|(text and photos from "Whistle on the Wind" ©1997 MCRHS)
The tale of the Quartzite spur began over one hundred years ago, in the mid-1880s. For some years, a deposit of low-grade iron ore near the present LaRue village site was mined for use as paint pigment. By 1887, the Douglas Iron Mining Co., under the direction of Mr. F.T. Brewster, was probing for higher grade ores nearby, all with little success. The remaining years late in the 19th Century were completed with mining limited to the low grade paint pigment ore.
By 1900, a man and a better machine came to the area which would eventually bear his name. W.G. La Rue, with experience on the Minnesota iron ranges, brought the diamond drills. La Rue and his partners incorporated the Sauk County Land & Mining Co. in 1902 and soon drills located samples of 53 percent iron several hundred feet below the surface. By 1903 the mining boom was on with land leased to the Deering-Harvester Co.
It looked like a sure thing. Three mining interests were active in the area, with one already producing, prompting the Chicago & North Western Railway to act. By December 1903, three and one-half miles of track extended from North Freedom to the Illinois Mine just west of the present La Rue townsite. The red rock came up and cascaded into the short wooden ore cars. Over the rails, it was carried away to Harvester's great furnaces in Chicago.
Wishing to further capitalize on the area mining fever, W.G. La Rue and his partners incorporated the La Rue Townsite Co. at the end of 1903. Sweatstained, ore-caked miners were soon able to swap their hard earnings for a stein of beer in one of two saloons. A hotel and a row of wooden company-built cottages soon housed Norwegian, Swedish, and Finnish miners. A church to reclaim the rowdy miners' souls on Sunday and a store were established--La Rue was on the map. Up and down Illinois and Wisconsin Streets, and over on Deering Avenue, miners set their life to the sound of the hoist whistle.
But there was water down in the mines, lots of it; the red earth sweated and oozed. The ore was rich but the mines could not compete with the Upper Michigan and Minnesota iron ranges. Water filled the mine shafts despite constant pumping; the cost was too high and the last mine closed in 1914. La Rue quickly became a ghost town. The miners left, buildings fell into ruin, and the rails rusted.
With the onset of the first World War, need arose for an extremely hard quartzite rock. At a place called Rattlesnake Den, a mile south of the remains of La Rue, laid a large deposit of quartzite. In the fall of 1917, rusty rails creaked under work trains bringing in new rail and ties. Soon new traffic rolled north from the Baraboo Range to the North Western main line.
For 44 years quartzite rolled from the crushers into railroad cars. The Harbison-Walker Co., owners of the operation, shipped the material to plants in Ohio for blast furnace lining and firebrick making. But changes in steel making reduced the demand for quartzite and by 1962 this, too, was over.