Memoirs of Milwaukee County, Volume 1 – Jerome A. Watrous
Jerome A. Watrous, the author of the first volume, and Josiah Seymour Currey, the compiler of the biographical volumes two through five, present a thrilling narrative and in-depth-biographies of an eventful past of a county, the rapid growing of a fantastic city on the lakeshore, and the lives of hundreds of people that were so important for the history of Milwaukee town and country. The whole five books contain thousands of pages of valuable information and are essential for everyone interested in the history the most populous and densely populated county in Wisconsin. This is volume one out of five, covering the history of the county from the early years to the last years of the 19th century.
Memoirs of Milwaukee County, Volume 1
Excerpt from the text:
GEOLOGY — TOPOGRAPHY — SOIL — CLIMATE — FAUNA — FLORA.
In writing a chapter on the natural features of Milwaukee county we shall necessarily be confined to a brief outline of such general principles of geology as may be of interest or profit to the general reader, and avoid the use of such technical terms and details as may be omitted without sacrificing the subject too greatly. For a work at once elaborate and instructive we shall refer the reader to “Geology of Wisconsin — Survey of 1873-79,” published under the direction of the Chief Geologist, and under authority from the state government.
Geology treats of the earth’s formation and structure, its rocks, strata, minerals, organic remains, the changes it has undergone from inundation, also from volcanic and other influences. Geology is a history of the earth built upon circumstantial evidence, such as is read from the rocks, minerals and organic remains, together with stratigraphical construction, and the later disarrangement of that by volcanic action, and the slow process of erosion, which has been going on for countless ages. It is a well-established fact, the result of scientific research, that the whole country about this region has at some time, ages ago, been covered with water of unknown depth, and that these waters were constantly changing as if in motion, or by undercurrents, tides and waves. In the course of ages these waters receded, having found some outlet into the vast bodies of water that now so largely cover the earth’s surface. Again, the labors of those who, during the last two hundred years, have devoted themselves to the study of the structure of the globe, have resulted in the creation of the science of geology, and the claim which this department of human knowledge has to science depends upon the symmetry which has been found to prevail in the arrangement of the materials forming the earth’s crust. By the slow process of adding fact to fact and by comparing the observations of the devotees of the science in different lands it has been found that the rocky strata of the earth hold definite relation to each other in position, and hence in age; that many of them are distinguished by constant or general features and contain characteristic or peculiar remains of plants or animals by which they may be recognized wherever found. This sequence of deposit forms what has been aptly termed the geological column.
The indurated rocks, being everywhere covered with a heavy bed of drift, have been reached in this county only by boring, and this only at a few places. A well drilled in the city of Milwaukee, after traversing 170 feet of drift, met the Niagara limestone, with a thickness of 267 feet, and underlaid by the Cincinnati shale with a thickness of 165 feet. Beneath the Cincinnati shale were the Trenton and Galena limestones with a thickness of 253 feet, and these rested upon St. Peters sandstone, into which the well was drilled to a depth of 193 feet. The surface of the well is about ten feet above Lake Michigan, which shows that at that point the Niagara limestone lies 160 feet below the surface of the lake. Comparing this again with wells in other localities it appears that the strata of limestone dip to the eastward.
The geology of the soil is independent of the underlying rocks, and is referable exclusively to the drift; for, as before stated, the bedded rocks of Milwaukee county are covered with a heavy sheet of drift to a depth averaging more than 150 feet. Long after Milwaukee county was raised above the sea as a sort of plain, topped by the ocean-rippled shales of Niagara limestone; long after the depressions and uprisings that accompanied the deposit of the carboniferous or coal-bearing rocks to the eastward; and long after the streams of that ancient time had cut away the rocks to form the valleys nearly as they are today; throughout a period of erosion, when the Alleghany Mountains were reduced from a height of five miles to something near their present modest altitude — after all this the ice age came and covered the greater part of Wisconsin with a glacier sheet which completely enveloped what is now Milwaukee county. This county, therefore, has the same glacial history as has all the eastern and southern parts of the state. Not a summit is there that stood above the glaciers, and the clay and boulders that mark the drift overlie all the ordinary high land of the county. The areas covered by the drift furnish far more varied and fruitful soils than the native rocks, and hence the lands in Milwaukee county take their place among the best lands in the state of Wisconsin.
In the vicinity of Mud Creek there is a small area of rock referred, somewhat doubtfully, to what is known as the Lower Helderbergperiod. The rock is a hard, brittle, light-gray, magnesian limestone, distinguished by numerous minute, angular cavities, that give it a very peculiar porous structure. It is thin-bedded and laminated, by virtue of which it splits readily into flags and thin plates. Some layers exhibit an alteration of gray and dark-colored liminae peculiarly characteristic of this formation. The rock is closely associated with the Niagara limestone, in a depression of which it appears to lie, and it is overlain by rock of the Middle Devonian age.
