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California Structural and Industrial Materials / Building Stones
(historical account leading up to circa 1906)

The following material on the California stone industry circa 1906 are excerpts from The Structural and Industrial Materials of California, Bulletin No. 38, California, State Mining Bureau, San Francisco, California, 1906.

(This material covers the following building stones in California: Granite and Granitic Rocks; Limestone and Lime; Marble, Onyx Marble, Sandstone, Serpentine, the Portland Cement Industry of California, and Soapstone - Talc.)

"California has now (circa 1906) reached a period in her history when the building-stone resources of the State have greater economic importance than ever before. In the period of the first settlement in any country the demand is for cheap building material, and especially for one that can be handled rapidly and will facilitate the quick construction of buildings. After the first mushroom growth, industries and settlements begin to take on an air of stability and permanence, due to the establishment of settled industries, such as agriculture, manufactures, and mining; wealth begins to accumulate in cities, and in the hands of capitalists; then a desire arises for buildings, both private and public, which show stability, durability, architectural skill, and beauty. Each year finds additional inquiries for good building and ornamental stones of different kinds.

"That there is a great wealth of valuable stone in California has been known for many years. It is equally well known that much of it is still undeveloped, a very considerable portion of the building and ornamental stones used in California being imported from other states and from European countries...."

Uses of Stone

"Stone is used in substructures almost universally. Wood, brick, and iron are frequently used as a substitute in superstructures, but whatever may be the material used in the upper building, stone is almost always used for the foundation and basement. In superstructures where first cost can be subordinated to architectural effect, stone will in most cases be used.

"For monuments there is no satisfactory substitute for stone. For this purpose the stone is often shipped long distances, in order to get one that has an established reputation. Many of the monuments in this State are of stone from New England, Indiana, Georgia, or Europe, and often a large part of the cost of the monument is in railroad or steamship transportation charges. One of the objects of this Bulletin (The Structural and Industrial Materials of California, Bulletin 38) is to show where good stone for monuments, architectural, and other uses can be obtained in this State.

"Some of the other uses of stone are in the construction of breakwaters, bridge abutments, culverts, curbing, fences, flagstone, hitching posts, macadamizing, paving blocks, piers, retaining walls, reservoirs, sewers, sluiceways, etc.

Classification of Building Stones

"Rocks are commonly divided into two, sometimes three, great classes: the unstratified, or igneous; the stratified, or sedimentary.

"The first class may be subdivided into the granitic or crystalline rocks, and the volcanic or glassy and stony rocks. The granitic class includes granite, syenite, etc.; the volcanic class includes basalt, trachyte, tuff, etc.

"The sedimentary rocks include those formed in water, such as sandstone, limestone, etc.

"The third class includes the metamophosed forms of the other two classes. They may be formed from the igneous rocks, as gneiss, some of the schists, serpentine, and talc; or from the sedimentary rocks, such as marble, which is metamorphosed limestone; quartzite, which is metamorphosed sandstone; or slate, which is metamorphosed clay or shale.

Kinds of Building Stones in California

"Nearly all of these classes of building and ornamental stones occur in California."

"Granite is quarried in the following counties: Los Angeles, Madera, Nevada, Placer, Riverside, Sacramento, San Bernardino, San Diego, Tuolumne, and Tulare. Undeveloped masses of it occur in other counties.

"Limestone is quarried in Amador, Calaveras, Colusa, Napa, Santa Barbara, Butte, El Dorado, Contra Costa, Los Angeles, Kern, Mono, Monterey, Placer, Riverside, San Bernardino, Inyo, Santa Cruz, Santa Clara, Shasta, Sonoma, and Tuolumne counties.

"Marble is quarried in Amador, Riverside, San Bernardino, Inyo, and Tuolumne counties.

"Sandstone quarries are in operation in Colusa, Los Angeles, Santa Barbara, Santa Clara, Ventura, and Yolo counties.

"Slate is quarried in El Dorado County, but occurs in several other counties.

"Serpentine occurs in a great many counties in large quantities, but has been quarried only on a small scale in a few places. It is quarried on Santa Catalina Island, and as Verde Antique in San Bernardino County.

"Rubble and broken stone for macadam are quarried in a score or more counties.

"Porphyry is quarried for building stone at San Luis Obispo.

"Volcanic Tuff is quarried at several places in Calaveras, Napa, San Luis Obispo, and Sonoma Counties."

