Wednesday, February 19, 2014

The Alaska Marble Story

Alaska marble sculpture
The 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 formations there.

Around 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.

The 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.

Eventually 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.

The 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.

If 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.









3 comments:

  1. Joseph, thank you for telling this story. Many people do not realize that the Vermont Marble Co. owned quarries all over the U.S., including Alaska. Peggy B. Perazzo, Stone Quarries and Beyond

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  2. Simply, admirable what you have done here. It is pleasing to look you express from the heart and your clarity on this significant content can be easily looked. Remarkable post and will look forward to your future update.

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  3. I would like to say that really your story is helpful for me. Yash Impex is also marble and granite producer India. We are providing Indian marble, granite, limestone, sandstone and natural stone in Jaipur and many other different cities of India.

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