by Ken J. Balleweg, Exploration Geologist and Beulah Marble Quarry Owner
Perhaps Beulah’s most prominent historical claim to fame is the Beulah Marble Quarry, which was the source for the spectacular marble wainscoting lining the interior of the Colorado State Capitol. Recent research into newspaper articles from 1890 through the 1900’s together with discoveries at the quarry have revealed a much more extensive quarry history than previously documented, including the presence of six quarries, two of which were run simultaneously by different companies, the utilization of steam cutting equipment, and litigation that eventually made it to the Colorado Supreme Court. New geologic studies have also determined the origin of the marble, which is much more rare and unique than most marble deposits.
The quarries are located 1.5 miles west of Beulah at the edge of a small canyon, and are largely invisible until reaching the quarry edge. Three main quarries supplied most of the production, but three smaller quarries with limited production have also been identified. The quarries are remarkably small when considering the amount of marble in the capitol and the large amount of waste rock generated.
The Beulah Marble story starts and ends with the Colorado State Capitol. “Fine quality marble” at Beulah was first mentioned in the print in 1890, but was not of commercial interest until January of 1894 when the exterior work on the capitol was completed and work began on the interior. The Colorado legislature mandated that all capitol construction materials come from within the state, and the capitol management committee invited interested bidders to submit polished samples of Colorado marble in competition for a $300,000 (roughly $22 million today) contract for the interior marble. Samples were submitted from Beulah, Canon City, Cotopaxi, and Marble. Two quarries were opened in Beulah, one owned by David Kelley from Denver, the other by Benjamin Mattice of Pueblo.
Bids were opened in early February 1894, but Colorado marble suppliers had the highest, with significantly lower bids from out-of-state firms. The capitol managers insisted on using the higher priced Colorado marble as the state was hit hard economically by the repeal of the Sherman Silver Purchase Act and the Panic of 1893, with many of the state’s silver mines closing and leaving many miners unemployed. They deferred from a decision on which firm to award the contract until their quarries could be examined.
However, D.J. Kelly of the Denver Onyx and Marble company was given the contract for the lavatory wainscoting so that plumbing installation could begin, and several additional contracts for interior work were awarded to him before the quarry evaluations were undertaken. In March of 1894, Kelley incorporated the Beulah Marble Company. In April Governor Routt, the first and seventh governor of Colorado, and Otto Mears, the famed Colorado toll and railroad builder, visited the Beulah quarries, and were impressed. The interior marble contract was then awarded to the Beulah Marble Company, and commercial production followed.
Most of the marble was quarried by hand using hand-drilling methods, blasting powder, and lifted out by winches and derricks. A 1894 Pueblo Chieftain article describing early quarry development mentioned a ‘channeler’—a steam-powered cutting machine—had been purchased for use at the quarry. However, no evidence existed that it had ever been used until a recent photo was found by the Beulah Historical Society, showing the channeler in place next to the quarry derrick. A detailed search was made at the quarry for any evidence of the channeler’s use, resulting in the discovery of a channeler cut that has been excavated to reveal other cuts, the longest of which is 17’+ long and five-foot deep. Perpendicular channel cuts were also discovered that form 3.5’ square blocks. The channeler was capable of cutting 18-ton blocks, but they were too big for wagon transport.
Tragedy struck the quarry shortly after commercial production began in March of 1894 when raising a 7-ton block of marble caused the derrick to fall over on to a quarry worker, killing him instantly. The victim, Merritt Alva Arledge, left behind a pregnant wife and five children. He is buried in the Beulah cemetery. Indirect evidence suggests the accident occurred at the eastern quarry and not at the site where the derrick currently remains.
The quarries produced steadily from 1894-1900. Owner Kelly ran into production problems at both his Beulah and Crystal River/Yule quarries, significantly delaying capital completion by years. He was also subject to a scandal accusing him of substituting out of state marble in the capitol but charging the higher prices for Colorado-produced marble.