This last mentioned rock is the uppermost and newest of the indurated formations of Wisconsin; it is the only representative of the Devonian age, and it is known as the Hamilton cement rock. It is found near the city of Milwaukee and occupies a limited area, lying adjacent to the lake, immediately north of the city, and rests in part upon the shaly limestone above described, and apparently upon the Niagara limestone in other portions. In general lithological characteristics it consists of a bluish gray or ash-colored, impure dolomite, which weathers upon exposure to a yellowish or buff color, owing to the oxidation of the iron which constitutes one of its ingredients. The impurities consist chiefly of silica and alumina. The rock is characterized in certain portions by the occasional presence of cavities, in which occur crystals of iron pyrites and calcite, and, very rarely, zinc blende. Crystals of the two former minerals are disseminated more or less through certain portions of the rock. In texture it is somewhat varying, being quite homogeneous in some layers and quite irregular and lumpy in others, while the chemical composition changes much less markedly though sufficiently to affect the hydraulic properties of the rock. In degree of induration it ranges from rather soft to moderately hard. The beds are usually thick, with the exception of some portions, which are somewhat shaly.
In relation to organic remains the Hamilton period marked a new era in the history of the life of the Wisconsin formations. While multitudes of Protozoans, Radiates, Mollusks and Articulates lived in the seas of the Silurian age and left their remains embedded and embalmed in the accumulating sediments, whether of sandstone, shale or limestone, no fragment or trace of a Vertebrate has been found. The Hamilton period witnessed the introduction of this highest type of the animal kingdom into the Wisconsin series. The vertebrate remains of this formation are confined to the relics of fishes, but unfortunately these are fragmentary and imperfect. They have been submitted to the inspection of eminent authority in such matters and have been found to be a new and unknown species.
The most extensive and important outcrop of this formation, known as the Hamilton Cement Rock, is found along the Milwaukee river in the vicinity of the Washington street bridge, extending above and below in sections 4 and 5, town 7, range 22 east. The rock nowhere rises to any considerable height above the river-bed, so that no extensive vertical section can be seen, and the frequent interruptions of the exposure, as traced along the river, prevent any trustworthy correlation of the strata. The lithological characters of the rock at this point are essentially those before given as general characteristics, and this locality may be regarded as the typical one of the formation. A portion of the layers found west of the bridge are more shaly than the average rock of the formation, and upon exposure tend to disintegrate somewhat more readily. A stratum found below the bridge possesses a more granular character than the rest of the formation, but the chemical analyses that have been made of the several portions indicate that these variations are largely of a physical nature, and that the chemical composition is less varying. In the drift lying upon this rock an abundance of black shale is present in thin, fragile, more or less rounded chips, indicating the near presence of the formation from which they are derived, and which may be conjectured to be the overlying black slate so abundant in other regions. The fishes mentioned in a foregoing paragraph have been found in this locality, together with a long list of invertebrates, which indicates a rich and abundant fauna. For the names and description of the fossils found in this region we would refer those interested to Volume IV of the “Geology of Wisconsin — Survey of 1873-1877,” to which the writer is indebted for a great deal of the information contained in this chapter.
In section 11, town of Granville, a railroad cut just south of the station known as Brown Deer exhibits a few feet of this formation. The original lithological characters are essentially those already referred to, but the rock of this locality has been more extensively weathered than that near Washington Street bridge, and presents a buff color, except in the interior of some of the heavier layers, and it is also somewhat decomposed in certain portions. In sections 9 and 10 of the same township occurs another exposure of this formation, occupying the brow of a hill, and underlaid by limestone belonging to the Niagara formation. The rock here is a rather soft, granular, buff, impure, dolomite, much stained with iron, which is doubtless due to the decomposition and oxidation of pyrites, originally disseminated through it. Along the lake shore on Whitefish bay the formation rises slightly above the water level in a very limited exposure. The strata at this point have a firmer texture, but more uneven structure than at the previously named localities. The lines of deposition and bedding are irregular, and angular cavities of moderate size are not infrequent, some of which are filled with a semi-fluid, tar-like bitumen. An analysis of this rock shows it to’ have much less silica and alumina than the beds on the Milwaukee river. The extent of this deposit in Milwaukee county is abundantly sufficient for all anticipated wants and its location is convenient and accessible, so that it forms one of the important resources of this vicinity.
By far the most important resource springing from the drift in this region has already received consideration — the fertile and enduring soils. The powdering and commingling of such a vast variety of minerals by the glacial forces was a process than which none could be better suited to produce a secure and permanent foundation for agricultural industries — a resource that is the basis of all wealth and prosperity. But second only to this in importance are the building materials furnished by the drift formation, prominent among which are the deposits of brick clay. These belong to two classes, the light colored and red clays. The former, found extensively in Milwaukee county, are lacustrine or fluviatile deposits, derived from the wash and redeposit of the bowlder clay, and occur within the area covered by that formation. A portion of these clays burn to a beautiful cream color, and their superiority in texture as well as color makes them a general favorite in the market. It is thought to be entirely safe to say that in quantity, quality, convenience of situation and facilities for shipment the Milwaukee clays are unsurpassed on this continent. The superiority of the brick is universally acknowledged, and their beauty is a matter of general commendation. The product has the light cream dolor, so long known in the market as the characteristic of “Milwaukee brick.” and they are made from a light colored clay, a modified form of the glacial deposit.