original shape.


There was also a machine shop, a boarding house, school, post office, company grocery store, and several company homes. 


Because Fiborn Quarry was founded just as the automobile was becoming popular, the village never got very big after about 1910, thanks to the fact that the towns of Rexton and Newberry were within commuting distance. 


After the quarry closed up in 1936 the village emptied out almost overnight, except for the superintendent, who stayed until the mid-1940s to oversee the dismantling of the equipment and the occasional road-building project.


Apparently there was also a quarry in the Ozarks that Fiborn operated after this one closed, but the Fiborn Limestone Co. was finally dissolved in 1964.


According to michiganrailroads.com again, dynamite was used to harvest the limestone deposits while steam-shovels loaded the stone into small ore cars that were hauled to the sorter and the crusher. The crushed stone then went to the loader, at the siding on the DSS&A main line four miles away at Fiborn Junction. From there the train went to Soo Junction, and then east to the port of Sault Ste. Marie for shipping.


Peak daily capacity for this quarry was around 1,500 tons of crushed limestone in 30 railroad cars daily.


Here is the ore car loader again in the distance, with its round bins sticking up above the second-growth forest:


The way the walls showed the layering in the concrete pours that built them was a trip:


Not exactly sure what building this may have been...


Lots of footings on the slope here that would have held different sorts of equipment, perhaps electric motors, steam engines, or compressors:


The Fiborn Quarry is owned today by the Michigan Karst Conservancy and is technically open to the public, for respectful uses.


I also explored the ruins of the Rockport Quarry in a different post.


References:
http://caves.org/conservancy/mkc/fiborn_history.html
http://www.esi.utexas.edu/outreach/caves/karst.php
http://www.michiganrailroads.com/RRHX/Stations/CountyStations/MackinacStations/FibornQuarry.htm