Marble in America: Colorado’s Yule Creek Quarry

Marble in America: Colorado’s Yule Creek Quarry

January 08, 2015

Although Italy or Spain might come to mind for most people when asked where the best marble is quarried, some of the finest marble comes from right here in the U.S.A. One quarry in particular, the Yule Creek Quarry located in the West Elk Mountains of Colorado, yields a clean white marble with a homogeneous texture, popularly known as Calacatta Lincoln, that’s made this particular quarry an interesting part of American history. 

Yule Marble

The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Washington, DC is made of Yule Marble. Photo source: Marble Historical Society Collection.

The deposits of Yule Creek were first discovered in 1873, though it wasn’t majorly developed until 1905. It was then that Col. Channing Meek, with assistance from the Rockefeller family, raised $3 million to develop the quarry. (By the way, that’s $50 million in today’s economy, in case you were wondering.) Developers called the marble “remarkable” and “flawless” and they recognized that the deposit was, indeed, large. Before long, immense blocks were being brought down a 3-mile long wagon road to the town of Marble.

The quarry is located inside a very steep mountainside over 9,300 feet above sea level (a sharp contrast to most marble, which is quarried from an open pit and at a much lower elevation.) So, development wasn’t easy. Even with today’s technological advances and transportation improvements, quarrying remains a challenge.

Yule Marble Quarry

The Yule Marble Quarry near the town of Marble, Colorado; Photographed by Ben Adams

It’s interesting to note that the geological forces that made Yule Marble make it different from other marbles quarried in the U.S. For example, Vermont Marble and Georgia Marble are formed by “regional metamorphism” whereas the Yule Marble is formed by “contact metamorphism.” Boiled down, the difference is that the others were formed by plate tectonics while a body of flowing magma was likely responsible for creating the Yule deposit.

The town’s resulting fabricating mill was, at the time, the largest of its kind in the world. But the mill faced many challenges. In 1912, it was completely destroyed by a snow slide and also Col. Channing Meek, the visionary quarry superintendent, was killed in a transportation accident. The quarry again fell on hard times when many of the Italian and Austrian workers returned to Europe to fight in World War I, and in 1925, a huge fire consumed 900 lineal feet of the large structure, stopped only by a firewall that still exists today. Between 1905 and 1915, the owners made little money. And even though the quarry was selected to adorn the façade of the Lincoln Memorial and the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, both in the nation’s capital, the operation shrank, limping along until it closed in 1941.

After the quarry closed, most of the townspeople moved on and Marble essentially became a ghost town. The fabricating pant was stripped of usable steel and sold for scrap. But that’s not where the story ends.

Yule Marble used in Lincoln Memorial

The exterior of the Lincoln Memorial is made of Yule Marble. Image via Wikipedia.

The quarry reopened again in 1990 to supply marble for headstones in Arlington National Cemetery. But after several changes in ownership, and the marble being sent to numerous other locations for production, it closed again in 2009. In 2010, Mr. Enrico Luciani of Carrara, Italy purchased the quarry and production began again in 2011. Today, quarrying techniques more closely resemble those in Carrara and the marble is exported to Europe and Asian markets as well as distributed in the U.S.

Use of Yule Marble, popular in stone industry as Calacatta Lincoln, has grown through several periods of highs and lows, and from local to national—and today international. It can be found in banks, mausoleums, libraries, schools, hotels, and government buildings. Plus, finished Yule Marble is used for tile and slabs covering walls, countertops, and more all over the world.

Want to know more about Calacatta Lincoln? Visit one of our two showroom locations to experience, in person, some of the most beautiful marble slabs available — quarried right here in the U.S.


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