A Brief History of Colorado Yule Marble
Colorado Yule Marble may be found only in the Yule Creek Valley, three miles southeast of the secluded Rocky Mountain town of Marble, Colorado, 9,300 feet above sea level. It was discovered in the spring of 1873 by geologist Sylvester Richardson. George Yule was the prospector who “rediscovered” the marble in 1874. In the same year, an unknown person selected several samples of marble and took them to Denver, but for whatever reason, failed to generate much in the way of genuine (moneyed) interest. The marble duly became lost again, only to be rediscovered 10 years later, and once more by accident, or so the story goes.
At the height of the silver rush prospectors mining Whitehouse Mountain encountered a thick seam of marble. Little is known of the men who did the discovering, the quarrying, and the hauling, but their naming it Treasure Mountain Dome serves as a clue to the degree they valued their newfound asset. And what a boon it proved to be. Slowly but surely the local economy was realigned around a burgeoning marble industry, while the nearby communities of Crystal and Schofield faded into ghost towns.
The local miners never possessed 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 it must be said that even when newly organized and far better financed new companies were formed in 1887 they too garnered little success, in spite of 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 companies involved went on to experience differing degrees of development and success, with the quarry of John Osgood obtaining a major contract in 1895 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 new sufficiently profitable new markets and the quarries 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 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.
Technology advancements in quarrying machinery and transportation have reduced but not solved the problem of Yule Marble’s inherently high quarrying costs. Many were the businesses bankrupted in the noble quest to bring Yule to the world, and no doubt for generations to come, Yule Marble will continue to present a logistical and financial challenge for those who continue the proud tradition of quarrying Colorado Yule Marble.
Yule Marble Quarry Today
From 1941 to 1990 the quarry was closed and the vast caverns filled with millions of gallons of water, but since reopening it has remained in continual production, and now ships vast quantities of marble to Italy. There is talk of opening a fabrication plant alongside the nearby I-7o but at the time of writing nothing tangible has transpired, but the signs do seem to look good for the future. Modern industrial machinery has no doubt played its role in making the quarry financially viable but the problems brought about by Colorado’s long and severe winter continue to tax the will and resolve of those operating the mine. Here are a few photos of the quarry as it looks today:
The Marble from Marble
In the 12 months between September 2011 and September 2012 it was my great pleasure to discover the fascinating properties present within America’s premium white marble as I split and carved a single slab into the 41 sculptures of The Maiden Collection. This huge, roughly ten ton slab of Colorado Yule Marble, quarried many years ago and abandoned to the elements, laid undisturbed in the corner of a gravel-strewn parking lot, and when it was delivered to my Woody Creek studio I had not the slightest idea what to do with it. For well over two years the monstrous slab sat in my yard and proved the perfect repose for a quick afternoon nap, or conversely a long leisurely gaze at the stars. But when the autumn of 2011 began to take on the familiar appearance of early winter I felt it was time for action before we were again blanketed in a thick layer of snow.
So, with no particular plan or idea in mind I set about breaking the slab into manageable ‘bite-sized’ chunks using the plug and feather technique. I had relied upon many times when shaping larger projects, such as entrance signs and the like, but this ‘slab’ was altogether a different kettle of fish – for one thing it was almost 2 feet thick. I had some experience working with Yule Marble but this was an altogether different proposition, and on a scale I had never previously tackled. To cut a long story short, the first few weeks proved a very steep learning curve. The marble seemed to possess a will of its own, and from this uniform rectangular slab popped strangely consistent trapezoid blocks. This oddly willful marble block had simply refused to comply with my fanciful plans, and revealed a seemingly elaborate plan of its own.
It took several weeks before I finally realized just what I had done: by splitting, rather than cutting into the slab with a saw, I had unleashed forces that had been forged by the geological history of the slab itself, forces that had been at play for well over 30 million years. Gradually I discovered how to interpret and encompass this unanticipated dramatic element within the stone. And as the new Maiden Collection began to slowly emerge, one-after-another, in a continued procession, I was able to take the knowledge gained from each successive carving and apply it to the next; until Work in Progress, the Maiden Collection’s 41st carving announced that the slab was at last exhausted (and perhaps if I am truthful, by this time so was I )… and my inaugural marble collection ‘complete’.