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The Arkansas Stone and Building Industry in 1885

Excerpts from

Mineral Resources of the United States, Calendar Year 1885

David T. Day, Geologist, Department of the Interior, United States Geological Survey
Government Printing Office, Washington, D. C., 1887.

Excerpts from the chapters on 1) "Structural Materials," by H. S. Sproull; and 2) "Abrasive Materials:"

"From a few sections of the country reports indicate some falling off in the production of structural materials, but generally there has been a gain for standard descriptions, and occasionally of very decided character. The losses appear to be due to local influences alone, having no further bearing, while the increase may be accepted as a fair reflection from the entire country. The prime factor, leading to a fuller production, was the low ruling cost of material, which presented an attraction for consumption, and led to larger investments in real estate improvements, especially in the larger cities and their suburbs. Some increase in public works and improvements has opened the outlet still wider, and promises additional expansion. Notwithstanding the considerable increase in quantity of material produced in 1885, the value only exceeded that of 1884 in a few instances, and in some cases ran rather behind, as the result of the lower values brought about by various influences, as will be explained farther on. The profits of the manufacturing interest have naturally become somewhat curtailed, yet rarely to a serious extent, and there is very universal testimony to warrant the assertion that no attempt has been made to balance the shrinkage in price by lowering the grade of the product; but, on the contrary, every reasonable effort was put forth to enhance the quality and attractions as an additional stimulant to consumption."


"Occurrence: The principal source of the novaculite produced in this country at present, is the region embraced by Hot Spring and Garland counties, Arkansas. It is also quarried in Grafton county, New Hampshire, and in Orange county, Indiana. Quarries are reported in Onondaga county, New York, but no reliable information concerning them has been obtained.

Arkansas: Although the main source of the Arkansas novaculite is in Hot Spring and Garland counties, a few deposits are found in Montgomery and Saline counties. The best oilstone comes almost entirely from Garland county. A tract of land about 50 miles long by 20 miles wide will include the area from which the oilstone is taken. Two varieties of novaculite are quarried here, and are commercially known under the names of .Washita. oilstone and .Arkansas. oilstone. The former is used by carpenters and wood workmen in general, while the latter is particularly adapted for the use of watchmakers, dentists, and surgeons.

"The .Arkansas. stone is a very compact, bluish white, semi-translucent rock of uniform color and structure. The best .Washita. is less compact than the "Arkansas" stone, pure white and opaque. They are both composed of nearly pure, very fine-grained quartz, and differ from each other only in that the grains of quartz are finer and the spaces between them much smaller in the "Arkansas" than in the .Washita. stone. Both kinds are found in narrow leads from 5 to 15 feet wide, running northeast and southwest of the north side of the mountains of the Ozark range, and lying between walls of a very similar character. Some of these leads are less than a mile long, while others are several miles in length. The quality of the stone in the same lead often varies considerably as the quarrying progresses. Perfect whetstones of even grit, uniform in crystallization, and free from all impurities are found in only a few places, which are nearly always less than 100 feet in length, and are called pockets. The novaculite has been very much cracked and broken up by natural forces. The workable rock is often rendered worthless by the presence of vitreous lumps of quartz, which sometimes appear in the midst of the best producing rock, so that nearly one-half of the rock taken out of the quarries goes into the waste pile. The hot springs occurring in the immediate neighborhood of the oilstone region probably play an important part in the deposition of silica in the form of novaculite. The structure of the Arkansas rock, from its appearance under the microscope, is similar to that of marble. The crystals in forming have so run into each other as to prevent the natural crystalline faces from appearing, but have left minute cavities between the quartz grains. Up to the present time no thorough investigation has been made as to how the silica came into solution and was deposited as novaculite. There are also no data which lead us to suspect that it was deposited in a different manner than the silica of the hot-spring region of the Yellowstone Park, which region has been carefully studied and described by Hayden in his report on the .Geological Survey of the Territories.."

"Production and prices: About 500,000 pounds of the .Washita. and 30,000 pounds of the .Arkansas. stone in the rough are quarried and sold annually. The sound Washita is shaped into blocks of from 100 to 2,500 pounds, and shipped to the various whetstone factories throughout the country. The "Arkansas" stone is found in small pieces-sometimes as small as 2 pounds-and is packed in barrels for shipment. The stones are cut by means of saws. This method of preparing the stone for market is very slow, and hence the cost of the finished stone becomes greatly increased over that of the uncut. A gang of saws which will cut from 12 to 15 inches a day in marble will cut only about 4 inches in Washita and three-quarters of an inch of "Arkansas" stone. The rough Washita sells at the quarry at from 1 to 3 cents per pound, and the uncut "Arkansas" from 4 to 6 cents per pound. The latest price list of three combined firms (J. J. Sutton, of Hot Springs, Arkansas; George Chase, of New York; and F. E. Dishman, of New Albany, Indiana) is as follows for the Washita Stone:"

Prices for Washita Stone in 1885

"No. 1 is taken as their standard stone. .Arkansas. stone sells at from $1.25 to $2 per pound, according to the size of the piece. The great difference in price between crude and finished stone is due to the cost of preparing it for market.

"The quarry of the "chocolate" stone has been, until quite recently, developed mainly for local use, so that only about 15,000 pounds of the stone are now annually taken from the quarry. The method of preparing this novaculite for market is practically the same as in case of Washita and "Arkansas" stones. The stone is cut with iron blades by use of sand and then finished on iron wheels with sand. This stone, not being as hard as the Washita and "Arkansas" stones, the cost of manufacture is much less. The estimated cost of preparing the "chocolate" stone for market is about 10 cents per pound.

"Use: Until quite recently the use of novaculite was confined to the sharpening of edge tools. Of late it has come into use for grinding, reducing, and finishing. It has invaded the limits of the grindstone, emery, rottenstone, tripoli powder, and has reached almost to rouge. It is cut and dressed in many different forms for varying purposes. In any hardware store it may be found in various shapes under the name of slips, adapted for sharpening tools of all forms. In dentists. supply stores it may be found in a number of cylindrical, circular, and ovoid forms, sufficiently small to be used between the teeth in dental work. In the manufacture and finishing of metals, novaculite is also used for truing turned and planed surfaces of iron and brass, slowly grinding down the imperfections left by the finish file and corundum wheel. Some varieties have also been used to a certain extent in the powdered form in place of emery."

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