Friday, December 10, 2010

Adaptive Quarry Reuse To the North

As I noted in September, the afterlife of quarries can be varied. Recently I came across one of the more beautiful second lives of a former stone excavation site. This one is on a knoll known historically as Little Mountain and in modern times as Queen Elizabeth Park, in Vancouver, B.C. The quarries were not large and didn’t provide building stone. Instead the rock, a middle Tertiary age basalt, went into some of the earliest roads in Vancouver.

The larger of the two quarries.

Originally owned by Canada Pacific Railway, the site had been logged around 1890. The quarry, actually two small quarries, was abandoned by 1911, leaving behind a nasty gash on Vancouver’s highest spot. As so often happens in the wet PNW, plants took over the holes and few visited, but in 1928 the city of Vancouver acquired the hilltop and surrounding lands. A visit by King George VI and Queen Elizabeth prompted the area to be renamed in her honor.

Good detail of steps in quarry showing the plug and feather method of stone quarrying.

Little happened in the subsequent decade or during World War II but in 1948 park deputy superintendent William Livingstone began to clear and clean the quarries. Here is the description of what he did from the Vancouver Parks web site.

It is nearly legend at the Park Board how this self-taught individual, the son of one of Vancouver's first nurserymen, designed the new park landscape plan. Retired employees tell how the lanky figure of the Deputy Park Superintendent could be seen on-site, from dawn to dusk, directing numerous bulldozers to reshape the scarred earth, not working from drawings, but from a clear vision in his mind. Rather than reclaim the gullies left by the quarry operation, he used them as backdrop for choice plants, trees and shrubs, and for the placement of his best designs-water features.

The smaller of the two arboreta.

The first, and larger quarry opened as an arboretum in 1953 and the second one in 1961. To build the arboreta, Livingstone blasted out pools, dynamited old walls, and brought in gravel and soil. As you see from the photos they are quite beautiful with a waterfall, lush foliage, and quiet greens. They must be even more spectacular when the flowers are in bloom. The park is also well worth visiting for the panoramas of Vancouver and the distant mountains. And finally, for an historic perspective on Little Mountain, read these reminiscences published in 1952.

A waterfall in the larger site.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Written in Stone, a review and interview

To paraphrase the old saw, everyone talks about evolution but no one does anything about it. Well, Brian Switek decided to do something, at least he decided to write a book about evolution. Written in Stone: Evolution, the Fossil Record, and Our Place in Nature clearly shows how evolution has operated on Earth for billions of years. In doing so, Switek hammers one more nail in the Creationist coffin and provides a thoughtful account for any who want to learn more about evolution, fossils, and the cultural history of evolution.

Switek, who blogs for Wired magazine at Laelaps and the Smithsonian’s Dinosaur Tracking, takes a two-fold approach. Primarily, he focuses on the fossils and what they tell us but he also weaves in the people who have studied those fossils. This approach allows him to give readers connective tissues to the science. After all, it is far easier to understand the science when you are also following the fascinating personalities connected to the research.

What makes his book valuable is that he not only weaves in history, providing descriptions of sometimes overlooked characters and their contributions, as well as the main players, but he also brings the science into the present with up-to-date accounts of some of the biggest discoveries of recent years. You come away with a better understanding of how science and scientists work and how science is not a black-and-white field but multi-hued with many interpretations. Furthermore, he shows how scientists do not operate in a void and do respond to the culture around them.

Switek is clearly enthusiastic and passionate about evolution and the fossil record. He has thought long and hard about how to tell his stories and how each helps us see another facet of evolution. At times he is a bit dense with scientific names and details (I think this is due in part to his excitement for the subject; he is bursting with information and can't help wanting to share it) but for the most part Switek keeps his stories moving along, constantly showing us the beauty of evolution and how scientists made and continue to make stunning discoveries that flesh out the many stories of life on Earth.

Brian was kind enough to answer a few questions I posed to him. They give a good impression of his writing style and his deep passion for the wonders of science.

1. You cover many intriguing people as you delve into the history of paleontology. If you could meet any of the historical people you write about, who would it be?

Thomas Henry Huxley. Everyone knows him as “Darwin’s Bulldog,” but as I dug into his work I was impressed by the quality of his writing and how he was one of the first to popularize evolutionary transitions in the fossil record (most notably the origin of birds from dinosaur-like creatures, whales from terrestrial ancestors, and horses from small mammals).

