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The California Stone and Building Industry, 1886

Excerpts from

Mineral Resources of the United States, Calendar Year 1886
David T. Day, Chief of Division of Mining Statistics and Technology
Department of the Interior, United States Geological Survey
Government Printing Office, Washington, D. C., 1887.

Excerpts from the chapter on Structural Materials, by William C. Day:

"The year 1886 opened with encouraging prospects for the building industry generally throughout the country, but scarcely were active operations fairly under way when the widely-spread labor disturbances which have made the year memorable began, making themselves felt in a number of the largest cities, both in the east and west. As soon as the labor troubles were inaugurated, many building enterprises were abandoned, and many more were postponed until the differences between labor and capital should be smoothed over. The building operations which were carried on during the period of disturbance were in most cases attended by small margins of profit to all concerned, and in some instances by disaster to contractors and to those who supplied material. Business was dull for all branches of trade connected with the building industry; demand for material was low and irregular, and values fell off quite considerably.

"This period of general depression was, however, followed by one of the greatest activity, and while it is true that many building enterprises contemplated at the beginning of the year were abandoned and not taken up again in 1886, still the fact remains that at the close of the year the showing made by the principal cities of the country was a large increase in the amount of building done, as compared with 1885.

"The kind of buildings most extensively erected during this period of activity consisted of residences, the demand for which, in view of our rapidly increasing population, is naturally at all times imperative.

"Only a few cities show positive evidence to the effect that building operations for the entire year were curtailed owing to the influence of labor troubles, although, of course, the frequently-propounded question, "'What would have been the amount and value of building done in 1886 had there been no serious interruption?' is one which no one can satisfactorily answer."

"Sacramento (California):

"Buildings of the better class consist of frame structures for dwelling houses, but for a few of these and for the best business houses, brick is used, with pressed brick fronts and granite trimmings. The stone most used is granite, quarried at the Folsom State prison and at Penryn, Placer county.

"For roofing purposes tin is chiefly used on business houses; red-wood shingles are used outside the fire limits; they are very durable and seem to be much liked. Slate is very little used, and tile practically not at all. Ornamental brick is very slightly employed, but terra cotta is used to a considerable extent; it is manufactured at Lincoln, in Placer county.

"Los Angeles (California):

"Among the better class of buildings frame structures for dwellings and brick for business houses are erected, with adobe structures for the poorer classes. Until the past year granite has been the stone most used for trimmings, etc., but the demand for a cheaper stone has resulted in the development of several quarries of sandstone of a variety of colors in the foothills and cañons near the city.

"The buildings erected during the past year consist chiefly of dwelling houses, small hotels, and lodging houses. For roofing purposes red-wood shingles are principally used for dwellings and tin for business houses. Slate is practically unknown. No ornamental brick or tile is used."

Granite and Allied Rocks:

"Production.-The depressing influences which have been felt during a part of 1886 by the quarrying industry as a whole have naturally produced their effects upon the production of granite, and although the total output is unquestionably greater than that of 1885, still it has by no means come up to what appeared to be expected at the beginning of the year. Granite is steadily increasing in popularity as a stone for ornamental and decorative purposes. This statement applies particularly to those varieties which admit of a high polish. A statue of granite is now is now said to cost very little more that (sic) one of marble, notwithstanding the much greater hardness of the former. This, however, may be accounted for in part at least by the fact that much less detail is brought out in granite than in marble sculpture. Granite is produced in eighteen different States; the most important of these are in the order named, as follows: Massachusetts, Maine, Rhode Island, Connecticut, Virginia, and New Hampshire. While it is probably that half of the counties in California contain more or less granite, the only localities where the stone is quarried to an extent greater than is required for local use are Penryn, Pino, and Rocklin, in Placer county, and Folsom, in Sacramento county. The quantity quarried and shipped from these several points in 1886 was about as follows: From Penryn, 10,000 tons; from Pino and Rocklin, 5,000 tons; and from Folsom, 7,000 tons.

