THE STORY OF COLORADO YULE MARBLE AT MARTINCOONEY.COM
1900 to 1945
Two Booms, Two World Wars,
and Colorado Yule Marble is Bust
This time for over 40 years
Seldom could any commercial enterprise anywhere, in whatever field, have suffered the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune so repeatedly, and with such exquisite timing, than the Colorado Yule marble quarry during the first half of the Twentieth Century.
Not once, but twice the quarry found itself poised to finally free itself from the crippling costs involved with marble quarrying at 9,300 feet in the Rocky Mountains, and twice they were thwarted by the outbreak of world war. In the first instance the quarry won a fiercely contested battle to provide all of the marble for the supremely high profile Lincoln Memorial project. And in the second case we see an admittedly smaller and paired down operation deliver all of the marble for the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, including what was at the time the world’s largest carved block of marble.
In both cases, with the Lincoln Memorial and the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier the quarry delivered on time and on budget, eagerly anticipating the wave of orders that would inevitably follow, but it was not to be. Each time war, and then a Great Depression, of unimaginable proportions crippled the quarry at every turn, until eventually the lights went out entirely, the track unceremoniously torn up, and the infrastructure destroyed. A sad state of affairs that was to linger until the late nineteen eighties, but that is a tale for Part 3.
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1904, April 12. The Strauss brothers launch the Crystal River Marble Company in order to quarry Treasure Mountain on the east side of Yule Creek. These industrial lads also completed their Treasury Mountain Railroad in August of 1910. Sadly their remarkable efforts were ultimately futile, as little in the way of commercial grade marble was actually quarried, they found themselves with no major contracts whatever, and by 1917 were unceremoniously declared bankrupt.
1904 John C. Osgood finds himself pressed for cash. Over stretched, over extended, and I’m sure slightly bemused by the staggering costs of quarrying marble destined for markets across the country; complications concerning his coal empire; and the little matter of his deciding to build his dream castle, Cleveholm, now known as Redstone Castle, he was beginning to find himself, for the first time in his young life, in a financial bind. ‘Stretched’ he was. Way over stretched in fact. Turning to two of his closest companions and business associates, he proposes that they help him financially with a little friendly loan.
John D. Rockefeller and Jay Gould however had another solution in mind however, and promptly offered him a job. THAT however was NEVER going to happen, not to the great John C. Osgood, King of Coal, who promptly informed them that in no way would he work for anyone else. And with that walked out of the door, and away from a vast financial empire, one that he himself had painstakingly put together piece by piece, year after year. Gone.
He did however hold full control of Victor American Fuel, a very very successful and profitable company with holdings across Colorado, and so he was never – what you might say – tight for money. No, indeed quite the opposite. John C Osgood, this orphan from Brooklyn, New York, in 1851, was to enjoy a long and I am sure happy life. At 75 years of age he passed away on January 4, 1926, at his beloved castle of a home in the Rockies.
1905. Channing Meek is able to purchase the entire marble deposits of the Marble City Quarry Company on February 28, only to turn around and sell it on to the Colorado Yule Marble Company on April 11th of the same year, after which he made himself Colorado Yule Marble Company president. At long last it seemed that the promise induced by twenty years of quarrying Yule marble, for a time at least, was about to be realized, and so for a time it was. Coinciding as it did with a growing nationwide interest in marble the Colorado Yule Marble Company’s arrival upon the scene was to signal a boom that was to deliver upon high profile contracts combining over one million dollars.
1905. The Colorado Yule Marble Quarry formed part of an incredibly well organized and ambitious plan that was to become known as the ‘Integrated Operation’. With visionary foresight the idea was to integrate all aspects of the quarry, transport, sorting, cutting and shipping under the governance of a single system.
Once full implemented the Integrated Operation, took the marble out of the quarry via truly massive 50 ton hoists, and placed them delicately upon a four mile standard gauge electric railway. From there they wound their way down a precarious descent of 1,300 feet, with grades in places of up to 54 percent.
1907, The Colorado Yule Marble Company completes the construction of a hydro-electric plant on a plot of land just east of the town of Marble.
Once the marble arrived in the town of Marble its contents were loaded into the largest mill of its kind in the entire world! One thousand four hundred feet long it was, and 150 feet wide.
The finished marble was then taken to the massive loading yard, where it was loaded onto the rail cars of the company’s Crystal River & San Juan Railway. From there it would make its way along the aptly named Crystal River, 28 miles to Carbondale, from where either the Rio Grande or the Midland railway companies would whisk the marble block to any and all parts of the country.
1907. The first major contract undertaken by Osgood’s Integrated Operation was to supply $500,000 worth of marble for the Cuyahoga County Court House in Cleveland, Ohio.
1908. To alleviate the housing shortage caused by hiring more workers for the large Cuyahoga County Court House project, the Colorado Yule Marble Company constructs a settlement of shack and bunkhouses known as Quarry Town, in the proximity to Quarry 1. Although originally intended for men, the 1910 census reveals 9 women and 13 children among the 66 current residents. During the winter months the people of Quarry Town could be seen skiing down to the road three miles to the town of Marble. Later they would return by taking a tow from the electric tram as it made its way back up to the quarry. Which surely qualifies the Colorado Yule Marble quarry road as Colorado’s very first ski lift.