2. What would you ask them?

I would love to know more about his quibbles with natural selection; why did he prefer large-scale leaps and why did he propose that many evolutionary transitions took place during non-geologic time? And what made him eventually shift his interests from paleontology to lab-based anatomical studies later in this career? Rather than just pelt him with questions, though, I think it would be fun to update Huxley on what we have learned since his day. I think he would be enthusiastic about the discovery of feathered dinosaurs, especially since he tried to imagine what such a creature would look like over a century before the first ones (excluding Archaeopteryx) were found!

3. If you could see in time lapse photography any of the evolutionary events you discuss, which one would it be?

The evolution of the first birds from feathered dinosaurs. Definitely. We have learned so much about the origins of birds in the past 10 years alone, yet there is still much we don’t know. To put it another way, it is fantastic that we have been able to identify so many avian characteristics in dinosaurs, but those traits are so old and widespread that pinpointing the origin of the first birds is still relatively problematic (even if we know feathered, raptor-like dinosaurs were their ancestors). Plus, on purely aesthetic grounds, I think a photo time-lapse of the origin of birds would be absolutely beautiful given the colorful plumage the animals in question probably had.

4. If you could have been there to find the first fossils of the animals you discuss, which one would you have wanted to discover?

Probably Rodhocetus, Maiacetus, or one of the other whales in the middle of the transition from land to sea (after terrestrial whales like Pakicetus, but before fully-aquatic ones such as Basilosaurus). They are just so wonderfully strange! I can’t think of anything else like them. By the time they were discovered there was already enough context to know that they were early whales, but I am fascinated by the fact that they are virtually caught in the middle of this evolutionary transition where they had a whole suite of traits related to aquatic life but still could have moved about on land. (drawing from Phillip Gingerich web site)

5. What do you think that modern paleontologists can learn from their predecessors?

Always be mindful of what is still unknown. One of the things which became clear as I documented what we have learned about each of the transitions I discussed was how many times evolutionary trees have been redrawn and major transitions have been reinterpreted. The paradox of the fossil record is that it is amazing rich but frustratingly incomplete. Even though we are tempted to fit everything into these neat little conceptual boxes there is still much left to be discovered. This doesn’t mean that we’re going to have trash everything we think we know now – I think we have a more comprehensive view of the fossil record than ever before – but we should take care when we start saying “X species was ancestral to Y species, and that shows that the transition happened like this.” That’s fine as presented as a hypothesis, but what if species Z turns out to fit in that gap and species Y represents part of a diversification which left no descendants? That sort of thing has happened before, and in talking about paleontology to the public I think we should always distinguish between the facts of the fossil record and what we are inferring from them.

6. What is the central point about science that you learned from your research and writing?

That the history of life on earth has been stranger and more wonderful than anyone could have imagined. Who could have imagined something like Pakicetus or even something as familiar as an Apatosaurus had they not heard of them first? And things just keep getting weirder. Having just returned from the annual Society of Vertebrate Paleontology meeting in Pittsburgh, PA, I can tell you that the more we dig into the fossil record, the stranger prehistoric life becomes. Evolution is not some mundane, straightforward march of lowly little creatures to impressive beasts. It is a wildly branching process which has been cut back by extinction multiple times and has led to the origin of innumerable creatures which have no living counterpart. I appreciated this on a superficial level when I started by research, but the deeper I dug into the science the more I was left in awe of the fossil record.

7. What surprised you most in your research?

How much quirks of history played into the development of scientific thought. The distant reach of European empires, for example, allowed naturalists to travel to far-off places which otherwise would have been inaccessible, and racist notions about the origins of humans prevented anthropologists from investigating the strata of Africa for human ancestors. Imagine what our understanding of evolution would be like today if scientists had stumbled upon the rich beds of feathered dinosaurs from China much earlier; nearly a century’s-worth of debate about bird origins might have been tossed out. Just as the history of life is marked by contingency, so is the history of science.

8. And finally, what did you leave out that you wished you could have put in the book?

I had originally written a short summary of primate evolution for the human evolution chapter, but that part of the book was overlong already and I had to lose it. It was painful to do – especially since human evolution is almost never placed into the wider context of primate evolution – but given space constraints I didn’t have much of a choice. I was able to partially make up for it by talking about Darwinius and other early primates in the introduction, but I still wish that I could have gone into a little more depth about early anthropoids, Miocene apes, and other fossil primates.


Friday, November 12, 2010

Beinecke Library, Green Stamps, and Marble

For much of the middle 1900s consumers coveted sheets of little green stamps. Known as S&H Green Stamps, they came in a variety of point values and could be redeemed for household items. Now mostly forgotten, the popularity of S&H stamps led to one of the great uses of marble as a building stone, when in 1960, the Beinecke family, owners of the Sperry and Hutchinson company, decided to donate the money for a rare book library at Yale.
Gordon Bunshaft and the Beinecke, from SOM web site
Yale hired Gordon Bunshaft of the firm Skidmore, Owings and Merrill, who proposed what he called a “treasure house” for books. It would have to mix storage, offices, exhibit space, and reading room. It would also have to be secure, equipped with climate control, and not allow direct sunlight to hit the books. Bunshaft’s initial plan was to use onyx, which he had seen at a palace in Istanbul. Specifically he liked how light infused an onyx-walled bathroom in a harem. (Not till later did he learn that those walls were made of alabaster.)

