Quarries once were fishing sites for rural youngsters
When this week’s temperatures moved toward the uncomfortable range for the first time this year, they brought back some wistful days of yesteryear when the spring-fed quarries in Kearneysville, Millville and Bakerton had both swimmers and fishermen. The deep quarry in Kearneysville was one of three on the property once worked for limestone and crushed stone by prosperous companies that sent the product to steel mills off in western Pennsylvania.
Once the quarry workers found natural springs at a certain level of their operation, it wasn’t too long before the pumps couldn’t keep the water level from outpacing their removal efforts. The cool spring water took control. The quarry operation was shut down. And the deep, bowl-shaped depression filled with water.
The Kearneysville Elementary School held late May or early June field days at the quarry, swimming and enjoying an outing away from the desks, their inkwells and the school marms with tightly braided hair and a ready supply of switches for any contrary child.
The late-in-the-year swimming outings were no more by the 1940’s. But farm hands, orchard workers and young people just plain hot and tired from a day of outside labor would find a way to the “quarry hole” on many a late afternoon.
They might walk down the inclined landing, once used by mules to haul heavy carts loaded with stone out of the bowels of the quarry, to reach the water. Or they might crawl down through boulders at the other end to jump into the refreshing water.
A work day of hayfield sweat or haymow unloading of bales of alfalfa could be washed away in 10 minutes of cooling off in the quarry. Only about the topmost 18-inches of the water had any warmth to it. Even on a 90-degree day, the water at about 4-feet was still the 55 degrees it was when coming out of the fissures in the quarry bottom.
Fishing in the Kearneysville quarry took a different bent than fishing in the nearby Potomac or Shenandoah Rivers.
Only after 7 p.m. could any appreciable shade be found for the fish that wanted to get out of the sunlight. The little shade was only on the western side of the quarry where the steep cliffs and hardy honey locust trees blotted the sun to some extent.
Some people would cast from those cliffs, usually getting the striking attention of fish uninitiated and unsophisticated to the wily ways of fishermen.
Others would try to catch the smallish “sunnies”, eat-anything carp and numerous minnows from the rock incline that let them get much nearer the water.
On a rare occasion, a flatbottom boat would have been brought along the well-worn road that led the local-knowledge fishermen from Route 480 along the railroad tracks to the rock incline where it could be carried by well-muscled youths down to the water.
Once out on the quarry’s water, those in the boat were going to get the action they wanted. There was no need for costly equipment or exotic baits. Earthworms found in the moist shade of a milkhouse or spring house could fool any of the several varieties of fish. Any small lure or crickets or rubbery crawfish or frog would be struck by the unknowing fish in a matter of seconds.
Fishing was also done from the same path at the northern end of the quarry and just over the fenceline from Lige Miller’s farm and his hay fields and dairy barn where the swimmers had crept down to the water line to do their cooling off.
The amount of the catch wouldn’t fill the dinner table for a family of six or seven. The fishing was definitely of the “recreational” variety, done to forget the wasps, bumblebees and mud daubers in Mr. Miller’s haylofts.
The quarry could be dangerous. Swimmers had drowned there.
But on a scorching hot mid-July evening after the hay bales had been stacked and the last of the Holstein cows had been milked, the Kearneysville quarry was a sanctuary from the farm’s multi-flora rose, thousands upon thousands of thistles, and the wildly swinging tails of the milk-producing cows.