Miners Turned Quarry Men: Colorado Yule Marble Quarry, 1884 to 1900

The STORY of COLORADO YULE MARBLE at MARTINCOONEY.COM

1884  to 1900

Miners Turned Quarry Men

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As circumstances were to conspire, it was miners, not quarry men, who first recognized the commercial potential of what we now know as Colorado Yule Marble.

The year is 1884. The local miners, turned marble quarriers, could never garner sufficient capital to develop their marble quarries, and from 1884 to 1905 a string of quarries came and went… bust, mainly, during which time many began selling their treasured claims. However, as we are to see, fate can be a fickle foe, and many were those who it seems were destined to lose, and lose big, as the crippling cost of quarrying ate up and devoured the profitability of even the smartest, most connected, most expert, and well managed Yule marble quarrying operation.

But worst of all perhaps; what the staggering production costs didn’t devour, warfare of unparalleled scale, was to ultimately kill off.  For those involved, the situation must have been excruciatingly frustrating in the extreme. All that work! But not for naught, as we shall see.  What these men set in motion paved the way for not only incredible achievements such as the Lincoln Memorial, the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, along with hundreds of magnificent civil and private structures all across America, but also the very real achievement of having established Colorado Yule Marble as the excellent working marble quarry that it is to this day.

1891. Colorado Marble and Mining was formed by Steven King with capital stock worth over a million dollars.  By 1909 the lease was being transferred to Monarch Marble, and by 1926 none other than the Mormon church itself had stepped in to run things under the name Colorado White Marble. It was all over by 1926 however, as the company finally went out of business. Further attempts to breath life into the once massive marble quarrying project were staged in 1937, but alas to no avail.

Founder of the Colorado Fuel & Iron Company, with influence stretching far and wide across the American west, John Cleveland Osgood learned the coal business from the bottom rung. Born in Brooklyn, New York in 1851, he found himself  orphaned by age 14. Nevertheless he pushed himself to achieve greatness from the off.  ‘Undisputed Fuel King of the West’ they called him.  By attending night classes at the Peter Cooper Institute in New York, he was subsequently able to take a position with the Union Mining Company of Iowa.  And in no time at all, the young firebrand has not only risen through the city’s banking industry like a star – but had quietly and confidently gained himself control of the White Breast Mining Company.  He now supplied however much coal he could get his hand on to the coal hungry Chicago, Burlington & Quincy Railroad.  John C Osborn was 30 years old when he set out west to hunt for more coal deposits.  Legend has it that he personally inspected every coal mine in Colorado.  But by 1892 he had purchased a quite astonishing 5,622 acres of coal land, and it was at this point that he found himself bitten by the Colorado Yule Marble bug.  For as he marshaled his holdings in and around the Crystal River Valley he gradually began to take an interest in the activities of the quarry, which was just up the road from his coke ovens, three miles up a dirt road from the remote Rocky Mountain town of Marble, Colorado.   After merging his Colorado Fuel Company with the Colorado Coal & Iron Company, he formed the Colorado Fuel and Iron Company, with himself as president, naturally. Now, with over 800 coke ovens, 14 commercial mining and milling operations, and 15,000 strong workforce, John C Osgood found himself to be the largest employer in the state of Colorado, with an empire stretching into Wyoming and New Mexico.

1892.  John C. Osgood forms the Crystal Land and Development Company, flinging himself into the task of quarrying that same year by means of an open-pit on the west side of Yule Creek.  He also found time to preside over the huge coal and coke operations in nearby Redstone in his role as Colorado Fuel and Iron president.

By the late 1890s he had formed the Yule Creek White Marble Company, and by 1905 the energetic Mr. Osborn had reorganized the company as Redstone Marble. Through little fault of his own however, as we shall see, the doors were to close for ever on September 5, 1917, as the madness of World War One knocked the skids under whatever plans he had in mind for the business.

1893. Dr. R.H. Kline formed the Marble City Quarrying Company on September 29.  By February 28, 1905 it had sold to Channing Meek and was out of business and ‘dissolved’.

1895. Despite a growing interest in Yule Marble generated by glowing test results newly arrived from London, not to mention the extraordinary commercial opportunities afforded by both the 1890 St Louis Exposition, and the Chicago Exposition of 1893, the struggle for profitability, weighted down by huge start up costs, enormous running costs, along with the staggering realities of quarrying marble at 9,300 feet – a thousand miles from nowhere – those involved continued to struggle.

1895. Occasionally a juicy, high profile and profitable project would come along, such as that of John Osgood obtaining a major contract to supply 140,000 cubic feet of marble for the new state capitol in Denver, Colorado.  However, after this initial success neither Osgood nor his competitors were able to find sufficiently profitable new markets, and all Yule marble quarries continuously struggled to make ends meet.

The Osgood operation was well financed, but even he was afflicted by the problems associated with developing and operating a marble quarry deep within the daunting terrain of the Yule Creek Valley. Also the lack of transportation severely added to the difficulties. Taken together, these factors resulted in unsustainable operating costs that simply could not be covered by marble revenue.

The problem lay in the inescapable fact that the same dramatic geological forces that created such magnificent marble also created the host of costly and complex problems involved in the quarrying of the stone. Quarrying in this high altitude environment, with steep slopes, deep snow, and snow-mud slides, is so expensive that advances in technology were not able to overcome the challenges. These factors limited the periods of operation and governed the amount of marble that could be brought down from the quarry.

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