For two years, Bunshaft searched for onyx. He even tried to get the stone during a revolt in French-controlled Algeria, which involved contacting the American ambassador in France to see if the French would send troops to access an onyx quarry. As he noted in a later interview “we eventually gave up on onyx.”

They decided to go for marble but even then Bunshaft had troubles. For example, marble from the quarries that provided stone for the Acropolis “looked characterless, like a lampshade,” and that wouldn’t do. Finally an old man from Vermont told him about marble from a quarry in Danby, Vermont. The stone wasn’t perfect. It was a “last, desperate thing…too strongly veined when you see sunlight coming through inside. It’s too yellow and black.” But it would do.

Interior light, Photo by Richard Cheek, from Beinecke Library web site

Each panel measures 54 x 54 inches and is 1.25 inches thick. Frames of light gray granite from Vermont hold the marble panes in place. The Danby marble is one of several varieties of Shelburne marble, which formed from metamorphism during the Early Ordovician Taconic Orogeny. Other trade names include Royal, Imperial, and Dorset.

Exterior close up of marble, Photo by Richard Cheek, from Beinecke Library web site
I was lucky enough to visit the library several years ago. Although the exterior is a bit dull, warm light suffuses the interior. I disagree with Mr. Bunshaft, I like the richness of the amber hues of the stone. I didn’t know whether to be more awed by the wonderful books, such as a Gutenberg Bible, or the wonderful stone. If you do have the time, I highly recommend visiting the Beinecke Rare Book Library at Yale.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

The Duomo and the Dinosaur: Not?

Finally we have a nice uniting of science and religion and boy has it titillated the Internet. Apparently for the past 350 years or so the fine parishioners of the Cathedral of St. Ambrose (aka Sant’Ambrogio) in Vigevano, Italy, have been praying and genuflecting with a dinosaur fossil in their midst, or so says paleontologist Andrea Tintori. The fossil has been right in their sight, in fact just to the left of the center of their altar, though there are a few skeptics who doubt Tintori's observations. (read further)

Photo from Discovery News, courtesy of Andrea Tintori

University of Milan paleontologist Tintori has determined that the early Jurassic age (~190mya)-stone slab contains the cross section of a dinosaur skull with visible nasal cavities and numerous teeth. Total length is about 12 inches. Tintori also found a second part of the skull in another slab. He hopes to get the first slab removed to do additional work.

Photo from Discovery News, courtesy of Andrea Tintori

Built between about 1532 and 1660, the cathedral, or duomo in Italian, contains a wide array of stone. The fossil-rich slab comes from quarries in Arzo, Switzerland, about 40 miles due north of Vigevano. They were first opened in the thirteenth century but didn’t become widely used till the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, when the stone was used primarily for altars. It is a purple-red, grey-veined limestone with skeletal grains of crinoids and goes by various names but broccatello (brocaded) is the most common. (I wonder why builders wanted this stone for altars. Is there something about its color and pattern that conveys a message suitable to getting closer to God?)

The broccatello became popular as a replacement for the legendary Portasanta stone of Rome, the rock used for the Holy Door (Porta santa) of St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome. Builders often combined the Arzo stone with red and grey limestone from Bergamo, black limestone from Lake Como, and white marble from the Apuan Alps. You can see the broccatello throughout Italy and Switzerland. No other dinosaur fossils have been reported.

In regard to Tintori's dinosaur, one person I corresponded with wrote back. “ALERT: this seems to be a cross-section of an ammonite!”

After my initial posting, I received one more note about the fossil. "Ammonites are well known from the Broccatello Formation, which is entirely marine and devoid of terrigenous sediment derived from the continent. The Broccatello preserves a rich fauna of marine fossils, sponges, sea lilies, brachiopods, bryozoans, solitary corals and the like and has been deposited in waters near the base of the photic zone [down to 600 feet]. The preservation looks also typical for an ammonite. The test [or shell], originally composed of the mineral aragonite, an unstable form of calcium carbonate would have been dissolved and the void filled by calcite, the stable mineral form of calcium carbonate. The photograph is not good enough to see the crystal fabric of the calcite, but I have no doubt about my diagnosis. If this is the head of a dinosaur, I'll give up geology and eat my rock hammer." Perhaps the sexiness of finding a dinosaur in a church made Tintori see more than meets the eye.

