Two Booms, Two World Wars, and Colorado Yule Marble is Bust, 1900 to 1945

The STORY of COLORADO YULE MARBLE at MARTINCOONEY.COM

1900 to 1945

Two Booms, Two World Wars, and Colorado Yule Marble is Bust

The Story of Colorado Yule Marble at martincooney.com

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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.  Nineteen-Seventeen, again.  Who knows just what the dynamic John C. Osgood, or the Straus Brothers, and many more I am sure, could have, would have achieved, if it had not have been for that damned pointless war.

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 (as opposed to Osgood 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 held 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 old he passed away on January 4, 1926, at his beloved castle of a home in the Rockies.

Cleveholm, Redstone/John Cleveland Osgood Castle, Along The Crystal River Valley, Colorado.

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 CYMC 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 nationwide ‘marble boom’, 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 early nineteen hundred dollars.

All was thrown into disarray however when the unfortunate Mr. Meek was killed after being struck by, and/or leaping to avoid a runaway load of marble – which sounds a bit odd to me as I could find very few accounts of fatalities amongst his actual quarry workers. It would seem careless in the extreme for these otherwise thorough and professional marble quariors to be so sloppy as to let events transpire so as they lead to the needless death of their boss. But there you go, I’ll leave it for you to calculate the odds of such a tragedy happening by chance, and chance alone.

By many, if not all accounts, the tragic loss of what had seemed for a moment to be the perfect man for the job, and perhaps the only personality anywhere near the scene who could match the drive, motivation, ambition, connections and desire of his predecessor John Cleveland Osgood, also spelled the beginning of the end for Yule Marble, the town of Marble, and all that Colorado’s state rock could have become had the human whirlwind that was Channing F. Meek lived long enough to see his incredible ambitions for Yule Marble brought about.  Alas by 1912 Mr. 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 infrastructure, was to gradually dissolve into a slow and unstoppable decay.

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.  Showing supreme skill, confidence and care, these intrepid marble pioneers fashioned a system that took the marble out of the quarry via truly massive hoists, and placed them delicately upon a four mile standard gauge electric railway for 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, all under one long roof.  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. Voters, with heavy backing from the company, 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 wet their whistle on their favorite tipple, the law only forbade the purchase of moonshine, not the consumption, and so it’s a little difficult to see just exactly what was achieved, in hind sight.

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, 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, to such an extent that  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, and 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.

1916 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, in all likelihood, 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 – or, “Tomb of the Unknown Warrior”, 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.

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.

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.

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The STORY of COLORADO YULE MARBLE at MARTINCOONEY.COM

1900 to 1945

Two Booms, Two World Wars, and Colorado Yule Marble is Bust

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