Joseph Conrad has worked & played in the stone industry for fifty years. From architectural drafting to quarrying to stone installations to founding a stone fabrication business to stone exploring and eventually to sculpture. His blog shares his lifetime of experience. It is meant to make the urban landscape understandable to everyone. He hopes to help provide a sense of place in the urban environment by providing his insights on stone history & fabrication.
Wednesday, February 19, 2014
The Alaska Marble Story
Alaska marble sculpture
only indigenous Pacific northwest marble that was used nationally,
was quarried on a remote island in Southeast Alaska pan handle, near
Ketchikan. Most people would think of Marble Island as part of the
Pacific Northwest inland passage rain forest, and it is that.
Geologists call these islands and land forms ''docked geology'', that
is, these land masses were pushed in here from a long distances
giving a lot mixing and stirring of materials. I personally have
looked at a variety of white, and black, red and green marbles, all
of many shades and varieties, as well as other types of stone
1900 many entrepreneurs looked to these stone deposits and started to
quarry these stones for architectural use. There is some interesting
reading on these efforts as well as geological survey records
available. Lots of money, human effort and dreams spent here by many
brave and hardy people. Even today, with all our modern devices and
transportation systems, it's a beautiful but difficult location.
Water and air transport only, and little infrastructure. Most of the
work was probably done with steam driven tools. Today electricity is
provided by oil-driven private generators on these remote islands,
transportation to camp or town, is by boat. A friend of mine says you
better be boat-wise to live here. I think it takes a lot more than
that to survive there. I would say say local knowledge is essential.
As often happens one company came out on top of the struggle and
developed quite a viable stone business in the end. That was the
Vermont Marble Company.
Vermont Marble Company did a lot of exploring and cleared topsoil and
quarried and core drilled many different locations along with other
stone companies looking for high quality architectural stone. Various
locations were developed and abandoned by these companies, leaving
wonderful sites for people like me to visit if you know someone with
local knowledge to guide you. I was once taken to a remote site were
I fallowed a line of green marble blocks up a rainforest hillside to
the top where a little 20 by 20 foot quarry was filled with water.
Likely none of the marble was ever sent to San Francisco to be sawed
into slabs. These men were experts in there field and didn’t waste
money if they could help it.
the VMC focused on marble deposits on Marble Island. They built a
camp where about 60 men lived for eight months a year, with a machine
shop, and brought in the latest quarrying technology. Cook houses,
bunkhouses, a band, even a little golf course and Sunday services.
Five white marble quarries and one black marble quarry were opened.
About fifteen hundred perfect quarry blocks were shipped to San
Francisco or Tacoma Washington to be sawed and polished for
architectural building projects on good years. This went on for about
twenty five years. It was a huge industry when you consider the
average block probably yielded six hundred square feet of stone.
VMC was total vertical integration back then. They quarried it, they
sawed and cut it to size and they installed it. I believe one of
there last projects was the state capitol of Alaska. The Washington
state capitol used a lot of this stone as well. Building all over the
US used this stone, including much use in San Francisco. Left behind
on this remote island are thousands of quarry blocks deemed unfit to
ship for processing. A pile, miles long snaking through the rain
forest, thirty feet wide and thirty feet high covered with moss. A
sight to behold for someone like me.
you are interested in this sort of thing you can read three essays
titled “There's Marble in Them There Islands” here in my blog.
Alaska marble block in Portland
Alaska marble quarry in the rain forest
25-foot long marble columns never removed from the quarry
One of many colored stones from Alaska; this one is green stone.