If you read the comments on various sites reporting this story, you will see that many note the irony of a catholic church having a fossil in it. Hundreds of church buildings are fossil rich so this isn’t really a new irony to report in regard to religion and evolution. I can only hope though it will get more people to take notice of the stone in their religious institutions, which seems to me to be one of the best reasons I can think of for visiting a church, synagogue, or mosque.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Lions and Tigers and Walruses, Oh my!

Do you ever have the feeling that you are being watched when you stroll through downtown streets? You are probably right. Hundreds of eyes peer out from buildings tracking your actions. These observers are neither human nor electronic. Instead, a host of animals watches you. A tour of any urban core reveals a veritable Noah’s Ark’s worth of carved and molded animals stalking your every step. Since I live in Seattle, I will share some of the beasts gracing our buildings.

The Times Square building (414 Stewart) is a good place to begin a downtown wildlife safari. Built in 1916, during the height of popularity for endowing buildings with animals, the wedge shaped structure sports 61 lion’s heads and 18 eagles. You might not notice them at first glance since none are lower than the fifth story. Keep in mind that this high elevation placement of wildlife typifies many structures.

Because of their symbolism as powerful, victorious, and noble animals, lions and eagles dominate the architectural menagerie. Six massive eagles stare out from the uppermost corners of the Washington Athletic Club and another half dozen with their wings outspread grace the Eagles Auditorium. If you look carefully, you can find more lions in Seattle than on the plains of Nigeria. Sixty feline heads loom out of the Seaboard Building (Fourth and Pike) while a parking garage at 1915 Second Avenue has a lion in profile. You can even see lions toting fruit at 1221 Second Avenue and find a zoological conundrum with a pride of lion reigning 14 stories up on the Alaska Building (Second and Cherry), which was Seattle’s first steel-framed skyscraper.

Animal ornamentation peaked between 1890 and 1940 in the heyday of terra cotta cladding in Seattle. Following Seattle’s Great Fire of 1889, architects turned to terra cotta as a cheap, light-weight, fireproof medium. In addition, because terra cotta was a molded clay block or brick, animals could be mass produced easily. Only four companies dominated the local industry and many downtown beasts probably originated from the same mold.

Architects often used animals to relay information about the building’s use. Over 20 dolphins adorn architect B. Marcus Priteca’s historic Crystal Swimming Pool (now the Crystal Pool skyscraper) at Second and Lenora, while a horse head protrudes out of what was the Pike Place Market Livery Stable (2200 Western Ave.)

And, of course, the best known of these motifs is found at Third and Cherry, where a phalanx of walrus heads decorate the Arctic Building, built in 1916 by Seattle’s first round of instantly rich folk to provide a suitable locale to banter about tales of the north. (I have been told that the original walrus heads displayed ivory tusks and that city officials removed them after the 1949 earthquake when one fell. I have never been able to verify this and hoped that in sharing this story someone might reply with additional information.) The tusks were remodeled after that quake. The most recent renovation, in 1997, returned the walruses to their original splendor, with terra cotta tusks.

Other animals found downtown include a metal bison, wolf, and bighorn sheep on planters at the base of the west side of what was the WaMu tower. Two goats and one cougar, as well as a pair of sheep and lions watch you enter the old Federal Building. Priteca also decorated the Coliseum Theater (Fifth and Pine) with 47 bull heads, festooned in bucolic splendor with pomegranates and grapes.

The old Chamber of Commerce building (215 Columbia St.), constructed in 1924, houses Seattle’s most diverse collection of real and mythical beasts. Two pelicans, a duck, and the ubiquitous eagle along with a gazelle, deer, bears, dolphins, and rams share space with two griffins and two hippocamps, a mythical beast with the forelegs of a horse and the tail of a dolphin. Poseidon and his wife supposedly rode these sea horses. In regard to the griffins, supposedly back in the day, a few folks called Seattle the Venice of America. Why anybody thought that, I haven't a clue, but griffins are the symbol of Venice.

This structure was one of the final Seattle buildings elaborately embellished with wildlife. By the late 1930s, Modernism’s stark, brutish, unornamented surfaces had replaced the ornate style of terra cotta. Now, animals on Seattle buildings are only found in relict preserves. Happy hunting, no matter where you live.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

The Tweed Courthouse Stone

It is always fun to come across a bit of corruption and shenanigans in the stone trade. Today, I want to focus on what was one of the most famous building stones of New York City, Tuckahoe Marble. First quarried around 1820, the Tuckahoe outcrops in northern Manhattan, the Bronx, and Westchester County, home of the quarries. The dolomitic marble comes from the Inwood Marble, a 450-million-year-old stone that metamorphosed during the formation of the Appalachians.

