Mining and manufacturing history

Blessed by abundant mineral resources, LaSalle County's settlers used coal they dug from outcroppings.  The County’s mining industry dates back to 1855 when the first commercial coal mine shaft was put into commission, providing a cheap and efficient source of power for the region.1  Locally mined coal and aggregates were responsible for the establishment and growth of many communities along the Illinois River Valley. The mining industry was also responsible for the growth of other industries especially zinc processing, brick making, glass manufacturing, concrete and cement, as well as the suppliers of goods and services to the mines. The industry continued to grow through the 19th century as the region's transportation network expanded with the opening of the Illinois and Michigan Canal in 1848 and the arrival to the railroads in the 1850's.   

Beginning in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, the region's mining companies turned to limestone and deposits of high quality silica sand which have proved especially valuable to the industry's continued expansion. Four large quarries were producing stone for cement manufacture in 1925.2 By 1927, at least fifteen mines were operating in the area producing silica sand.3 The rock stratum that contains this silica, known as St. Peter sandstone, predominates the area around the communities of Ottawa and Utica and is easily accessible. Silica sand is a basic material in the production of glass, industrial molds and the extraction of oil and gas. 

During World War II, LaSalle County’s mineral resources were exploited by forty-four companies operating in Dayton, Lowell, Ottawa, Streator, Marseilles, Utica and Wedron to produce numerous products like brick and tile, cement blocks, coal, face brick, glass, gravel, sand and gravel, silica sand, sodium silicate, structural and refractory clay, and structural tile. Of these forty-four companies, nine were mining or processing silica sand at fourteen sites in the County.4

In the Ottawa area, glass manufacturing was one of the most important industries that grew in conjunction with the silica sand business. With an abundance of high-quality silica sand, improved transportation, a supply of water, and close proximity to the coal fields, Ottawa seemed destined to become one of the most important glass-making centers in the country. The first glass-manufacturing operation established in Ottawa was the Ottawa (Window) Glass Company, which was built in 1867 on Chestnut Street along the north bank of the I & M Canal. According to the Chicago Sunday Tribune in 1953, Ottawa Sand Puts City on Solid BasisThe glassmaking era was a prosperous one for Ottawa, with high employment and good pay; some of the more skilled workers could earn as much as $100 per week. The development of gas fields in Indiana led to a cheap fuel source elsewhere; glass prices dropped, and, by 1898, most of the glass operations had been abandoned.5

Stone, sand and gravel mined in La Salle County, as well as cement, are used today by local construction companies, brick manufacturers, James Hardie Building Products in Peru, Owens-Illinois glass bottle manufacturing in Streator, and many other industries.

1. (Sauer, Carl Ortwin. Bulletin No. 27: Geography of the Upper Illinois Valley and History of Development. Urbana, IL: State Geological Survey, 1916, pages 188-189.)
2. (Krey, Frank and Lamar, J.E.. Bulletin No. 46: Limestone Resources of Illinois. Urbana, IL: State Geological Survey, 1925, pages 138-140)
3. (Lamar, J.E.. Bulletin No. 53: Geology and Economic Resources of the St. Peter Sandstone of Illinois. Urbana, IL: State Geological Survey, 1927, page 55.)
4. (Willman, H.B. and Payne, J. Norman. Bulletin No. 66: Geology and Mineral Resources of the Marseilles, Ottawa, and Streator Quadrangles. Urbana, IL: State Geological Survey, 1942, pages 232-235.)
5. (The White Cliffs of Ottawa, Illinois State Geological Survey, published 6/23/2005, page 12)

The White Cliffs of Ottawa
Below you may download "The White Cliffs of Ottawa" which was produced as a fieldtrip guide to mining the St. Peter Sandstone for the American Association of State Geologists annual meeting in 2005. The publication includes a fieldtrip route road log, interesting facts about silica sand, history of mining in the Ottawa area, geology of the St. Peter Sandstone, description of mining and processing methods, products and uses of silica sand, and much more.  
Shawn McKinney,
Oct 15, 2014, 9:42 AM