California Granites and Granitic Rocks

"Most of the granites of California that are used for building stone are true granites. At Penryn, a Gabbro is quarried in small quantities, and the stone at Rocklin has been classed as a granodiorite."

"Granite and the closely associated granitic rocks (granolites) form part of the Gavilan and Santa Lucia ranges of the coast south of San Francisco bay; farther south they form the principal part of the mountain ranges in the western part of southern California, connecting with the large exposure of granitic rocks of the Sierra Nevada range, which runs from Tehachapi northward to the recent volcanics, in Lassen County. Considerable exposures in the eastern portion of the Klamath mountain region"

(In 1906) "Large quantities of marble are shipped into California from Vermont, Georgia, Tennessee, and Italy, which indicates a demand greater than the supply, a demand that could and should be met, in a large measure, from the home quarries.California produces no bright-colored marbles that could replace the red Tennessee and red Vermont variegated marbles for interior decoration; but there is a sufficient supply of white, clouded, and colored marbles and onyx marble to more than supply the home demand."

"The published reports for 1904 show that marble was produced in five different counties in California, but good marble is known to exist in several other localities where it is not quarried."

Marble Production in California in 1904

California Limestone and Lime


Distribution of Limestone in California:

"Limestone is pretty well distributed over the State of California; no very large area is entirely without it, yet the deposits are not continuous over large areas. The stone is in some places several hundred feet thick, but, as a rule, it extends only a short distance on the surface.

Uses of Limestone and Lime:

"Limestone is used for building and ornamental purposes, mostly, however, in the metamorphic form - marble. It is further used to burn lime. The lime burned at Suisun, Napa Junction, and Colton is principally used in the manufacture of cement, and in the near future much of that from other points will be so used, as the cement industry is increasing very rapidly.

"The numerous large beet-sugar factories in the State use large quantities of lime, several of the productive quarries being operated for the sugar factories alone. The manufacture of beet-sugar is an industry that is liable to increase greatly in the near future of California, and hence an increased demand for lime for this purpose.

"The remainder of the product is used for furnace flux, as a fertilizer, for mortar and plaster in building operations, in glass manufacture, and other minor industries.

"The California limestones belong in several different geological periods, were formed under different conditions, and hence differ considerably in structure, texture, and composition. The limestones of Santa Cruz, Kern, San Bernardino, and San Diego counties are all highly metamorphosed and associated with granites. Their deposits at Suisun and Concord are travertine, and probably of recent age...."

".the total value of the lime produced in one year (1904) is $566,249, and of the lime and limestone nearly $660,000. Lime is produced in twenty counties. The limestone is given as used for furnace flux, beet-sugar manufacture, and paving. The part that is used in the sugar factories is first made into quicklime, and that used for furnace flux is reduced to lime in the furnace; hence, all the limestone quarried in the State is used for lime except the little that is used for paving and concrete...."

California Lime:

"Lime is the oxide of the metal calcium (CaO), and in some form is the basis of all the mortars and cements used in building operations. In a comparatively pure form it is common lime, caustic lime, or quicklime. When mixed with a considerable percentage of clay or silica it forms poor or meager limes, and with the increase of clay it forms hydraulic lime, and when mixed with clay in proper proportions it forms cement. Lime combined with sulphuric acid forms calcium sulphate, which forms the plaster of Paris cements.

"Burning. Lime is produced commercially by heating common limestone in heaps or in specially constructed furnaces known as limekilns. Limestone consists of the carbonate of lime, which when heated at high temperature loses the carbonic acid, which passes off as a gas, and the oxide of lime for quicklime remains...."

"Limestone begins to lose its carbonic gas at about 750 F., but requires a temperature of over 1300 F. before it is all driven off. In chemically pure lime carbonate, there are 56 per cent of lime and 44 per cent of carbonic acid, but there is nearly always present a considerable percentage of moisture and organic matter, which are driven off, and generally a varying percentage of clay, magnesia, iron oxide, etc., which are not driven off, in the burning. So the actual percentage of lime may vary from 55 per cent or more to 30 per cent or less of the stone. The moisture in the stone facilitates the burning, so that a freshly quarried moist stone is more readily reduced than a dry stone. Hence a dense, compact stone is reduced with greater difficulty than a porous one, but the quality of lime is better.

"It is desirable to have the lumps of stone of a nearly uniform size as they are put into the kiln. If there are a few large pieces, either they will not be calcined to the center and hence will not slake, or there will be a waste of fuel in heating the smaller pieces after they have been calcined.