U.S. Assay Office NYC, formerly New Branch of the Bank of U.S. (found on this web site)

One of the earliest uses for Tuckahoe was in the New York branch of the Bank of the United States. Designed by Martin E. Thompson, the building became the US Assay Office in 1853 and in the early 1900s was the oldest federal structure in NYC. Such fame, however, didn’t save it from destruction in 1915. Curiously, the Tuckahoe fa├žade was re-erected in Metropolitan Museum of Art. The Tuckahoe also achieved great fame in 1846 when Alexander T. Stewart, who would become one of New York’s wealthiest men, opened the city’s first large department store. Designed by the wonderfully named firm of Trench and Snook, the massive store was faced in Tuckahoe marble and quickly earned the moniker the “Marble Palace.”

Stewart also built a huge mansion with the marble, which unfortunately did not benefit the owner of the Tuckahoe quarry. According to the February 25, 1899 American Architect and Building News: “Mr. Stewart made a contract with the owner of the quarry, fixing a heavy penalty, amounting, practically, to the forfeiture of the quarry itself, for delay in delivery, beyond a specified time, of the marble. The delivery was delayed beyond the time, and Mr. Stewart determined to enforce the forfeiture. According to the story which was current in our younger days, the owner of the quarry went to Mr. Stewart to plead for mercy, but found him obdurate, and, overcome by grief and excitement, fell dead before him.”

Now to the corruption. Our story begins in 1861 with the construction of the county courthouse in New York City. The original budget was $250,000. As happens in many good civic projects, the builders decided to work with local stone, in this case the Tuckahoe marble. But this was the era of William "Boss" Tweed, a man who took corruption, bribery, and payouts to new heights. As he gathered more and more control over New York, Tweed made the County Courthouse into a money mill for himself and his cronies. For example, carpenter George S. Miller received $360,751 for one month of work; "Prince of Plasterers" Andrew Garvey got $2,870,464.06 for his efforts; and one company owned by Tweed charged $170,727 for chairs, all 40 of them.

In 1864, Tweed and pals purchased a marble quarry in Sheffield, Massachusetts for $3,080. Initially, the country ordered $1,200 worth of stone, which by 1867 had somehow morphed to costing $120,000. Over the years of construction, the county shelled out at least $420,000 for new, uncut marble for the courthouse. The courthouse was eventually completed in 1881, at a total cost of $12 million.

Over a century later, a decision was made to restore the courthouse. The initial study found that about 8 to 10 percent of the stone needed to be replaced. Most of the stone for restoration came from Georgia but workers also located 125 marble blocks in the Sheffield quarries. They had been slated for use in the Washington Monument (only four rows of Sheffield are in the obelisk, sandwiched between Texas and Cockeysville marbles) but after Tweed was convicted of wrong doing, no one wanted the stone. Now they are back in New York, apparently at true market cost.


Friday, September 24, 2010

Adaptive Reuse of Quarries: Swimming, Climbing, and Filming

Like cats, many quarries have multiple lives, or at least continue to be used long after people have pulled out stone for buildings. My most recent reminder of this was an article in one of Seattle’s local newspapers. The story described how the Index quarry, which Swedish immigrant John Soderberg opened in 1904, had been purchased and protected by the local rock climbing community.

The Index granite, technically a granodiorite, was an important building material in Seattle in the early part of the twentieth century. Soderberg took advantage of the proximity of the Great Northern Railway tracks to ship the stone. It went primarily into curbs and foundations, including my favorite building in Seattle, Smith Tower, but like many a local stone, its luster soon faded, other stones came into the market, and quarry closed down by the mid 1930s. And then the quarry was forgotten until rock climbers discovered it as a great climbing area close to Puget Sound.

Hundreds of climbing routes were put up over the years, much on private land, as well as some in Forks of the Sky State Park. Luckily for the climbers, the private owner, as well as the state parks department, were supportive of the climbers but that support may not have lasted so the Washington Climbers Coalition decided to buy the climbing wall site. On August 25, they completed the purchase of the property and named it the Stimson Bullitt Climbing Reserve.

This is not the only adaptive reuse of abandoned quarries. While working on my book, Stories in Stone, I came across several similar sites. The great granite quarry of Quincy, supplier of stone for the Bunker Hill Monument and numerous structures on the east coast, is also a favorite urban climbing area.

