Abandoned No Longer, Novel Uses for Mines and Quarries

Former eyesores are becoming beautiful water parks, hotels, data centers, amusement parks, and sports arenas.
Marcia Wendorf
A quarry dumper hauling coal.EvgenyMiroshnichenko / iStock

Human beings have been digging in the ground for millennia, searching for marble, limestone, and granite. But when those materials are depleted, these former quarries often end up abandoned.

Quarries are usually located near cities due to the high cost of transporting materials, and that makes them ideal spots for redevelopment. Dozens of abandoned quarries around the world have been transformed into everything from data centers to amusement parks, and from research facilities to hotels.

We're going to take a look at 12 of the most interesting abandoned quarry redevelopment projects around the world.

1. SubTropolis Technology Center - Kansas City, Missouri

SubTropolis Technology Center
SubTropolis Technology Center Source: Americasroof/Wikimedia Commons

If the name Lamar Hunt sounds familiar, it's because he was the brother of Nelson and William Hunt, who are famous for their attempt to corner the silver market back in 1980. Indeed, Thursday, March 27, 1980, called Silver Thursday, is the day the Hunts' scheme collapsed.

The Hunt brothers believed that inflation would result in silver becoming a haven, as inflationary pressures would destroy the value of investments tied to paper currency.

The Hunt brothers began buying up silver, which on Jan. 1, 1979, was selling at $6.08 per troy ounce. As they added to their stake, the Hunts eventually came to own one-third of the world's entire supply of silver, and they raised the price of the metal up to $49.45 per troy ounce.

The situation was so dire that jewelry maker Tiffany took out a full-page ad in The New York Times, descrying the Hunt brothers' practice. When silver prices suddenly fell, the Hunt brothers were faced with a $1.1 billion margin call. Several U.S. banks came to their rescue with a line of credit and averted a disaster that could have snowballed throughout world financial markets.

Another Hunt brother, Lamar, went on to form the Hunt Midwest Real Estate company, which in 2014, developed SubTropolis, a data center located in an underground limestone mine.

At 55,000,000-square-feet (5,100,000 sq m) in size, SubTropolis claims to be the world's largest underground storage facility, and it even trademarked the phrase, "World's Largest Underground Business Complex."

Located in the abandoned Bethany Falls limestone mine, SubTropolis is 160 feet (49 m) beneath the surface and contains almost 7 miles (11 km) of illuminated, paved roads and several miles of railroad track.

The mine naturally maintains a temperature of between 65 and 70° F (18 and 21° C) year-round. The National Archives and Records Administration leases space for a Federal Records Center in the cave, the U.S. Postal Service houses its collectible stamp operations there, and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has its Region-7 Training and Logistics Center there.

2. Henry C. Palmisano Nature Park - Chicago, Illinois

Henry C. Palmisano Nature Park
Henry C. Palmisano Nature Park Source: Chicago Park District

Chicago's southside Bridgeport neighborhood was home to famed mayor Richard J. Daley. It was also home to the Stearns Limestone Quarry, which supplied much of the limestone used in downtown Chicago's buildings and in the Illinois & Michigan Canal.

The quarry reached 380 feet below street level when it closed during the 1960s, and for 30 years it was used as the dump site for construction debris. Then, in 1999, the Chicago Park District came up with a plan for the site.

Today, the Henry C. Palmisano Nature Park contains over 1.7 miles (2.7 km) of pedestrian trails, jogging trails, and a soccer field, along with a pond located 40 feet below street level.

3. Louisville Mega Cavern - Louisville, Kentucky

Louisville Mega Cavern
Louisville Mega Cavern Source: Groupon

If you're driving along Louisville's Watterton Expressway, or visiting the Louisville Zoo, you might not know that beneath your feet is a massive former limestone mine.

Due to its extensive support structures, the Louisville Mega Cavern can be classified as Kentucky's largest building, at 100 acres in size. At a constant 58° F (14.4 C) year-round, the cavern is ideal for storage and recycling, and it is also home to the world's only underground dirt bike track and underground zip line attraction. It also has a challenging rope course.

During 1962's Cuban Missile Crisis, the Mega Cavern was a designated bomb shelter and a list of 50,000 people who would shelter there was created.

4. Salina Turda Amusement Park - Turda, Romania

Salina Turda Amusement Park
Salina Turda Amusement Park Source: schlorpsblorps/Reddit

What do you do with a salt mine that sits over 400 feet below ground? You turn it into an amusement park.

Over its lifetime, from the 1800s through 1932, over 3 billion tons of salt were taken from this mine. During World War II, it served as a bomb shelter and later as a place to age cheese.

Today, you can take row or paddle boats out on the mine's underground lake, or you can play miniature golf, ping pong, bowl, or ride a Ferris wheel. The constant temperature of the mine promotes wellness treatments, and there's even an amphitheater used for entertainment.

5. Shimao Wonderland InterContinental Hotel - Shanghai, China

Shimao Wonderland InterContinental Hotel
Shimao Wonderland InterContinental Hotel Source: zhaojiankang/iStockPhoto

Located in an abandoned stone quarry 30 miles (48 km) outside of downtown Shanghai is this 370-room, five-star hotel which is run by the InterContinental Hotels Group.

Designed by British Architect Martin Jochman, the site includes a lake that features sailing and other water sports, and the hotel rises 17 stories above the lake, with two stories of the hotel underwater. The walls of the quarry are used for rock climbing and bungee jumping.

