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The California Stone and Building Industry in 1882

Excerpts from

Mineral Resources of the United States, 1882

J. S. Powell, Director, Department of the Interior, United States Geological Survey, Government Printing Office, Washington, D. C., 1883.

Excerpts from the chapters on 1) "Structural Materials," and 2) "The Useful Minerals of the United States:

"The division of the Tenth Census charged with the collection of statistics of building stone obtained returns from 1,525 quarries in the United States, having an invested capital of $25,414,497, and producing during the year ending May 31, 1880, 115,380,133 cubic feet of stone, valued at $18,365,055. In value of total product, the leading States rank as follows: Ohio, Pennsylvania, Vermont, Massachusetts, Illinois, New York, Maine, and Connecticut; each of these States producing upwards of $1,000,000 worth of stone. Vermont, Illinois, Ohio, Iowa, Indiana, New York, and Missouri, in the order named, produce the most marble and limestone; Ohio, New York, Connecticut, and Pennsylvania, the greater part of the sandstone; Massachusetts and Maine quarry the most granite and other siliceous crystalline rocks; while Pennsylvania leads in product of slate."

Building Stone on the Pacific Coast.

Stone suitable for building and similar uses is abundant in all the Pacific States and Territories. Besides mountains of granite and immense beds of sandstone, there occurs in many parts of the country a species of steatite well adapted for building purposes, being light, fire-proof, very durable, and easily quarried and dressed. Much use is made of this stone in the localities in which it abounds, more especially in sections of the distant interior where lumber is scarce. Neither stone nor brick is much employed for building in these Western regions, lumber being almost everywhere cheap, and climate and convenience favoring its extensive use. Even in the larger cities more than three-fourths of the structures of every kind consist of wood; many of them, however, have brick or stone foundations.

Granite.-Large quantities of granite are used in San Francisco, and some of the other large towns, for curbing the sidewalks and street-crossings. This stone is extensively quarried at Folsom and Natoma, in Placer county, California, and at Rocklin and Penryn, situated on the Central Pacific railroad, 22 and 28 miles, respectively, from the city of Sacramento. The granite at these places is of excellent quality, that obtained at Rocklin and Penryn being considered especially good. As the deposits here are very extensive and the rock splits evenly, it is possible to break out blocks of large dimensions, some more than 100 feet long, 50 wide, and 10 thick having been quarried out and afterwards broken up into smaller pieces.

The Penryn granite works are some 28 miles east of Sacramento, on the line of the Central Pacific railroad. The first of the several quarries from which the stone is procured was opened in 1864 by the present owner, Mr. G. Griffith, whose establishment is the most complete on the coast. His quarries cover some 680 acres at Penryn and Rocklin, the latter point being six and eight miles distant from the former in a due westerly direction. The cutting and polishing works, located near Penryn, and the principal quarries, are extensive. They consist of various buildings sheds, filled with machinery employed in cutting and polishing the granite. Here 200 men find constant employment, and the force is frequently much greater. The chief superiority and predominating excellence of Penryn granite consists in the fact that it does not change color by exposure, and that it contains no iron. These advantages give to the Penryn granite a superiority when used for monuments, tombstones, or when placed in any position where it will be exposed to the elements. The predominating shades at Penryn granite are blue, gray, and black, the last named very much resembling the celebrated black granite found in Egypt, and exceedingly beautiful when highly polished.

Granite quarries are worked at a great many other places in California and elsewhere on the coast.

Marble.-Carbonate of lime in nearly all its forms is abundant on the Pacific coast, and in the adjacent Territories, especially as limestone. Marbles in great quantity and every variety are found in California, the following localities being noted for their fine beds:

Near the town of Columbia, Tuolumne county, where the deposit is of great thickness, masses weighing as much as 600 tons have been blasted out, and single blocks weighing 13,000 pounds have been quarried and dressed. For sawing the stone into slabs and other required forms a water-power mill of large capacity has been put up at the quarry, from which a good deal of marble has been since taken out and sold, the most of it having been used for building purposes in San Francisco. In color this marble is much diversified, some portions being an unclouded white, while others are tinted with blue or gray, or a blending of hues of many kinds. It is all fine-grained and extremely hard.

Four miles from the town of Suisun, Solano county, where the stone in its rough state has exactly the appearance of rosin, it occurs in heavy beds, blocks measuring 800 or 900 cubic feet having been broken out here. A great deal of marble has been taken from this quarry, the unique tints of the material and its fine grain recommending it for many ornamental uses.

On the McCloud river, near Copper City, Shasta county, a pure white marble is found, fit for all kinds of delicate work, even for statuary. Being in a remote and sparsely settled region, not much has been done with this bed, though it is said to be very extensive.

At Indian Diggings, El Dorado county; above Downieville, in Sierra county; at Susanville, in Lassen county; and in Placer county near the line of the Central Pacific railroad, occur heavy beds of marble of almost every color and degree of fineness, though none of them have been extensively worked. The deposit at Indian Diggings, opened in 1857, the first ever worked in the State, is of the clouded variety, and has been much employed for monuments and like purposes. In this bed, which is over 100 feet thick, there occurs a grotto nearly 700 feet long and from 20 to 80 feet high.