Perhaps the most famous ex-quarry is the one that starred in the movie Breaking Away. After the quarry flooded, it became a popular swimming site. When Breaking Away came out, so many people sought out the quarry that the owners regretted that they ever let the filmmakers shoot there. Access to the quarry is now discouraged, prohibited, and forbidden.

Portland, Connecticut's fabulous brownstone quarry also flooded, initially when the nearby Connecticut River overflowed into 200-foot-deep hole. Later, a hurricane pushed water back into the quarry and closed it permanently. The property had been slated for development--the plan called for cutting a channel to the river and opening a marina--but then the real estate market crashed. The city of Portland bought the property in 1999 and it was designated a National Historic Landmark the following year. At present, the quarry and site have been opened for a variety of adventure activities, including snorkeling, mountain biking, and zip lines. I am not sure such use truly honors the people who worked the quarry and supplied stone for buildings from Boston to San Francisco but it is a creative use of the land.

P.S. Just got a short note from Dave Tucker at NW Geology Field Trips that reminded me of one other swimming pool quarry. Here is what Dave wrote: "The public pool in Tenino, WA, occupies the old quarry south of downtown. It is closed for the season now. Some water runs through a pipe above the quarry to form a waterfall into the pool. I talked with a local high school kid who was sneaking a smoke by the pool, he said it is ‘hundreds and hundreds of feet deep’. I thought he was just smoking tobacco, but after that comment, not so sure. Just east of the pool area is a stack of big sandstone blocks with splitting holes visible on the edges. All stacked up to form a maze and play area."

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Moab's Building Stone: Questions Remain

Ah, Moab, My Moab. For the first time, I decided to see what I could find out about the local building stone. I hadn’t noticed the stone much during the nine years that I lived there in late 1980s and early 1990s. Why would I? I had the most stunning rocks in the world to look at all around me. Now that I am older and wiser, I looked more closely at the few buildings of rock in the land of red rocks.

The best known building of stone is Star Hall. The locals used red rock, what those in the east call brownstone. At present, Star Hall is used for plays, concerts, films, and the like. It is a simple, yet elegant design with a gambrel-style roof and arched windows. Some have called the building Richardsonian Romanesque though it lacks the true rough hewn nature of blocks that I associate with that style but then I am not an architectural historian.

As one might expect of a building erected in 1905 in rural Utah, it was built by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, or the Mormons. These wild and crazy early pioneers sought a meeting and recreational hall. In Grand Memories, a history of the area published by the Daughters of Utah Pioneers, it states that Will Shafer, a carpenter, designed the building; Steve Day quarried the stone; Will Bliss hauled the stone (making four trips a day with his wagon team); and Angus Murray Stocks, a well known mason, dressed the stone. They began working sometime in the spring of 1905 and finished in May 1906.

According to Grand Memories, Day and Bliss got the rock at the “Goose Island stone quarry about a mile above the river spring.” The spring has long been known as Matrimony Spring and until 2008 emerged out of pipe a few hundred yards up Utah SR-128. (Southeastern Utah District Health Environmental Health Scientist Jim Adamson declared the spring contaminated and closed it to public access. At present, you can still access the spring, which now flows directly out of the wall. By the way, if you look carefully under the water at the spring you can see several three-toed tracks, probably dinosaur but possibly pterosaur.)

View of Kayenta Formation at Goose Island

During my visit to Moab, I tried to locate any evidence of a quarry at Goose Island. The area is the first broad bench of rock up the Colorado River and dominated primarily by the Kayenta Formation, a Jurassic age fluvial sandstone. I could find no evidence of any quarry though I did find a neat piece of metal buried in the sand. I suspect that there was no formal quarry and that Day probably just blasted or broke off pieces of rock, which Stocks shaped on site at Star Hall. I also tried to locate any evidence of why Goose Island is called Goose Island and had the same lack of luck.

View from area above Goose Island (where are the geese and where is the island?)

I was also told by a local resident that the Star Hall stone was quarried further up river at Jackass Canyon. The canyon is across the road from the Hal Canyon campground. This area seems less likely as a quarry spot because the slopes consist of rocks of the Moenkopi Formation and Chinle Formation, neither of which would make good building material. Both units are too soft. Of course, Day could have cut stone from debris blocks that had fallen from the rock units above the Chinle and Moenkopi but there is no way to verify this. Plus why would Day travel five miles further to get rocks.

Ultimately, I have to go with the original source of Goose Island though I write this without complete confidence. The stones in Star Hall don’t really look like the Kayenta; they seem too pink but they are fresh, cleaned surfaces as opposed to the weathered rocks found in nature. Any additional insights would be appreciated.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Back to the Beginning: A Reading in Moab

Long ago when I graduated from college, I ended up in Moab, Utah. It was here that I truly fell under the spell of rocks. For the next nine years, I hiked, biked, canoed, backpacked, and explored the red rock country of southern Utah. It was a geologist's paradise with few of those pesky green things called trees getting in the way of seeing stone.

