Madden joined the Western Stone Company as vice president and manager and immediately, in 1892, began to mechanize quarrying operations in order to reduce costs.
But, Poulson writes, “his actions were soon overshadowed by the effects of the tremendous depression of 1893.” Western Stone Company stock plummeted from a high of 95 to 50, forcing the Des Plaines River valley quarrying companies to reduce wages from $1.75 per day to $1.50. This incited a “violent strike” that had to be subdued by the militia.
Western Stone stockholders elected Madden as president of the company in 1895. “Madden took the helm of a company employing 2,700 men,” Poulson reports. “Fifty boats and 500 teams of horses serviced its many yards.”
Madden inherited a large debt and immediately set out to cut costs. He spent $108,000 to improve equipment and cut 400 “useless” jobs. He instituted a 7.5 hour workday and added two 15-minute breaks. By the end of 1895, the cost of cutting stone had been reduced from $1.50 to 50 cents for large stones and from 52 to 16 cents for small stones, Paulson writes.
But business continued to languish through the remainder of the 19th century, and the Western Stone Company tried to respond to market conditions “by going extensively into the furnishing of crushed stone” in 1899. This new branch was in full operation by the next year. The company continued struggling in the first decade. By 1910, Western Stone was forced to join with other quarrying firms to form a crushed stone combine, but this was broken by an anti-trust suit the next year.
Meanwhile, in 1905, Madden was elected to the U.S. Congress. Madden devoted more and more time to Washington, and by the time of his formal retirement from Western Stone in 1915, the end of the company was near. The Keepataw site, along with other properties, was sold off in 1918, and in its annual report of 1920, the company stated, according to Poulson, that it “had not actively engaged in operation of its plants for some time.” A Superior court decree formally dissolved the company on February 16, 1925. Throughout the years that followed, the property passed through a number of owners, including Vulcan Materials Company, which reportedly sought to resurrect quarrying operations in the 1960s and 1970s.
Remnants of another sort were discovered during an archeological survey by the Will County Historical Society in 1972. Called the Bluff Site because of its proximity to Bluff Road, this area once contained housing for Western Stone Company employees. Building foundations and artifacts from the period – doll parts, clay marbles, fancy glass, tableware and serving dishes – indicate that these were family dwellings comprising a “job town” from the period 1890-1910.
According to the Historical Society report, these houses were of Swedish construction and were one and one-half story frame structures with a tar paper roof. “The ground floor was a combination living room and kitchen without a partition, and the second, or half-story, was a sleeping loft. The structure would have peaked out at 15 feet in height.”
Since the Forest Preserve District of Will County acquired the 215-acre preserve between 1978 and 1992, Keepataw’s rare ecology has been allowed to flourish.