By LeAnn R. Ralph
COLFAX — No matter how you feel about life in a small town, there’s one thing that’s certain — Colfax is small enough to walk around.
And that’s what makes “A Walking Tour of Historic Sandstone Buildings in Colfax” a unique aspect of the village.
Thanks to Susan Hill, curator of the Colfax History Room in the Colfax Municipal Building, the “walking tour” of Colfax is now available for everyone to enjoy.
Hill wrote the text for the walking tour a number of years ago, and this year, she generously allowed the Colfax Commercial Club to use her tour information in a new brochure for self-guided tours of Colfax — just in time for the Colfax Sesquicentennial, too, from July 17 through July 20.
More than a hundred years ago, stone was quarried from right outside of town and was shipped out of Colfax by rail car.
Here is an excerpt from the introductory section of the brochure:
“Over 100 years ago, a group of surveyors from Maiden Rock, Wisconsin, came to Dunn County in search of sandstone suitable to mine as building material for the expanding nation. In the hills northwest of the budding community of Colfax, they found what they called their ‘cash payload.’
“The Colfax Stone Company was organized and operated by William Lister for many years, with O.W. Olson serving as the quarry and yard manager. Sam Conway of Eau
Claire and John Peterson of Madison later joined the partnership. The height of the sandstone business was from 1899 to the early 1930s. At its peak, the company operated three quarries, and in 1925, still employed 15 men.
“Workers drilled into the sandstone by hand at the quarry and then set black powder to loosen it from the cliffs. Large stones (10 x 3 feet) were loaded onto ‘underslung’ wagons pulled by four horses and brought to the mill yard located along the Wisconsin Central Railroad tracks just west of Main Street.
“Here stones were cut, faced by hand with wooden mallets and chisels, and air brushed. “Thousands of tons of ‘Colfax Sandstone’ were shipped by rail to building sites in Chicago, New York, the Twin Cities, Madison and Eau Claire, Wisconsin.
“Numerous sandstone buildings were built right here in Colfax during the early part of the 20th Century.
“Just imagine what it must have been like in Colfax when all of these buildings were being constructed. The hustle, bustle, noise and dust! And add to that the mill whistle blowing at noon and 5 o’clock!”
The brochure includes directions to each building, a brief description and history of the building, and a map to help visitors find the buildings.
The walking tour of stone buildings in Colfax starts with the Colfax Municipal Building and includes The Colfax Auto Co.; Card’s Meat Market; The Colfax Store Company; The Kinney Mercantile; The Bank of Colfax; Colfax United Methodist Church; The Wisconsin Central Railroad Depot; The Colfax Lutheran Church; The Martin House; and The Running House.
Brochures for “A Walking Tour of Historic Sandstone Buildings in Colfax” are available at Colfax Arts and Antique Mall on Main Street, the Colfax Railroad Museum, and the Colfax Messenger.
On Saturday of the Colfax Sesquicentennial, the walking tour brochures also will be available at the Colfax Commercial Club’s booth on Main Street.
The walking tour brochures are available courtesy of the Colfax Commercial Club and the business owners who are members.