Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Wisconsin Wrap-up

After reading my last three marathon posts on the House on the Rock, you'll be happy to know I just have one short one to finish our trip west across southern Wisconsin.  Near HOTR is Tower Hill State Park, home of a shot tower that was in use from 1833 to 1861.  It was used to form molten lead into shot (buckshot size and smaller.)

I found the whole process fascinating.

Wow!  Who came up with that idea?  Actually, the answer was provided.

The method used was the “Watts Method” named after an English plumber who, watching raindrops fall, envisioned droplets of melted lead falling in the same manner and becoming round as they fell.

 We hiked first to the base of the 60 foot tower,

Where we could look down the beginning of the 120 foot shaft hand-dug through the cliff.

After we climbed to the smelter house at the top, we could see the path of the falling lead, though the 60 foot tower and into the 120 foot shaft.

Here's a diagram of how the system worked.

Although the smelter house and tower were certainly reproductions, the shaft is quite a story.  In 1831, Thomas Bolton Shaunce was hired to dig the 120 foot shaft, plus a 90 foot tunnel connecting it to the riverbank. He worked mostly alone, but had some help from a fellow miner, Malcom Smith.  They dug the shaft and tunnel with typical miners tools, pick and gad (a straight pointed bar), and hauled the rock out with buckets. The work stopped temporarily in 1832 during the Blackhawk War when both men enlisted to fight.  After the war, Shaunce returned to finish the job.  He worked a total of 187 days and was never paid the $1000 he had been promised, but did receive some land instead.  What a feat!

Almost just as amazing were the following statistics:

When in full operation, a crew of six operated the shot tower, dropping up to 5,000 pounds of lead per day. Of this, only about 600 to 800 pounds was usable shot. The rest was hauled back to the top of the tower, melted and dropped again.

Truly back breaking work, even with ox carts to haul the lead back to the top.  This might go at the top of jobs I would never do.


  1. WOW who would have thought that's how it was done!!

  2. I guess that is where the term "Get the lead out" came from, all the unformed lead being hauled back up. Bet those workers were in great shape!

    Glad you finally got out of the HOTR. It almost seemed like it was the "Hotel California"... :cD

  3. How interesting. Where is this place?

  4. Fascinating ... thanks for sharing.

  5. This state park has been on my list to stop in at but I never seem to be in the area except during mosquito season! Thanks for the pre-tour. Now I can be a know-it-all when I get there. Heading out to Kettle Moraine tonight to try out a new tent!