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The Iowa Stone Industry, 1957

Excerpts From

The Palimpsest: Quarrying in Iowa

By Charles S. Gwynne and William J. Petersen

Published monthly by the State Historical Society of Iowa
Iowa City, Iowa, May 1957

In the early days of Iowa, the pioneers used local stone in several of the early forts.  In 1840 stone was used in the buildings at Fort Atkinson in Wineshiek County and also for foundations for houses and barns.  Native stone was also used in public buildings., street curbing, gutters, paving blocks, and ballast for the railroads.

Lime was quarried early on to be used in cement and mortar.  Eventually, this industry disappeared from Iowa.

Once Portland Cement was widely used, the need for great quantities of quarried stone from Iowa for use in buildings diminished.  "Then plants for manufacture of Portland cement came to Iowa, and presently were quarrying enormous tonnages of limestone and shale from locations in the vicinity of Winterset, at Mason City, and at Buffalo." [1]

By 1957 only a few quarries were still producing building stone.

Most of the quarries in Iowa were concentrated in the eastern portion of the state.  By 1957 most of the quarries had been abandoned, although since then some have reopened.  Beds of limestone have been quarried in Allamakee, Winneshiek, and Dubuque counties.  In 1957 St. Peter sandstone was being mined in Clayton County.   

The Silurian variety of limestone can be found in the eastern counties of Iowa in Jones, Delaware, Jackson, Cedar, Clinton, and Scott counties.  Large quantities of limestone were quarried from these areas, especially the quarries in Jones County.  At Anamosa penitentiary personnel quarried stone to be used in buildings, walls and terraces.  This stone was also used in Botan Hall and Morrill Hall at Iowa State College.  This is the "Anamosa stone."  In 1957 this stone was still being quarried for use as crushed stone. [2]  

Following are some of the Iowa quarries:

  • Stone City Quarry, Jones County (Niagaran limestone)

  • Champion Quarry, Jones County (Niagaran limestone)

  • Farley Quarry, Jones County (Niagaran limestone)

  • Eagle Point Quarry, Dubuque County (Galena limestone)

  • Quarry near Burlington, (Burlington limestone)

  • Hutchinson's Quarry, Iowa City, (Cedar Valley)

  • State Quarry, Johnson County (State Quarry)

  • Quarry at Earlham, Madison County (Pennsylvanian)

Following are some examples where stone quarried in Iowa was used: [3]

  • Goodnow Hall, Grinnell College, Grinnell, (Sioux quartzite)

  • Elkader Bridge, Elkader, (Galena limestone)

  • Humboldt School, Humboldt, (St. Louis limestone)

  • Old Capitol, Iowa City, (State Quarry Beds)

  • Julien Dubuque monument, near Dubuque, (Galena limestone)

  • Cornell College chapel, Mt. Vernon, (Niagaran limestone)

  • Botany Hall, Iowa State College, Ames (Niagaran limestone)

In 1957 there were large limestone quarries noted at Le Grand, which had first opened about the late 1850s.  For many years they produced building stone and then eventually produced crushed rock for railroad ballast, aggregate, roadstone, and agricultural limestone.  These quarries are to be found along the Skunk River north of Ames.

In Harrison County, Webster County and Lee County there can be found limestone and sandstone quarries.  The sandstone was quarried as building stone at Red Rock on the Des Moines River and also in the southern and southwestern counties.  In 1957 quarries were still operating producing crushed rock.  Other producers of limestone were in the vicinity of Earlham and Winterset, Marmaton, Oread and Deer Creek. [4]

A soft, chalky limestone has been quarried for agricultural use in many locations in pits rather than quarries.  Some of the locations noted are:  Anamosa, Johnson County, Le Claire, Le Grand, Keokuk, and Farley. [5]

It is also noted that there were many quarries opened along the river from time to time.  One of the main limestone quarries was at Dubuque which started after 1840.  In 1899 the Eagle Point come Company was quarrying stone.  Following are some of the other quarries noted as opened at the beginning of the 1900s:

".Dodge and South Streets, Eighth Street, Fourteenth, and the crossing of the North Cascale Road and the Illinois Central Railroad.  The Dodge Street quarries were those of Tibey, Burns and Saul, and James Rowan.."  A 1899 report noted that a large quarry was in operation at Eagle Point, which had been abandoned by 1957. [6]

Limestone from the cliffs along the Wapsipinicon River west of Anamosa was quarried as early as 1846 for stone to be used in military roads.  By 1852 the stone was hauled from near Stone City to be used in the construction of the first buildings at Cornell College.  After railroad shipments began in 1859, the stone was shipped to all six states bordering Iowa to be used in the construction of bridges and buildings.

In the early 1900s the quarries at Stone City were owned by H. Dearborn and Sons and had been opened in 1869.  Other quarries noted were:  Anamosa Quarry; Champion Quarry No. 2, opened in 1866; Johnellen Quarry opened in 1887; and State Quarry in the Stone City area. [7]

Limestone was also quarried in Cedar County.  In 1887 the Gladfelter Quarry was opened at Cedar Valley which produced stone for manufacturing lime and quarrying of building stone.  At Lime City there was another quarried owned by the Sugar Creek Lime Company.

The Bealer Quarry at Cedar Valley, on the right bank of the Cedar River, was opened in 1883 by J. C. Bealer and were quite well known.

Cedar Valley was another center of quarry operations.  in 1892 thee were the ".McLeod's quarries on the west bank of the Sapsipinicon, below Massilion; Frink's on Mill Creek north of Clarence; Burrough's on Rock Creek west of Tipton; Wallick's on the tributary of Baldwin Creek; Hecht's on Mill Creek north of Clarence; Cary's southwest of Tipton on Rock Creek." [8]

There were also limestone quarries in the vicinity of Waterloo, Mason City, cedar Falls, Cedar Rapids, and Iowa City.  The quarries near Iowa city were in operation before the 1890s.  Most of the stone for the Old Capitol at Iowa City was supplied by the State Quarry, which was located on the Iowa River a few miles northeast of North Liberty. [9]

Limestone was also quarried as early as 1893 in Des Moines County, especially near Burlington.  Some of these quarries, including the Larin Quarry (corner of Amelia and Claim) the Hoppman Quarry (corner of Maple and May), the City Quarry (near Maiden Lane and Seventh), and the Loftus Quarry (corner of Seventh and Maple Streets) were all located at the end of Division Street. [10]

In Madison County there were limestone and sandstone quarries.  One of the limestone quarries was in the vicinity of Winterset and was open for many years.  Before 1910 the Winterset quarries provided building stone for the area. [11]


Peterson, William J. (edited by).  The Palimpsest - Quarrying in Iowa.  The State Historical society of Iowa, Iowa City, Iowa, May 1957.

[1] The Palimpsest - Quarrying in Iowa, pg. 187.

[2] Ibid., pg. 192.

[3] I do not know if the following structures are still standing.  They were listed in the 1957 publication cited here.

[4] Ibid., pg. 194.

[5] Ibid., pg. 195.

[6] Ibid., pg. 196.

[7] Ibid., pg. 197.

[8] Ibid., pg. 198.

[9] Ibid., pg. 199.

[10] Ibid., pg. 199.

[11] Ibid., pg. 200.

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