A monumental encore Quarries: Baltimore County marble was used in building the Washington Monument in the nation's capital, and marble from the same place might be used as it is restored.

November 03, 1998|By Suzanne Loudermilk | Suzanne Loudermilk,SUN STAFF

As elaborate scaffolding envelops the Washington Monument in the nation's capital for a $9.4 million restoration, pallets of snowy-white Cockeysville marble await delivery to the site.

Just as early builders sought the impressive rock from central Baltimore County to construct the towering monument to George Washington in the mid-1800s, today's contractors wanted similar stone to patch the monument's aging, weather-worn exterior.

"There was an obvious benefit to using marble from the same quarry," said Vikki Keys, a deputy superintendent with the National Park Service, which oversees the 555-foot-high obelisk. "It seemed to be a natural fit."

Recently, park service representatives visited one of the original quarries, in Texas near bustling Interstate 83, which is operated by Redland Genstar Inc., a subsidiary of LaFarge Corp.

They found just what they were looking for, a lode of stone pieces that would match in size, color and crystal structure the type of marble used at the monument.

"It's a pretty stone," said Rachel J. Burks, an associate professor of geology in Towson University's Department of Physics, Astronomy and Geosciences who is familiar with the quarry. "It has a nice pattern. The layering gives it an interesting texture."

Officials at Redland Genstar Inc. and Atlanta-based Jacoby Development Co., which is developing land near the quarry, are donating the marble, which was discovered when an old lime kiln was dismantled, said Jack Gease, the company's director of real estate.

"It seemed like the right thing to do. Hey, it's the Washington Monument," he said. "It's kind of exciting they're going to use some of the stone."

For now, about two dozen wooden platforms topped with marble chunks of various shapes and sizes sit across the road from the mining operation that extracts limestone for construction aggregates, such as crushed stone and gravel. Gease said the marble for the monument is valued at several thousand dollars.

Yesterday, the park service also visited the Beaver Dam Quarry, where monument marble was quarried. It closed in the 1920s and is filled with water. They identified several pieces on the Cockeysville property -- now a popular swim club -- that could be used in the restoration.

Owners of the Beaver Dam Swim Club will decide this week about contributing the marble, said manager Erich Herwig.

"We'll take as many beautiful stones as we can," Stephen Lorenzetti, the park service's regional resources manager, said as he looked at the rocks. "They match up well and are easy to get."

In the early years of the marble business in the 1840s, the rock -- dug from a string of canyonlike pits in the area -- was used for such notable buildings as the Capitol in Washington, Baltimore's City Hall and the Baltimore County Courthouse. Many of the city's well-known white marble steps also came from the quarry.

"They say this is the stone that built Baltimore," Gease said.

In those days, marble was extracted tediously by hand, mostly by Irish immigrants who had fled their famine-stricken country for the $1- to $1.50-a-day wages at a quarry.

The laborers chiseled the stone from beds that were formed millions of years ago as masses of mucky sediment were squeezed, melted and recrystallized.

The cut marble slabs were heaved into carts and rolled about a half-mile to the Cockeysville railroad station for delivery to such destinations as Washington.

Today, shipment is simpler. A flatbed truck will probably transfer the designated marble to the Washington Monument, the world's tallest free-standing masonry structure.

Once the exterior restoration begins, engineers will determine whether the marble is needed to fill in cracks or replace sections, or whether it will be used at all.

"If we don't use it, we'll store it for future use," Keys said.

In the beginning, there was to have been an equestrian statue, which won the support of the first president. But interest waned.

Then, in 1836 -- 37 years after Washington's death -- architect Robert Mills, who also designed Baltimore's monument to Washington, came up with a neoclassical design for an obelisk that appealed to planners.

"It was modern in its concept," said Baltimore County historian John McGrain. "It's a very sleek, straightforward kind of design."

Americans were urged to contribute $1 each for the stately structure. The cornerstone was laid in 1848, but construction was halted as funding dried up and the Civil War seemed imminent.

Work resumed and was completed in 1884, giving the monument two distinct hues of marble. According to park service research, the marble for the bottom section came from what is now Redland Genstar and that for the top 300 to 400 feet came from Beaver Dam, Lorenzetti said.

Every 30 years or so, the monument, which draws 1.5 million visitors a year, needs a face lift. It was repaired in the early 1970s.

The last time the monument was encased in scaffolding was in 1934. The current project -- funded by the government, corporations and private citizens and groups -- began in the fall of 1997 with the installation of new heating, ventilation and air conditioning, and modernization of the elevator system.

During the current phase, crews will replace mortar between the sections of marble, spray-clean the exterior and check the surface for deterioration.

The monument, which closed Oct. 5, is expected to reopen in January.

Completion of the work, which includes interior repairs, is not expected until the spring of 2000.

The addition of more Cockeysville marble would give the county continued bragging rights, McGrain said.

"The marble is highly thought of all over," he said. "It's an association you always relish."

Pub Date: 11/03/98

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