"The burning may be done in open fire where a small quantity of lime is wanted for local use. Where any considerable quantity of lime is desired, kilns are constructed.

Limekilns. There are two classes of kilns in general use: the intermittent kiln, which is used only when a small quantity of lime is wanted, and the continuous kiln, which is the kind in general use. There are many different types of the continuous kiln, which resemble each other in that the burning process is a continuous one from the time the fire is started until it is extinguished for repairs, or for some other purpose. In the first class the fire is intermittent, as the name indicates. The kiln is filled or partially filled with stone, and what is estimated to be sufficient fuel to drive off the carbonic acid is put underneath and mixed with the stone and fired. The kiln is permitted to cool after the fuel is burned and the lime is drawn.

"There are many different kinds of continuous limekilns, some of which are covered with patents. They may all be divided into two classes, in one of which the fuel and limestone are put in the kiln in alternate layers, and the other, the fuel is burned in furnaces and only the flames enter the kiln. The objection to the first class is that the ashes of the fuel are mixed with the lime and injure it more or less. So serious is this objection that kilns of this type are gradually being replaced by the shaft kiln.

"Slaking Lime. When water is added to quicklime, it combines with it chemically and forms the hydrate, the hydroxide, or slaked lime.

"This process is accompanied by the evolution of heat, which is most prominent in the rich or fat limes and decreases the increase of impurities. As the change from lime carbonate to the oxides causes a decrease in bulk (usually about 6 per cent) and a decrease in weight (about 40 per cent), so the addition of water causes an increase in both weight and volume.

"Uses of Lime. Probably more lime is used in mortar than any other purpose. For this it is first slaked and then mixed with sand, when used for binding masonry together and for wall plaster. It is also used without the sand for whitewashinging.

"Some of the other purposes for which lime is used are: (1) dehydrating alcohol; (2) disinfectant; (3) dyeing; (4) fertilizer for agricultural purposes; (5) flux and glaze in pottery manufacture; (6) furnace flux; (7) furnace hearths; (8) furnace linings where the basic steel process is used; (9) insecticide; (10) manufacture of aqua ammonia; (11) manufacture of boneash; (12) manufacture of calcium carbide; (13) manufacture of gas; (14) manufacture of glass; (15) manufacture of paper; (16) manufacture of potassium dichromate; (17) manufacture of soap; (18) manufacture of soda; (19) molds and crucible; (20) oxyhydrogen light; (21) polishing material; (22) refining beet-sugar; (23) tanning, in removing the hair from the hides."

California Marble:

"Marble is a metamorphic, crystalline limestone, distinguished from other limestones principally by its adaptability to receive a polish. It is used as an ornamental building stone, also for decorative and monument purposes.

"The production of marble in California, as indicated below, is not very large, but a study of the deposits in the State justifies the conclusion that more deposits could be opened, and the ones already opened could be operated more extensively. Large quantities of marble are shipped into California from Vermont, Georgia, Tennessee, and Italy, which indicates a demand greater than the supply, a demand that could and should be met, in a large measure, from the home quarries.

"So far as observed, California produces no bright-colored marbles that could replace the red Tennessee and red Vermont variegated marbles for interior decoration; but there is a sufficient supply of white, clouded, and colored marbles and onyx marble to more than supply the home demand.

"Some of the limestone and marble deposits of California are shattered and have many cracks and seams, and in some cases poor judgment has been used in quarrying and in selecting some of the marble that has been put on the market. Besides, the use of heavy charges of powder will cause seams and cracks in the marble, however sound the stone may have been at first. All these reasons have to some extent been detrimental to the general impression regarding the marble resources of the State.

The published reports for 1904 show that marble was produced in five different countries in California, but good marble is known to exist in several other localities where it is not quarried."

California Onyx Marble:

"The term 'onyx' signifies a banded variety of quartz, highly prized as an ornamental stone. 'Onyx marble' is a commercial and not a scientific term; it covers such calcareous deposits as have the texture and beauty fitting to serve as ornamental stone. The requisite qualities are: perfect homogeneity of texture, microcrystalline structure, translucency, and beauty of color. (See Twentieth Annual Report of U. S. Geological Survey, Part VI cont., page 286.) Much of the finest and best onyx marble is composed of aragonite, and some writers limit the term onyx marble to such varieties, but considerable quantities of the onyx marble of commerce are calcite.

