Pt.4) Selection of Yule Marble for the Lincoln Memorial: Building Stone of the Lincoln Memorial, by Elaine S. McGee

An investigation of differences in the durability of the Colorado Yule marble, a widely used building stone.

By Elaine S. McGee.


Abridged and Presented for your Interest and Enjoyment by Martin Cooney

Building Stone of the Lincoln Memorial


U.S. Department of the Interior / U.S. Geological Survey

Colorado Yule Marble — Building Stone of the Lincoln Memorial. Prepared in cooperation with the National Park Service Colorado Yule Marble — Building Stone of the Lincoln Memorial By Elaine S. McGee. U.S. DEPARTMENT OF THE INTERIOR: BRUCE BABBITT, Secretary U.S. GEOLOGICAL SURVEY: CHARLES G. GROAT, Director UNITED STATES GOVERNMENT PRINTING OFFICE, WASHINGTON : 1999. Published in the Eastern Region, Reston, Va. For sale by U.S. Geological Survey Information Services Box 25286, Federal Center Denver, CO 80225 Library of Congress Cataloging in Publication Data. Manuscript approved for publication August 13, 1998.

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Immeasurably superior to the other marbles

By Elaine S. McGee

Immeasurably superior to other marbles

The selection of a white marble to be used for the exterior of the Lincoln Memorial was a competitive process. Companies submitted samples of marble and bids to the Lincoln Memorial Commission, which was charged with making a selection.  Five marbles were submitted for consideration for the exterior of the memorial: Cherokee marble from Georgia, Dorset White marble from Vermont, Southern marble from Georgia, Amicalola marble from Georgia, and Colorado Yule marble from Colorado.

In 1913, the Colorado Yule marble was relatively unknown because the quarry had only recently opened, however, Henry Bacon, the architect of the memorial, thought only three were worthy of consideration, and he preferred the Colorado Yule because it was “immeasurably superior” to the other marbles. And, in contrast to the marbles from Georgia and Vermont, the Yule had been used in only a few buildings.

Henry Bacon, Lincoln Memorial Architect

New and remote quarry

Objections to the selection of the Colorado Yule marble for the Lincoln Memorial centered on three main issues:

(1) whether the relatively new (and remote) quarry would be able to provide the quality and quantity of stone that would be required; (2) whether the marble was sound and acceptable for exterior use; and (3) whether this relatively unknown marble was as durable as other, better known marbles.

Copies of letters marble, a geologist, George P. Merrill, was sent by Colonel W.W. Harts (Engineer Officer in charge of Public Grounds, overseer of the Lincoln Memorial project) to the quarry in Colorado to examine the stone and assess whether the quarry would be able to produce the quality and quantity of marble needed for the project.

Decision not finalized for several months

Merrill reported to Colonel Harts that the quarry “can be made to yield stone of good quality of the desired size and in quantity”. Merrill also stated that the chief defect, small rifts, was limited to certain beds and “can be averted if inspection is sufficiently severe”.

After consideration of the testimony and review of Merrill’s report, the Lincoln Memorial Commission recommended that the Yule marble be used for the memorial.  However, because of controversy about the choice, the selection of the Yule marble for the Lincoln Memorial was not finalized for several months.

The Lincoln Memorial Commission

Carefully inspected

Secretary of War Lindsey Garrison, the authorizing official, delayed announcing that a contract would be made until he had heard additional testimony regarding the proposed marble selection, received testing results from the Bureau of Standards, and received a recommendation on the marble selection from the Fine Arts Commission.

An integral part of the decision to use the Yule marble was the requirement that all of the marble was to be carefully inspected before it was accepted for installation in the memorial.





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Fabricated and carved in Marble, Colorado

The Colorado Yule marble was used for all of the exterior marble at the Lincoln Memorial. Many of the marble blocks were quite large. For example, the column drums were cut from blocks of marble that weighed 35 tons each, and there are 12 drums in each column of the memorial.

All of the marble used in the memorial was fabricated and carved in Marble, Colo., before it was shipped to the Lincoln Memorial. The marble pieces were inspected at the quarry by a superintendent of the Yule Marble Company to make sure that all the stones that were shipped conformed to the specifications.


High standards and large blocks pose a challenge

Although the government would not inspect the pieces at the quarry prior to shipping, when the marble pieces arrived at the Lincoln Memorial, a government representative inspected the pieces as they were uncrated and put into storage.

At the beginning of the project, Colonel Harts listed six general criteria that could cause rejection of a stone:

(1) Failure to meet color or veining requirements;

(2) Flaws that would result in structural weakness or defect of appearance;

(3) Repairs, patches, or concealment of defects;

(4) Improper quarrying so the stone does not lie on natural quarry beds;

(5) Improper matching of adjacent stones, so that appearance is affected; and

(6) Incorrect dimensions.

The high standards set for the quality of the marble and the large quantity of stone required for the Lincoln Memorial project were a challenge for the Colorado Yule Marble Company. Even at the start of the job, the company was aware of the very high standards that Harts and Manning were setting for the stone to be used in the memorial.