1908. The four horse wagon teams, used to tow the marble to town three miles down the road to the mill, are replaced by a 110-horsepower steam driven tractor previously used to haul logs.
1908. Marble runs dry – not of water, but worse than that! With heavy backing from the company, Voters duly brought in alcohol prohibition. Instantly, the bootleggers were busy at work. Interestingly however was the fact that, while prohibition left workers travelling 12 miles down the road to Redstone to whet their whistle on their favorite tipple, the law only forbade the purchase of moonshine, not the consumption.
1909. Daily wages of $5 to $8 per day, with no overtime, provoke a strike lasting 3 months. From August 4, to November 2, struck for an 8-hour day, and time-and-a-half for overtime. By September only 20 men were still on the books. With heavy support from the public, and another brutal winter on the way, the Colorado Yule Marble Company began accepting employees back the moment the strike was called off, and within a week the quarry was back in business.
1910. The government census records 57 men worked at the unified quarry, of which 4 were Italian born, 2 were German, 1 was Austrian, and 50 were American. The marble mill employed 291 people, of which 110 were American, with the majority, 120, born in Italy. Meanwhile across the valley, the town of Marble registered 481 residents, 326 of whom (66%), were working in the marble industry.
1910. A giant 50 ton hoist is built in order to lower huge single blocks of marble 225 feet down to a new loading station. Here they were loaded onto a flatcar pulled by an electric tram designed specifically for the purpose by General Electric. Electricity for the three mile standard gauge track was derived from the CYMC built hydro-electric plant.
1911. Marble saws are used to cut at a rate of around 2 inches an hour. In 2018 a modern wire or chain saw is able to cut more than 50 inches per hour, or twenty-five times faster.
1912 All is thrown into disarray when the Channing F. Meek is killed after being struck by, and/or leaping to avoid, a runaway load of marble – which sounds a bit odd. It would seem careless in the extreme for these otherwise thorough and professional marble quarriers to be so sloppy as to let events transpire so as they lead to the needless death of their boss.
By many, if not all accounts, the tragic loss of Channing F. Meek also spelled the beginning of the end for Yule Marble. The man who had stepped up to the plate in order to fill the shoes of the mighty John C. Osgood, and who had seemed for a moment to be the perfect man for the job, was also perhaps the only personality who could match his drive, motivation, ambition, connections. But alas the human whirlwind that was Channing F. Meek was dead, and regardless of the many valid achievements attained by Colorado Yule Marble, so it was that from this point on, the quarry, the mill, the town, the railroads, the whole massive Yule marble infrastructure, was to gradually dissolve into a slow and unstoppable decline.
1912, through 1914. The Town of Marble, Colorado, hits its peak population of 1,500 residents. During these years the booming town could boast a movie theater, three hotels, 9 stables, 5 ice houses, and an ice cream parlor.
1914. A series of tunnels connects the three working caverns, and as they continued to work each one, eventually they wore down the walls and joined into one vast hall.
1914 to June 1916. Despite its higher cost, and via a supremely competitive selection process, but with architect Henry Bacon’s staunch backing, Yule is chosen over three samples from Georgia (Cherokee, Southern and Amicalola), and one from Vermont (Dorset White), to supply the marble for the Lincoln Memorial.
According to Bacon its “whiteness and delicate veining” earned it a place “above any white building marble in appearance that I have seen here or abroad”. Never-the-less there were more than a few grumbles from the other, more established east coast rivals, and consequently the four irate losing quarries were soon holding Yule marble’s proverbial feet to the fire.
The US Army Engineer Office in charge of Public Grounds, and overseer of the entire Lincoln Memorial project, was brought in to determine Yule marble’s quality, durability, and even the quarry’s ability to quarry the huge amounts of material within the time prescribed. George Perkins Merrill was immediately dispatched to far off Colorado in order to asses the situation, and (surprise surprise) once more Colorado Yule Marble came through the ordeal with flying colors.
After his visit Merrill was to declare that this strange, remote, and obscure little quarry did indeed meet any and all of the preordained requirements. Still, all was not well with Secretary of War Lindsey Garrison. Indeed so miffed was he that, even in the face of test after test, visits galore, he called for – nay demanded – that none other than the the United States Commission of Fine Arts get in upon the act, and soon the test weary samples were being scrutinized for one last time. Within five days he received his reply. The game was up. Colorado Yule Marble was supremely “fit pre-eminently for a structure of the character of the Lincoln Memorial”.
1914. March 14. Colorado Yule Marble at last is awarded the contract to supply the Lincoln Memorial with its signature white marble. At $1,080,000 this was by far the largest, most expensive, and most demanding Yule marble project to date. With the first shipment of marble leaving Quarry 3 on May 25, 1914, and the final delivery made on June 16, 1916. Even with such high standards, resulting in heavy rejection rates, the company still managed to complete their order a full five months ahead of schedule.
