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California Building and Ornamental Stones - 1886

Excerpt from

Report of the United States National Museum
Under the Direction of the Smithsonian Institutions
For the Year Ending June 30, 1886,

Chapter entitled
“The Collection of Building and Ornamental Stones In The U. S. National Museum:
A Hand-book and Catalogue”

By George P. Merrill, Curator
Department Lithology and Physical Geology.

Serpentines, pp. 362-363.

California - Serpentine. - Inexhaustible quantities of serpentine of a deep green or yellowish color occur in the region round about San Francisco, and often in such situations as to be easily available, as at the head of Market street. So far as observed none of the material is of such a quality as to render it of value for ornamental work, while its gloomy color renders it equally objectionable for purposes of general construction.

“The rock is also abundant in other parts of the State, but the writer having seen none of the material, excepting as displayed in smaller fragments in the State museum at San Francisco, will refrain from further remarks on the subject.”

Limestones and Dolomites. Marbles in California, pp. 375-376.

California. - Owing to the violent geological agencies that have been in operation since the formation of the marble deposits in this State, the stones found are said to be so broken and shattered in nearly every case that it is impossible to obtain pieces of large size free from cracks and flaws.* Near Indian Diggings, in Eldorado (sic) County, there occurs a fine-grained white, blue-veined marble that closely resembles the Italian ‘Bardiglio,’ from the Miseglia quarries, but that the groundmass in lighter in color. It has been used only for grave-stones and to but a slight extent at that. In Kern County are deposits of marbles of various shades, but all so broken and shattered as to be very difficult to work. Near Colfax, in Placer County, are also beds of a dark blue-gray mottled magnesian limestone that takes a good polish and might be utilized as marble. Other deposits occur in Los Angeles, Monterey, Nevada, and Plumas Counties, but none of them are at present worked. The most beautiful of all the California marbles is the massive aragonite, or so-called ‘onyx,’ from San Luis Obispo. This stone, which is as I understand a travertine, is identical in composition and structure with the celebrated Oriental alabaster (wrongly so-called) from Blad Recam, near the ravine of Oned Abdallah. In color it is pearly white, and it is made up of fine, wavy parallel bands like the lines of growth upon the trunk of a tree. This stone is now being quite extensively introduced for small stands and ornamental work, which are often of exquisite beauty. No other travertines that can compare with this are at present quarried in the United States, though a beautiful variety is found in extensive deposits at Tecali, State of Puebla, Mexico.

(Page 375, footnote 2: Rep. Tenth Census, p. 279.)

“Another travertine marble occurs in very limited amounts near the town of Suisun, Solano County. The quarry lies in a low hill near the town, and has been quite extensively worked, but no large pieces of even texture are obtainable, which is of course a drawback to its extensive use.*

(* Page 375, footnote 3: Rep. State Mineralogist of Cal., 1884, p. 73.)

“Specimens of this stone received at the National Museum are of a dull red or amber-yellow color, resinous luster and somewhat porous. A far more beautiful stone, but which also occurs in very limited amounts, is found near the falls of the Sacramento River in Siskiyou County. This is also aragonite and is of a beautiful emerald-green color. The color is however so delicate that pieces of considerable thickness (an inch or more) must be used in order to appear to advantage. The stone is found, as I am informed by Mr. J. S. Diller, of the U. S. Geological Survey, in a narrow seam in the gneissoid rocks of the region, and there is very little probability of its ever being obtainable in pieces of more than a foot or so in length.

“Prof. H. G. Hanks, in a paper recently read before the San Francisco Microscopical Society, describes, under the name of ‘Inyo’ marble, a pure white crystalline dolomite occurring in the White and other mountains of the Inyo range in this State. It is regarded by him as an excellent stone, and one promising of future usefulness. Besides this he mentions a yellow brecciated marble found at Tehachipi, in Kern County, and a black marble found near Colfax. The author has seen none of these stones.”

Granites in California, pp. 411-412.

California. - It is stated* that the first stone house erected in San Francisco was built of stone brought from China, and at the present day the granites most employed are brought from Scotland and the Eastern United States. However this may be, it is obvious that this condition of affairs need not long continue to exist, since granites of good quality occur in inexhaustible quantity in the near vicinity. As early as 1853 a granite quarry was opened in Sacramento County, and since then others have been opened and systematically worked in Penryn and Rocklin in Placer County. The Penryn works are some 28 miles east from Sacramento on the line of the Central Pacific Railroad. The first quarries were opened in 1864 and are now said to cover some 680 acres at Penryn and Rocklyn,** the latter point being some 6 or 8 miles distant from the former in a westerly direction.

(* Page 411, footnote 1: Building Stone and Quarry Industry, Report Tenth Census, Vol. X, p. 2.)

(** Page 441, footnote 2: The Rocklin stone is rather a quartz diorite than a true granite.)

“The rock varies in color from light to dark gray, one variety, which contains both hornblende and biotite, being almost black on a polished surface. They are as a rule fine grained, and take a good polish. Blocks more than 100 feet long, 50 feet wide, and 10 feet thick have been quarried out and afterwards broken up.*

(* Page 411, footnote 3: Mineral Resources of the United States, 1883, p. 455.)

“The buildings mentioned below have been constructed wholly or in part of these granites: United States Mint, new City Hall, new Stock Exchange, the Real Estate Associates’ building, and several private residences, and many monuments; all in San Francisco.

“A fine-grained very light-gray granite of excellent appearance is found on the line of the California Southern Railroad between Los Angeles and Cucamonga, and is beginning to be used in Los Angeles. In texture it is as fine as the finest Westerly, R. I., or Manchester, Va., stone, and of a uniform light gray color. A coarser stone, carrying abundant hornblende and black mica, is found also at Sawpit Cañon, in the same county. It works readily, but contains too much hornblende, and also too many small crystals of sphene, to be of value for fine monumental work.”

Sandstones in California, pp. 446.

California. - Around the Bay of San Francisco there occur sandstones of a considerable variety of colors which are beginning to come into use to some extent. The prevailing colors here are brownish and gray. On Angel Island, in Marin County, there occurs a fine sandstone of a greenish-gray color, which has been used in the Bank of California building, and others of a lighter shade are found in various parts of Alameda County. A few miles south of San Jose, Santa Clara County, there are also inexhaustible supplies of light gray and buff stone, but which are at present worked only in a small way. Near Cordelia, Solano County, there occurs a coarse, dark-gray volcanic tuff, that can, perhaps, be utilized for rough construction should the occasion demand.”

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