Carthage, Jasper County, Missouri
Searching for a site to build the courthouse for the newly formed Jasper County, a committee of three men selected a spot in the southwest corner of Missouri on the Ozark Plateau. Thus in 1842, the town of Carthage was planned along the banks of the SpringRiver. A suitable frame building was erected for the courthouse and the town began to grow.
The development of the lead and zinc mines brought boom times to the town. Homes and businesses were going up as fast as they could be built. Rough boulders of grey marble were brought down from the outcroppings of the hills along the Spring River. They were used for foundations, chimneys and other basic building needs.
In 1880 a fire on the north side of the Carthage square destroyed much of the area. Rebuilding required lime and lime kilns were constructed north of Carthage near this same marble outcropping.
By 1885 the value of this stone for building purposes was recognized and a group of St. Louis businessmen opened a quarry to produce exterior building stone.
For the next several years, Carthage “Marble” was shipped to St. Louis and used for pavements, street crossings, window and door caps, cornerstones and embellishments for commercial and residential buildings. One of the first buildings to use this native stone was the First National Bank of Carthage.
Fire struck again destroying the courthouse and in 1894, a new courthouse was begun.
The Romanesque revival-style building cost $100,000.00. It showed that a locally quarried limestone, so hard it could be polished like marble, was an excellent building material for interior or exterior use. By the turn of the century, Carthage “Marble” was in use across the country.
In 1904, the State of Missouri undertook a survey of the geological resources of the state and in their findings wrote:
Source: Carthage Marble Corporation
“The most extensive limestone quarries in Missouri are located at Carthage, the county seat of Jasper County. Although a comparatively new industry at this place, it has increased so rapidly that within eighteen years it has become the center of limestone production in this State…..Carthage limestone is fast becoming one of the most popular building materials in the middle west…..
For many years this stone was quarried by hand and used for foundations, caps and sills in buildings in and about Carthage. It was also used for bridge abutments on the Missouri Pacific railroad near the city. The first quarrying machinery was introduced about 1885, since which time the stone has gained an almost national reputation.
Geologically, this limestone belongs to the Burlington division of the Mississippian or Lower Carboniferous…..For an economic standpoint, it is the most important limestone formation in the State….”
Formed during the Mississippian Age, it is part of the Sub-Carboniferous Epoch in the Palaeozoic Era. The stone has a crushing strength three times that of the Bedford limestone making it more difficult to cut and dress. In 1904 two inches per hour was considered an average work in sawing this stone. The extra effort required to dress was offset by ease in quarrying. Carthage “Marble” is found in level beds with natural breaks (joints) between the levels of marble.
An early report of the Missouri Bureau of Geology and Mines reads that “in uniformity of color, this is the peer of limestones. The calcite grains are closely interlocked, giving the stone strength and durability.”
The stone is uniform in color and does not discolor with age. Its simple mineralogical composition makes it more able to withstand rapid changes in temperature than more complex stones.
The Marble Institute of America placed Carthage “Marble” in a Class A
category of stones with uniform and favorable working qualities.” In its natural state, Carthage “Marble” is a very light pearly grey that sparkles and appears almost white in sunshine. Rising above common limestone, it is capable of taking a high polish which brings out a deeper shade of grey with a pattern of parallel charcoal grey veins.
Fossils of crinoids, the Missouri state fossil, can often be seen in the polished slabs.
Crinoids – Missouri State Fossil
In 1904, there were nine quarries were operating in the Carthage area:
Carthage Marble and White Lime Co.
Carthage Stone Co.
Carthage Quarry Co.
Viernow and Meysenburg Lime and Cut Stone Co.
Spring River White Lime Co.
Spring River Stone Co.
Carthage Building Stone Co.
Myers Stone Co.
Carthage Consolidated Quarry Co.
Looking to expand their markets, the Carthage companies began polishing and fabricating Carthage “Marble” for interior use. Sales increased dramatically and soon accounted for a large percentage of the total volume.
In 1913, John Gill and Son Company secured the contract for furnishing the exterior and interior marble for the Missouri State Capitol at Jefferson City. Gill then established the Lautz-Missouri Marble Company and erected the largest marble finishing plant west of the Mississippi River.
Growth in quarriers and finishers continued and in 1927 the Carthage Marble Corporation purchased and consolidated the F.W. Steadley and Company, Lautz-Missouri Marble Company, Carthage Marble and White Lime Company, Consolidated Marble and Stone Company, Spring River Stone Company and Carthage Marble Building Stone Company into one major producer. Carthage Marble would grow to become the largest marble quarrying and finishing concern west of the Mississippi River.
Facilities included the quarry, a crushing plant, two marble saw mills and two marble finishing plants. In Phenix, Missouri the company owned and operated the Napoleon Grey marble quarry. They also bought, finished and distributed the entire output of quarries in Guion and Batesville, Arkansas, St. Genevieve, Missouri and Canon City, Colorado.
At the height of production, Carthage Marble Corporation produced sixteen of America’s most beautiful marbles and carried one of the largest and most complete stocks of foreign marbles in the United States. Marble, in rough block form, was imported from Italy, Belgium, France, Spain, Norway and Sweden and finished at the Carthage plant.
Aerial view of the Carthage Marble Corporation quarries and finishing plant. Taken in the 1950’s.
Source: Carthage Marble Corporation, Carthage, Missouri publications and interviews