Now, for the first time since my book Stories in Stone was published I am going back to Moab. While there, I will give a reading at one of my favorite bookstores, Back of Beyond Books. The sister store to Arches Bookstore, Back of Beyond (or Bob, as I call it) focuses on regional books, with new, used, and antiquarian selections, including first editions of many Edward Abbey books. It will be an honor and pleasure to talk about how my time in Moab led me down the path to focus on the cultural and natural history of building stone.

The reading will be at 7:00 P.M. on Thursday, September 9. It should be a fun time!

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Fossils in our Nation's Capital

No, the title doesn't refer to the ancient beasts roaming the halls of Congress though I do wish some of them would go the way of dinosaurs. Instead, I want to highlight a web site I just learned about. It is Fossils in the Architecture of Washington, DC: A Guide to Washington's Accidental Museum of Paleontology. The site has been put together by Christopher Barr, a lawyer who has lived in DC since 1979. As the name implies, the site's goal is "to describe, or at least list, all of the public fossils occurring in Washington's architectural landscape."
Barr has done a first rate job of assembling a thorough list of the fossil-rich buildings throughout the capital. For each building, he provides an introduction on what you can see, where to see it, and a history of the building. In some cases, he also speculates why a particular stone was chosen. He then provides photos (with helpful scales) of the fossils, which he describes in detail, providing geologic background. Finally, he documents who helped him and where one can obtain more background information. Nowhere else have I found such a well-put-together site about urban fossils.
Urban fossils are amazing resources and offer an excellent way to get people interested in fossils, deep time, evolution, and geology in general. Plus, as Barr has done, these fossils are a great way to get people to think about human history. He does list a many of the guides that are available but it is such a small list considering the wonderful fossils found in the urban environment. I hope that Barr's site can inspire other urban paleontologists to do the same thing in their cities.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Edward Drinker Cope: His Home Inside and Out

Probably every geology-oriented person knows about Edward Drinker Cope and his well-financed, nasty battle with Othniel Charles Marsh but probably fewer know about his stone-fronted house in Philadelphia. Today, I aim to try and fix this sorry dearth of knowledge by focusing on said home. Like many aspects of Cope’s life, a bit of controversy surrounds it.

Cope owned two adjacent row houses, at 2100 and 2102 Pine Street. They are classic Second Empire with a mansard roof pierced with dormers and prominent projecting bay windows. He acquired the property in 1885 and initially lived around the corner. 2102 Pine served as his laboratory. The house sounds like a wonderful chaotic mess. His friend and biographer Henry Osborn once wrote:

“The first floor became a storeroom for boxes and cases. At the back of the second floor was Cope’s study and the editorial room of the American Naturalist [Cope purchased the magazine in 1877 and owned it until his death. During that time he wrote 776 articles. Ironically, Marsh’s uncle, George Peabody, had provided the money that funded the Peabody Academy of Sciences, where the magazine was initially published.]…This room always contained some of the more interesting fossils, which were brought in from the storeroom when Cope was working upon them. The front room on the second floor was entirely filled with shelves on which stood paper boxes, containing the smaller objects in Cope’s Permian and Pampean collections. On the third floor back was the preparation room, presided over by the genial Jacob Geismar…Around the floor of Cope’s study there always wandered a venerable tortoise. To the left of his study table was a vivarium, which contained a ‘Gila monster’.”

The controversy centers on exactly what type of stone clads the three-and-a-half-story row house about a mile south of the Academy of Natural Sciences. According to the nomination for the National Register of Historic Places, written in 1975, the house is faced “with a green stone peculiar to Philadelphia.” This would mean a serpentine, a stone first used in the early 1700s. Several local quarries provided the building material, which historian Berenice M. Ball wrote “suited the romantic architectural ideas of the late 1800s perfectly.”

I am not sure, however, what the person who wrote the nomination was thinking. All recent photos of the building clearly show that a white stone faces the house. (The building was not refaced, as you can see that the 1975 image and modern one have the same stone.) Perhaps the author did not visit the house or was colorblind.

From National Register of Historic Places Nomination

As I started to ask around, I found that no one knew what the white stone was. One person suggested that it might be Cockeysville Marble, a stone I previously wrote about for its use in the Washington Monument. An architectural historian thought that a local limestone from Montgomery County, PA, clad the structure. Both are possibilities as both were used in the area, although the Cockeysville appears to have been less popular. My trusty 1880 census of the building stone industry notes that the Montgomery limestone (actually a marble found locally within the limestone belt) was popular from the late 1700s till at least 1840 so. It was used for the U. S. Customs House and U.S. Mint, as well as for the sarcophagi of George and Martha Washington.