The Shimao Wonderland Hotel takes advantage of the microclimate of the quarry to cool it in the summer and heat it in the winter. The hotel took 12 years to build, employing more than 5,000 architects, engineers, designers, and workers.

6. Brownstone Exploration and Discovery Park - Portland, Connecticut

Brownstone Exploration and Discovery Park
Brownstone Exploration and Discovery Park Source: Wikimedia Commons

During the 1930s, flooding by the Connecticut River ended all operations at this brownstone quarry. Stone from the quarry was used in a number of landmark buildings in Chicago, Boston, New York City, Philadelphia, Baltimore, Washington, D.C., and Hartford, Connecticut, including many of the famous brownstone buildings in New York City.

The water in the quarry lake was stagnant and incredibly cold, and this led to the deaths of several people foolish enough to swim there. Then, in 2000, the quarry was developed into an adventure park featuring swimming, kayaking, scuba diving, cliff-jumping, rock climbing, wakeboarding, and rope swings.

Leading thrills were a 750-foot zip-line and a 100-foot water slide. In 2010, an estimated 50,000 people visited the park, and the presence of lifeguards prevents accidental drownings.

7. Quarry Falls - San Diego, California

Quarry Falls
Quarry Falls Source: sandiego.gov

Located in the geographic center of San Diego, for over 70 years this quarry had provided stone and concrete for some of San Diego's most famous building projects. These include the Petco Park baseball stadium, home to the San Diego Padres, and the runways at San Diego International Airport.

By 2008, the quarry was depleted, however, development was put on hold until the end of the U.S. housing market crash. The $1.5 billion project, now called Civitas Park, features a variety of housing types, retail, commercial and business spaces, and entertainment venues.

There are also 37 acres of terraced parks, pedestrian trails, and bicycle paths. Quarry Falls has received awards for being a Smart Energy Community.

8. Bellwood Quarry - Atlanta, Georgia

Bellwood Quarry
Bellwood Quarry Source: Oleandrin/Wikimedia Commons

This quarry provided Atlanta and the surrounding area with gravel for over 100 years. Then, a Georgia Tech architecture and urban planning student came up with the idea for the Atlanta BeltLine Project which is a series of parks and trails that will ring Atlanta.

In 2006, the Bellwood Quarry was purchased by the city of Atlanta with plans to create a 351-acre (1.42 sq km) park, Westside Reservoir Park, with a 45-acre (180,000 sq m) lake, all as part of the BeltLine project. This lake will also serve as a drinking water reservoir for the city of Atlanta and will hold 30-50 days worth of water.

9. Butchart Gardens - Vancouver, Canada

Butchart Gardens
Butchart Gardens Source: w4nn3s/Wikimedia Commons

In 1904, Robert Butchart established a limestone quarry on Vancouver Island that supplied cement to areas as far south as San Francisco, California. Butchart and his wife Jennie built their home close to the quarry.

When the quarry became depleted in 1921, Jennie Butchart set to work transforming it into the spectacular Sunken Garden. It is a series of beautiful gardens, each with its own theme, and is home to outdoor symphony concerts, a Christmas light display, an ice skating rink, firework shows, and restaurants.

Today, the garden attracts over one million visitors every year, and it has been added to the list of Canada's National Historic Sites.

10. The Deep Pit Ice and Snow World - Changsha, China

Ice World
The Deep Pit Ice and Snow World Source: Hunan Government

The project includes an indoor ski slope, ice-skating, tobogganing, sledding, a water park, a hotel, restaurant, and shopping facilities all placed within an abandoned cement mining quarry.

Snow and Ice World is the largest snow-filled amusement park in the world, and its shell spans 558 feet (170 m) from cliff to cliff of an old quarry. A cantilevered outdoor swimming pool creates a 197-foot (60 m) high waterfall into the quarry's lake.

The 328 feet (100 m) high hotel offers 270 rooms, 60 Executive Suites and a Presidential Suite. It also contains restaurants, conference areas, and a spa. Ice World was recently the subject of an episode of the popular PBS series, Impossible Builds.

11. The Eden Project - Cornwall, UK

The Eden Project
The Eden Project Source: A1 personage/Wikimedia Commons

A mile (2 km) from the town of St. Blazey was a clay pit that was in use for over 160 years. By the mid-1990s, the clay was exhausted and in 1998 construction began on the huge geodesic domes that today dominate the site.

The insides of the domes emulate natural biomes and contain thousands of plant species. The first biome is a rainforest, and the second is a Mediterranean environment. The rainforest biome is the largest indoor rainforest in the world.

Outside of the domes are botanical gardens containing plants and wildlife native to Cornwall and the UK. The facility opened to the public on March 17, 2001. The Eden Project was a filming location for 2002's James Bond film, Die Another Day, and an event during 2021's G7 Summit was hosted there.

12. Estádio Municipal de Braga - Braga, Portugal

Estádio Municipal de Braga
Estádio Municipal de Braga Source: Eduardo Souto de Moura/Wikimedia Commons

Pritzker Architecture Prize-winning architect Eduardo Souto de Moura designed this stadium in 2003 to serve as a venue for UEFA European Championships. De Moura's design was inspired by ancient South American Incan bridges.

The stadium was carved from the Monte do Castro quarry, with the two sets of stands covered by a canopy-style roof. Below the pitch is a 5,468 square yard (5,000 sq m) plaza. The opening game was on December 30, 2003, and was a football game between Sporting Braga and Celta Vigo.

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