"More than half of this production finds a market in San Francisco, the balance being mostly used by the United States Government in the construction of fortifications, light-houses, and the dry-docks at Mare Island. Between 2,000 and 3,000 tons of granite were quarried at other points in the State during the year. The demand for the stone is quite variable from year to year."

New Discoveries and developments of marble quarries:

"California.-The recent discoveries of marble in California have been the subject of considerable comment during the past year.

"In September, 1885, Mr. Israel Luce, now superintendent of the Inyo Marble Company, at the request of members of the Carson and Colorado Railroad Company, visited the marble deposits known to exist in Owen’s valley, 1 ½ miles from Owen’s lake, 5 miles north of Keeler, and ½ mile from the Carson and Colorado railroad. At that time a company was organized for the purpose of developing the beds, but in May, 1886, it abandoned the project and sold out all equipments, etc., to the present owners, the Inyo Marble Company, which since that time has been developing the ledge and putting up a mill for sawing; sand suitable for this purpose being found in the neighborhood. The first car-load of sawed marble was shipped early in the present year.

"The stone is said to be pure dolomite and the greater part of it is white, but a great variety of colored products is also found, including the variety known as moss agate. According to the reports of all experts who have examined this marble it is of very superior quality, being adapted not only for structural purposes, but also for the finest kinds of work.

"The stone appears to exist in three layers; the upper one is from 15 to 20 feet thick, is considerably shattered and strained, and its present position is believed to have been the result of a slide from the mountain above.

"The second layer is 3 ½ to 4 feet thick, apparently, in its original bed, but is also somewhat strained. The third layer has not been disturbed from its original position; its thickness is not yet known, but it has been penetrated to a depth of 6 feet. This stone is the only California marble that has proved acceptable to local cutters and dealers. The officers of the Inyo Marble Company are J. M. Keeler, president; H. B. Keesing, vice-president; O. F. von Rhein, secretary, and Israel Luce, superintendent.

"In Antelope valley, Mono county, another marble deposit was discovered. This bed is said to be extensive, and to include all colors, from white to black; some of it has a strong resemblance to onyx. It takes a fine polish and is believed to be of great value. Blocks of any required size can be quarried, some weighing as much as 25 tons having been taken out. Shipments to the owners’ works in Reno have already been made.

"In the autumn of 1886 a deposit of marble, represented as covering an area of 600 acres, was discovered in the Mojave desert, San Bernardino county, 3 miles from Victor station, on the California Southern railroad. Nothing is yet known in regard to the depth of the bed. As both stone and lumber fit for building purposes are scarce in southern California, this discovery is likely to prove a valuable one for Los Angeles, where it is calculated the stone can be laid down for $1 per cubic foot. At present, adobe, or unburnt brick, and lumber, are almost the only building materials extensively used in the town. The railroad company expects to build a track connecting the marble beds with Victor station.

"The variety of marble known as onyx has been found in quantity at two places on the Pacific coast, one being the Kesseler quarry, in San Luis Obispo county, and the other near Suisun City, Solano county. A considerable quantity of stone has been taken from the former during the last three or four years; it has been manufactured into mantels, table tops, pedestals, vases, and other articles, which are readily sold at high prices, the mantels selling for $300 to $400 each. The onyx from the Kesseler quarry is indeed a magnificent stone, and has been very enthusiastically described by those familiar with it.

"About 200 tons of the Suisun stone were shipped to Eastern markets last year; being situated near a railroad, a larger quantity is shipped from Suisun than from the Kesseler quarry, the latter being at a considerable distance from the railroad."


"In the States and Territories west of the Rocky mountains lime sufficient for the demand continues to be made. The quantity of lime burned in California last year amounted to $230,000 barrels, the receipt at San Francisco being 152,006 barrels."

"The price of lime in San Francisco at the beginning of 1887 ranged from $1.50 to $1.75 per barrel."

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