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Riley’s deep, dark, dangerous secrets

By Fred Steiner

Due to quarries in the Riley, it could be said that Bluffton was built underwater

Did you know that the Big and Little Riley Creeks hold deep, dark secrets? 

This sounds creepy, and even crazy. But, its secrets border on being surprisingly dangerous.

Laugh if you must, but …

Examine older Bluffton buildings on Main Street and older church building,. Each has one thing in common. Their foundations hold stones dug from Riley Creek, all the way from Orange Township, through Bluffton, on to Pandora.

It could be said that Bluffton was built under water. 

Because of this, if not careful, hikers wading either stream today could find themselves in deep water.

In these harmless appearing waterways lurk several forgotten stone quarries and fire department cisterns created in the era prior to 1900. These surprise hikers with sudden drop offs of 5 to 10 feet or greater.

The quarries, dug by hand in a laborious process, operated from 1842 to 1900. Today they are unmarked forgotten deep watery pits, making them like trolls awaiting someone to drop in for a visit. 

When the water level is low you might detect the locations of some of these small quarries.

One hint is a sudden, unexplained, wide place in the stream.

To create a quarry, workers needed to bypass the stream with a dam. That enabled workers to pry layers of stone loose and remove the stone to the creek banks. The depth of each quarry varies. 

However, a forgotten fire department cistern dug in Riley Creek north of the Cherry Street bridge was wide and deep enough to swallow a large tractor used in clearing the creek bank. That incident, about 30 years ago, resulted when the village hired someone to clear debris in the stream. No one knew the pit existed. They know it today. And, they filled it in – or at least they should have.

Little Riley quarries

A hike down the Little Riley into Bluffton provides many wide places requiring special precautions. The first, just west of the bridge on Lugabill Road near Little Riley Creek Farm, eventually became a popular swimming hole.

Another former quarry is at the bridge on the north side of Grove Street behind the Rob and Janice Young residence. Following the stream, another is on the east side of the Bentley Road bridge, just north of the J.D. Yoder and Lynda Nyce residence.

Continuing downstream the next quarried area is on the east side of the Elm Street bridge.

Big Riley quarries

Coming downstream on the Big Riley toward Bluffton from Orange Township was the Rayl quarry. Tread carefully. It’s exact location is not known, today. Youngsters were discouraged to swim there, because of its depth.

Moving closer to Bluffton just beyond Fox Hill lay Hoover’s quarry. This quarry was another popular swimming location for Bluffton youngsters. Fox Hill, a popular spot filled with stories from a generation of 90 years ago, needs its own explanation and description. We’ll tackle that later in this website.

Continue walking the creek through town and you’ll come upon several wide places in the stream hinting of additional one-time quarries.

Around 1900 a small quarry existed on the site of the Howe Tennis Courts across from Harmon Field. This site was filled in during the 1920-1935 era.

Just south of the Cherry Street bridge was another small quarry.

More of this story and several photographs at

Editor's note: As noted in a recent Icon photo, a report was made of a green stretch of the Rileys. This is likely an algae overgrowth and it is recommended that people and pets stay out of the water under these conditions.

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