If anyone knows what stone was used, please let me know.

Unfortunately, failed mining ventures in New Mexico and Colorado depleted Cope’s wealth and around 1881 he mortgaged the laboratory at 2102 Pine and in 1885 leased his Pine Street residence. He and his wife moved around the corner. Cope eventually sold much of his collection to the American Museum of Natural History but as a visit near the end of his life from the artist Charles Knight reveals, the house was still full.

“Inside, everything was unique and completely dust covered. Never have I seen such a curious place—just like the kind Dickens would have loved. Piles of pamphlets rose from the floor to ceiling in every narrow hallway, leaving just enough room to squeeze by them and no more…Dust lay thick here as elsewhere, and the place was absolutely bare of furniture and hangings. No pictures, no curtains, nothing but petrified skeletons of extinct monsters…”

Cope died at home on April 12, 1897. He was 57 years old. Jane Davidson in her revisionist biography of Cope notes that the houses are now subdivided into six to eight apartments each. A sign identifying the house and Cope stands in front of the building.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Mystery Solved: Bones found in Bridge

On August 19, 1969, a short article appeared in the New York Times about the solving of an 85-year-old fossil legend. The story began on October 20, 1884, when workers at a small quarry near Manchester, Connecticut, discovered fossils in several blocks of brownstone. Word of the bones soon reached legendary paleontologist Othniel Charles Marsh, but before all of the fossil-rich blocks could be saved, several went into a bridge over Bigelow Brook in South Manchester. They remained there until the Connecticut highway department decided to replace the bridge, when Yale professor John Ostrom acquired the blocks and found the long lost fossils.

The bridge over Hop Creek at Bridge Street, now demolished. While stone for this bridge was being quarried at Buckland, dinosaurs were found." Photo by Sylvian Ofiara in The Manchester Evening Herald. Published in A New England Pattern by William E. Buckley, 1973. Used courtesy of Manchester Historical Society

The quarry, owned by Charles O. Wolcott, pulled stone out of the Portland Formation, a 200-million-old sandstone deposited into a rift valley on the eastern margin of North America. Out of quarries of this stone in other parts of the Connecticut River Valley came most of the brownstone used in New York City and Boston. The major quarry was in Portland, Connecticut, about 15 miles southwest of Manchester. A shopping mall now covers the Wolcott quarry.

According to Marsh’s notes, the block was “half as large as an ordinary dining table.” It supposedly contained the front end of a dinosaur that Marsh initially named Anchisaurus major, which he changed to Ammosaurus in 1891. He was able to name the dinosaur from the remains of the hind end that had been found in a block saved for him. Over the next few years two other dinosaur specimens came out of the same quarry. Marsh named them Anchisaurus colorus and A. solus, in 1891 and 1892, respectively. Both also were renamed later. A colorus became Yaleosaurus and A. solus became Ammosaurus solus.

The Times article reported that Ostrom spent two years surveying more than 60 bridges in the region and finally concluded with 95% certainty that the notorious block had gone into a bridge over Hop Brook. (A study by Peter Galton in 1976 noted that there had been some confusion in the records, which lead to the search.) When news reached Ostrom about the bridge’s soon-to-happen destruction, he contacted the highway crew, which readily agreed to allow Ostrom and a crew to examine some 400 sandstone blocks over a two-day-period. Local elementary school teacher Richard Sanders found the first bone, a rib. Shortly thereafter, laboratory technician Rebekah Smith noticed a larger bone, a femur.

Over the next few years Peter Galton conducted a detailed study (Postilla 169, 1976) of all of the prosauropods (now called basal sauropodomorphs) from North America, including the new bones found in the bridge blocks. He again revised the names of the dinosaurs collected from the Wolcott quarry. Now, just two species remained, what Galton called “the slender-footed Anchisaurus polyzelus” and the “broad footed Ammosaurus major.” The rib came from Ammosaurus but the femur could not be clearly identified.

Skelton of Ammosaurus major from Galton's 1976 study. Based on bones from Wolcott's quarry

Galton's study, however, did not end the confusion over the fossils from Wolcott's quarry. In the subsequent years, various paleontologists have debated which species the bones came from. Were there two species as Galton initially concluded, or one (A. major) as Paul Sereno (Special Papers in Palaeontology 77, 261-289) concluded in 2007 or one (A. polyzelus) as Adam Yates (Palaeontology 53:4, 739-752) concluded in 2010? Clearly the legendary bones still contain a bit of mystery.