A major part of the production problem was transport, as all quarried stone had to be hauled by wagon 25 miles to the railhead in Pueblo for shipment to Denver for processing, which was done at a plant at 6th and Wynkoop (currently the parking lot for Elitch’s and the Pepsi Center). Marble was cut and/or trimmed into rectangular blocks on site, but the wagon transport limited the size and number of blocks that could be shipped. Getting the marble out of the valley was a major obstacle due to the steep grades of Beulah Hill, with teams consisting of up to twelve mules required to make it up the grade.
The quarry did not escape the litigation common to mining operations once the value of the product is realized, and the court case provides additional insight into early quarry history and the possible marble discoverers. Benjamin Mattice, owner of one of the quarries, sued the other quarry owner, David Kelley and the Beulah Marble Company, on behalf of the reported original discoverers Betts and Collins. Betts and Collins obtained a lease option to purchase the land containing the marble from owner George S. Draper for $1000 (roughly $75,000 today) and took marble samples to Kelley in Denver, most likely because they lacked the resources to complete the option deal as well as to develop the marble resource. Kelley made a deal with them to pay the option price for the land, give them each $500 cash, and the four would share equal interests in the property. Draper later realized the value of the property and insisted on more money as well as an interest in the property, and a new agreement was made, but this time in Kelley’s name only. Kelley later refused to recognize Collins’ and Betts’ interest in the property, and excluded them from any future financial gain on the property. Mattice purchased Collins’ interest, sued Kelley and the Beulah Marble Company, and won in a contentious case in Pueblo District court. The case was appealed to the Colorado Supreme Court, where it was overturned for unknown reasons, but one would suspect Kelley’s political influence. Mattice disappears from history at that point, with future reference to all quarry operations exclusively Kelley and the Beulah Marble Company. The Beulah Marble Company and the Denver Onyx and Marble company were merged in 1897, all under control of Kelley, his brother, and brother-in-law.
The capitol interior marble work was finally finished years behind schedule at the end of 1900, with frustrated capitol managers calling the performance of the Denver Onyx and Marble Co. “completely unsatisfactory.” Two miles of elaborately finished Beulah Marble wainscoting five-feet high were reportedly installed in the state capitol.
The Chieftain announced that the Beulah quarry would close in May of 1900, and no other reference to quarry production occurs after that date. Permanent closure most likely was due to the high production and transportation costs, the poor performance of Kelley’s company, and the depletion of easily mineable marble. Attempts to market the marble continued, including exhibition of Beulah Marble at the 1904 World’s Fair in St. Louis where it won a bronze medal and was reported to attract the attention of German marble dealers. Kelley unsuccessfully tried to promote a railroad to Beulah and the quarries in 1899 shortly before they closed.
The quarry geology is more complex than most marble deposits, forming from a paleokarst process that occurred over 300 million years ago. In geologic terms, the Beulah Marble is not technically a marble, which is a limestone that has been recrystallized by heat and pressure but fits the commercial term of marble of being any limestone that will take a polish and can be used as an ornamental stone. Beulah marble is geologically a liesegang-banded limestone with the multi-stage banding formed by repeated groundwater deposition of hematite. The paleokarst process involved limestone erosion and dissolution prior to deposition of the overlying strata, sinkhole and cavern formation followed by infilling with iron-rich sediment, followed by iron leaching out into the surrounding limestone to form the marble. The marble only occurs around the infilled caverns and sinkholes, explaining why the deposits were small, discontinuous, and difficult to mine. Because of the complexity of the formation process, no other similar occurrence is known outside of Beulah, although paleokarst hosts numerous mineral deposits in Colorado and throughout the country. Each quarry produced a slightly different type of marble, and polished slabs in the capitol can be matched to the corresponding quarry.
The quarries have been idle since 1900, and the only equipment remaining is one derrick used to lift the marble out of the quarry. The property was purchased in 2017 with the desire to preserve it from future development and maintain it as an undisturbed historical site.
Copyright Ken Balleweg 2019
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