80,000 cubic feet quarried, 12 to 15,000 feet of finished material shipped

In June 1914, Manning (Colorado Yule Marble Company) wrote that he was setting a standard for the marble that “will require us to take out of our quarries about 80,000 cubic feet of stock a month in order to ship 12,000 to 15,000 feet of finished material on the Lincoln Memorial job”.

When some of the stones shipped to Washington were rejected, the George Fuller Company wrote to Colonel Harts about the difficulty of obtaining perfect stones of such large sizes, stating “… it is practically impossible to get marble, especially in large sizes, that does not show any seams”.

Many stones rejected at the quarry

Harts reminded the Fuller Company that stones were rejected only if they did not meet the contract specifications.  Harts also later reiterated his position that “… the contract does not specify that the marble furnished shall be the best which any particular quarry may be capable of producing, but that it shall be equal to a certain standard established before the contract was entered into”.

Many stones were rejected at the quarry. Sometimes less than 10 percent of the stone that was quarried was shipped to the Lincoln Memorial job site.  Manning also wrote that the Colorado Yule Marble Company had quarried six times for cheek pieces and was able to ship only four out of six pieces.

Quarrying marble at 9,300 feet, on a steep mountainside, presents quite a challenge.

For every block that is shipped four are thrown out

Apparently, Manning felt that some of this high rejection rate was unnecessary because of the very high standards that were set. He wrote to Baird “… we are throwing out many blocks which should in my opinion go into the contract, but which would be criticized if we shipped them”.

Even a representative of the construction company reported back from a visit to the quarry that “for every block that is shipped four are thrown out”.

Column drums, stylobate pieces, required large stones

There were three main reasons for the difficulties encountered and the high rejection rate of stones that were quarried: the sizes required, the presence of flint (chert) layers in the marble beds, and the nature of the flaws in the marble.

Many of the pieces required for the memorial were large, particularly the column drums, the stylobate pieces (the top step of the crepidoma, the stepped platform upon which the colonnades columns are placed), and the architrave pieces.  Their size meant that very large blocks of good marble were needed. In addition, it was not always possible to get all the large pieces from a particular section of the quarry.  Manning reported quarrying in several different areas for drum pieces and stylobate pieces.

Another difficulty posed by the sizes was that some pieces, such as the stylobate blocks, required special dimensions, and no other pieces could be cut from blocks that had failed as sources of stylobate pieces.

Blue coloring matter in statuary grade marble

Further problems were encountered because in some areas of the quarry, thick flint layers had to be removed to get to good-quality marble.  In addition, the quarrymen encountered “… cutters and the blue coloring matter which comes in spots here and there through the layers that are absolutely statuary marble”.

Even once the necessary sizes of quality marble were obtained, the stone might be rejected. Cracks and seams in the marble were the main reason for rejection of the stones.  However, many of the cracks were not visible until the stone was cut and a smooth face had been put on it.

No stones with that much blue to be accepted in the future

Despite attempts to inspect the stone in Colorado and to find stones of the very best quality, some stones that were shipped were rejected.  The main problem encountered in the stones was the presence of cracks, but other problems mentioned in the inspections included excessive veining, sand pockets, and surficial discoloration.

Stones that had veining that exceeded the veining in the samples originally submitted to the Lincoln Memorial Commission were rejected. In at least one case, a stone step with “considerable blue” was accepted, but the Colorado Yule Marble Company was warned that no other stones with that much blue would be accepted in the future.

Seams on exposed faces are rejected

While some stones were rejected, others were conditionally accepted or modified and used even though they contained minor flaws.  The inspection team decided that stones with open seams on exposed faces would be rejected, as would stones where the seams might cause a spall that would affect the appearance of the stone.  However, a stone with a seam was considered acceptable if the seam did not extend to the face of the stone.

Some stones with seams were conditionally accepted as long as the seams did not increase in size or appear to be a more severe defect before final completion of the building.  Attempts were also made to accommodate stones with localized defects.  Where it was possible, a stone with a cracked end or corner might be cut and used if it was possible to modify the lengths of surrounding stones or to adjust the joint patterns.

Few construction documents have been found

Manning’s correspondence from Colorado describes efforts made by the Colorado Yule Marble Company to obtain replacement stones for some of the rejected pieces. Unfortunately, few records have been found that document details of the construction of the superstructure of the memorial.

A fire destroyed the construction field office in February 1917, but it is not known whether records of the construction were lost in the fire.

Last stones shipped June 8, 1916, Memorial dedicated on May 30, 1922

The last stones for the exterior of the Lincoln Memorial were shipped from Marble, Colo., on June 8, 1916. The exterior marble work was completed in February 1917, and the memorial was dedicated on May 30, 1922.

The beauty of the memorial was praised in reviews after its dedication, although the marble in the memorial was rarely singled out for comment.

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An investigation of differences in the durability of the Colorado Yule marble, a widely used building stone.

By Elaine S. McGee.


Abridged and Presented for your Interest and Enjoyment by Martin Cooney

Building Stone of the Lincoln Memorial


U.S. Department of the Interior / U.S. Geological Survey

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The Story of Colorado Yule Marble

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thanks for visiting

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