Company president J. F. Manning was to calculate that they had need to remove 80,000 square feet of marble in order to yield 15,000 square feet of acceptable finished product, each month. On occasion this figure would dip, and at times, according to Manning, it was not unusual for less than 10 percent of the marble quarried from the site to be shipped to the Lincoln Memorial site.
Marble for the 38 columns, each comprising 11 drums and a top piece, with each of the 418 drums requiring 18 multiple man hours to fashion, were delivered to Shop 4. Marble for projects other than the columns were taken to Shop 3, where wire saws operated by 30 gangs of men cut nothing but Lincoln Memorial marble around the clock.
1917 BUST! Barely one month after the final shipment of marble for the Lincoln Memorial the Colorado Yule Marble Company went into receivership in June, and ceased all operation on April 15, 1917. The swift, wholesale collapse was triggered by many factors, but the loss of skilled Italians, who returned to their native country to fight in World War One, along with a sudden and dramatic decline in demand for marble once America joined the fray, brought the company to its knees. However the final blow came about via the massive debt incurred in the startlingly ambitious ‘Integrated Operation’, as it was launched, back in 1905.
1918. The last bank, the last newspaper, and the last marble train, leave the Town of Marble, never to return.
1920. The government census reveals just 50 people to be living in the town of Marble.
1921. By April the quarry was at last out of bankruptcy, but a full year was to elapse before work was to resume, although much reduced, and on a far smaller scale than prior to the disastrous 1917 bust.
1922. Quarrying activities resume, with divided ownership. The rather confusingly named Carrara Company took possession of the quarry and tram line, whilst the Yule Marble of Colorado Company owned the railroad from Marble to Carbondale, along with the 1,400 foot long marble mill; the world’s largest of its kind. Although these two entirely separate companies operated as fully independent organizations, they effectively worked together as one single cohesive unit.
1924. So seamless was the Carrara Company/Yule Marble of Colorado Company collaboration that unofficial partnership was to merge on April 24, into the Consolidated Yule Marble Company.
1928. After several changes in the Consolidated Yule Marble Company’s ownership, the Vermont Marble Company took over the combined operation in November. Within one month the V.M.C. had formed Yule Colorado Company. The Y.C.C was to run the quarry, mill, tram and train operation for 13 years, until the outbreak of World War Two stepped in, and finished the quarry off, once again! Unlike the first time, with World War One, World War Two was to put the quarry out of business – and flooded, no less – for four long decades.
1930. The Vermont Marble Company’s Colorado Yule marble is selected for the Tomb of The Unknowns, “Tomb of the Unknown Warrior”, or “Tomb of the Unknown Soldier”, as I have always heard it described. The gigantic project was quarried in 7 pieces of marble, comprising 4 layers; plinth, base, die, and cap.
1931. A crew of 75 men worked full time for a whole year to successfully remove a 56 ton block for the Tomb of The Unknown’s massive die. Once relieved from the marble quarry face, the “world’s biggest sawn block of marble” took four days just to coax it down 3 miles to the mill.
So unprecedentedly huge was this block that the Vermont Marble Company was forced to ship a special hoist in order to simply lift it out of the quarry and onto the rail car.
Unfortunately however this most prestigious of commissions was to run into a myriad of setbacks from the very off, for in addition to the aforementioned problems sourcing such massive blocks of pure white marble, even bigger headaches were to plague the project once the installation process got under way.
A large and entirely visible crack began to make its prominent way along and through the die. Disaster. Unfortunately the topic rages to this very day: to replace or repair the huge block, and last I heard, divisions regarding which course of action to take are as wide as ever. There is even a replacement piece standing on a rail car, donated freely by a private citizen, ready and waiting to be carved and installed at no charge to anyone, the block already exists. So, we’ll see.
Reverberations surrounding the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier’s defect in regards to the crack set the quarry back in terms of reputation, but it was the brutal financial decline across the whole country, indeed the entire world, during the 1930s that proved most taxing to the quarry. Now with the 2nd mini boom now almost over it was the prolonged and tortuous Great Depression that reduced demand for premium grade marble so dramatically that the quarry was barely able to get by.
1941. The town of Marble, Colorado, suffers a huge flood, and as a consequence sees its population shrink to just 30 hardy souls.
1942. BUST again! The United States enters World War Two as the world’s largest marble mill is dismantled, and the railroad tracks torn up. With most if not all of the largely Italian European workforce returning to the Old Country in order to take up arms, this was well and truly it – the end of Colorado Yule Marble’s early 20th Century ‘Golden Era’ BOOM.
1945. World War Two is over, but the town of Marble endures another catastrophic flood, just 4 years after the last one. At one point the town’s population dipped to just one; Theresa Herman, the school teacher. The quarry meanwhile is destined to stand empty, save the millions of gallons of water trapped within the shuttered cloister of the former thriving quarry, for a little over 40 years, until one day towards the end of the nineteen eighties a Denver oli man man called Stacy Dunn receives the Yule Marble call and responds by re-opening the quarry and starting the whole thing over once again, as we shall see in Part 3.
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THE STORY OF COLORADO YULE MARBLE
1900 to 1945
Two Booms, Two World Wars,
and Colorado Yule Marble is Bust
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thanks for visiting martincooney.com
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