"Some of the onyx marbles are deposited by hot springs, some by cold springs, and some are cave deposits. The spring deposits are thought by some to furnish a finer grade of onyx than the cave deposits. The finer grades of this stone command fancy prices in the market, and are among the most costly stones used in architectural work.

"Onyx marble occurs in a number of places in California. Probably the largest and finest deposit is the Kesseler, described below, which consists of aragonite." (To read more about the Kesseler onyx marble deposit, go to this entry in the San Luis Obispo County section: "Kesseler Onyx Deposit.")

California Sandstone:

"Sandstone is a sedimentary rock composed of sand grains cemented together. The bulk of the rock consists of the grains, which vary considerably in size and composition. When the quartz grains are very minute and the cementing material is prominent and of a clayey nature, sandstone graduates into shale, and when the size of the grains increases to that of pebbles the rock becomes a conglomerate. (See A. Geikie, Text-book of geology, pages 161 and 164.) The bulk of the grains in nearly all sandstones consists of quartz. However, a small but variable percentage is composed of other minerals, among the most common of which are feldspar, muscovite, biotite, iron oxides, and hornblendes.

"The cementing substance of sandstone forms a much smaller percentage of the rock mass than the grains, but it is a much more important part in governing its value as a building stone, since both the color and the strength of the sandstone are dependent on the cementing substance. The most common cements in sandstones are iron oxide, clay, quartz, and calcite; sometimes one only, but frequently two or more of these cements are present. Crystalline quartz cement alone or in excess forms a quartzite metamorphic sandstone, an extremely hard rock and one difficult to work. Calcite cement alone makes a hard rock and one difficult to work. An excess of clay cement forms a stone that crumbles easily in a cold climate. Most of the sandstones that are strong enough for a good building stone and at the same time soft enough to be economically quarried and dressed, have as cementing substances either iron oxide-the yellow, red, and brown sandstones-or clay with a little calcite or silica in addition-the gray, blue, and buff sandstones.

"Certain sandstones more nearly approach a true fireproof stone than any other class of building stones. The ease with which sandstones can be worked, together with the variety of pleasing colors, and the fact that grain and texture they harmonize so well with bricks and other stones, makes them one of the most desirable of the building stones. That California is well supplied with good sandstones for building purposes is shown on the following pages."

Sandstone Production in California for 1904

Sandstone Production in California since 1887

California Serpentine:

"Serpentine is a hydrous silicate of magnesia (3 MgO, 2 SiO2, 2 H2O) that occurs in rock masses, and is sometimes used as a building or ornamental stone. It usually has a green color-sometimes dark, sometimes light, and sometimes yellowish green. It is thought to be in all cases a secondary rock; that is, it is formed from some other rock by a gradual change in the mineral character. The most common minerals which are known to change to serpentine are Chrysolite, hornblende, and augite.

"Serpentine forms extensive rock masses in the Coast Mountains and occurs in numerous small areas in the Sierras, but in most places it lacks sufficient brightness of color to be a desirable ornamental stone, and has too many cracks, fissures, and mineral impurities to make a good building stone. It has been quarried for both building and ornamental stone in small quantities at some localities in California.

"Despite the fact that serpentine is a durable stone and occurs in large quantities in different parts of the United States, it has not been used for either building or ornamental purposes in quantities at all comparable with many of the other classes of building stone. The reasons for this are probably twofold: first, the color is not a favorite one; and second, the great quantity of waste necessary to handle, because of the numerous fissures and cracks, makes the quarrying expensive. Large dimensions are scarce in all serpentine quarries.

"Verde Antique. When serpentine is mixed irregularly with considerable quantities of calcite, it is called verde antique marble, or ophiocalcite, and is highly prized as an ornamental stone. One large deposit of verde antique marble, noted below, has been quarried in California."

California Slate

"Running through El Dorado and Amador counties is a great belt of black slate that has been exploited in a small way in a score or more places. Many of the openings, however, are not deep enough to show whether a good material is present or not. The belt forms part of the Mariposa Slate belt, which is of Jurassic or early Cretaceous age. It will be strange, indeed, if other first-class slate does not occur in this extensive range, and other - quarries will no doubt be opened in the future when better railway facilities are afforded.

Production of Roofing Slate in California, 1889-1904.

"The figures show a marked increase in production during the past five years. The fact that California is at present the only slate-producing State on the Pacific Coast gives additional interest. It has recently shipped slate to the insular territories of Hawaii and Guam."

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