While there has always been a great demand for marble in California, only the more common kinds obtained from the quarries opened in the State have been largely used, the finer varieties having been imported, mostly from Italy. Much of the stone in California is of excellent quality, being a pure white or beautifully variegated, and susceptible of the highest polish. It is probable that none equal to the Carrara has yet been met with in the State, but from the quality of some already found near the surface it is thought that marble equal to the best foreign will be obtained when the deposits come to be worked to greater depths. In addition to the kinds already mentioned, there are handsome specimens of the Cipolin, white with shadings and streaks of green, and the Porton or Genoesee yellow; also, what is termed Ruin marble, a yellowish stone with broken brownish lines resembling the ruins of fortifications, castles, and other artificial structures.

What has tended to prevent a larger use of the domestic product has been the cost of transportation, which from almost any of the quarries to San Francisco has been greater than from Italy to that point. Through the construction of railroads into the interior the transportation of marble is likely to soon be so cheapened that the principal supply will thereafter be obtained from home sources.

It does not appear that much, if any, marble has as yet been found in the State of Nevada, nor is this stone so abundant in any other part of the Pacific coast as in California. Enough of the carbonate of lime occurs everywhere, however, in other forms, to make all the lime required for local purposes, Oregon alone forming an exception.

Sandstone.-A handsome fine-grained sandstone of a greenish-gray color is quarried on Angel island in the bay of San Francisco. A brown sandstone, obtained near Hayward, Alameda county, California, is much used in the cemeteries as bases for monuments, for constructing vaults, etc. A bed of sandstone of a pinkish color, streaked with wavy lines of brown and purple, occurs near the Merced river, in Mariposa county, which, being very beautiful and durable, would be likely to come into large use were the locality more accessible.

Slate.-While slate is very common stone on the Pacific coast, the fissile variety suitable for roofing has been found only in a few localities; one of these being near Cooperopolis, Calaveras county, California, where a stone of a very good quality is found in abundance. A bed of similar slate was opened over 20 years ago in Amador county, California, and worked for a short time, when the enterprise was abandoned, there being little demand for it when gotten out, asphaltum, tin, and shingles continuing as before to be preferred for roofing purposes.


"Domestic production.-Lime for mortar and other building purposes is burnt to a greater or less extent in every State in the Union. It is difficult, or almost impossible, to obtain accurate statistics of production, inasmuch as the manufacture is in a great number of small hands, and only a small proportion of the product passes through the main channels of transportation. The production is estimated to be between 30,000,000 and 32,000,000 barrels, of 200 pounds each, worth 65 to 75 cents per barrel, spot value. This gives a total valuation to the production of $21,700,000-assuming the means of the above figures. The lime product presupposes the quarrying of about 6,000,000 tons of limestone. Of this total product of lime it is estimated by several authorities that 1,500,000 barrels come from Rockland, Maine, and from 800,000 to 1,000,000 barrels from New York State."

"Lime on the Pacific coast.-Common limestone, though an abundant rock in most parts of the extreme West, occurs sparingly in Oregon and perhaps also in Washington Territory...."

"During this period, the prices of lime in San Francisco have varied from $1.50 to $1.75 per barrel, the present price being $1.60. While lime is burned in various parts of the State, about one-third of the California product is made near the town of Santa Cruz, where a highly crystalline limestone occurs in great abundance."


Nearly all the pumice used in this country is imported in the lump from Italy, where it is found in the neighborhood of Mount Vesuvius, and is ground here-the only exception being small lots of California pumice-stone which have reached the market from time to time. There are abundant deposits of pumice-stone at Lake Honda, San Francisco county, California; also at Little Owens lake and other localities in Inyo county in the same State. It is of good quality. Whittier, Fuller & Co., of San Francisco, own the Lake Honda deposits, and manufacture from 60 to 70 tons per year, supplying the market on the coast for the most part. A portion of the pumice used on the Pacific coast is imported stone, prepared in New York. Formerly all that was used there was imported, but now two-thirds of what is consumed is made in San Francisco, the above-named firm being the only manufacturers. The Italian sells at $25 per ton in New York City. During the fiscal year 1882 the imports amounted to $29,019 and the exports to $2,423. Pumice-stone is chiefly used in polishing marble.


Reported by Joseph Perkins.

Ores, minerals, and mineral substances of industrial importance, which are at present mined.

Aragonite - "Suisun marble": Solano county. Used for mantels, pedestals, and smaller ornaments.

Calcite - Limestone: Burnt for lime in Santa Cruz, Placer, San Luis Obispo, and Napa counties.

Calcite - Marble: Quarried for coping and building, in Calaveras and Tuolumne counties for making lime, in Santa Cruz and Amador counties; as flux for iron works, in Placer county.

Granite: Sacramento and Placer counties.

Sandstone: Solano county.

Steatite - Soapstone: Placer county. Used as furnace lining, sawed into bricks for the market.

Alabaster: Alabaster cave, El Dorado county; also in Solano, Tuolumne, and Los Angeles counties.

Aragonite - Onyx marble: San Luis Obispo, Siskiyou, Placer, and Kern counties; found in small fragments not large enough to work.

Buhrstone: Inyo county.

Calcite - Marble: Monterey, Nevada, and Kern counties.

Calcite (2) - Limestone: San Bernardino, Mono, San Benito, Inyo, and Calaveras counties.

Granite: Mariposa and Nevada counties.

Sandstone: Santa Clara, Shasta, Tuolumne, San Mateo, and Napa counties.

Steatite - Soapstone: Yuba, Tuolumne, Kern, Los Angeles, Nevada, Fresno, Amador, Marin, and Tulare counties.

"Syenite": San Mateo county.

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