Monday, April 3, 2017

Quarries near Ellicott City

The Catholic Cathedral and many homes and business in early Ellicott's mills were built with Ellicott City granite from nearby quarries along the Patapsco River.  The following excerpts describe the slight difference of the rock found on either side of the river and the quarries in 1811, 1834, 1898 and 1910.

The quarry on the Frederick turnpike is now a gas station and store very near the flour mill.  Note the high straight back wall to the right.

From the Maryland Geological Survey 1898 -

"The Ellicott City granite area consists of an irregular L-shaped mass, which has an extreme length of about five miles in an east and west direction and a breadth varying from one-half to two miles. …

The quarries of Ellicott City are situated nine miles by road from Baltimore and fifteen miles by railroad. They are located on either side of the Patapsco river in Baltimore and Howard counties, and the rock in which they occur extends on the eastern side of the Patapsco as far east as Ilchester, but on the western side only as far as Grays

The material on the Baltimore county or eastern side is a fine grained mass, with a decided foliation or gneissic structure. On the opposite side of the river in Ellicott City itself it is more uniform and granitic.

The time of opening these quarries dates back probably into the last of the 18th century, but the details are entirely wanting. The beautiful appearance of some of the more uniformly porphyritic specimens early attracted attention, and in the earliest works which we have on this area, that by Dr. Hayden, published in 1811, mention is made of these quarries.  [see below]

Granite types

Probably no area of granite within the state shows as great variation in the texture and the character of the rock as that about Ellicott City. In the quarries on the eastern side [Baltimore County] of the river the rock appears quite schistose and homogeneous, and practically lacking in porphyritic crystals. Through it are scattered large patches or segregations of the darker minerals, which give to the rock the somewhat sombre effect displayed by the Baltimore Cathedral. These patches do not weaken the rock, though they render the stone less attractive. On the other side of the river [Howard County], as has been mentioned already, the stone has a distinctly porphyritic character, which gives to it a mottled effect, well shown in Plate XI. The increased amount of feldspar brightens the rock and the distribution of the crystals adds detailed variety to the structures in which it is used.

The microscopic texture of the porphyritic type is shown in the reproduced photomicrograph (Plate IX, Fig. 2) where the grains are represented ten times their natural size. There is nothing particularly noticeable in the arrangement of the constituent since they unite with interlocking sutures, as already described in the discussion of the Port Deposit granites.

Baltimore Catholic Cathedral built 1806-1821

It is not certain whether the quarry on the Baltimore county side or the quarries of the Howard county side furnished the first material for Baltimore, but it is clearly evident from the character of the rock furnished for the Catholic Cathedral, that the gneiss was the more important rock at that time. Local tradition assigns the source of the stone sometimes to the Baltimore county side and sometimes to the Howard county side and the published information is equally conflicting and indefinite. When the Cathedral was constructed during the years 1806 to 1812 and subsequently from 1815 to 1821, the material was hauled from Ellicott City to Baltimore along the old Frederick road in huge wagons drawn by nine yoke of oxen.

After furnishing the rock for this building, which must have been one of the most important stone structures in the United States at the time of its construction, the quarries evidently were worked only to meet local demands. In fact they have never since been of such relatively great importance. Dr. David Dale Owen, indeed, while studying the various building stones of Maryland at Cockeysville, Woodstock and Port Deposit, with the view of gaining all the information for the Smithsonian building, twice passed by these quarries and yet makes no mention of them. At the time of the Tenth Census the agent remarks that he "knows of no other place in the country where there are so many stone buildings in an area of the same size."

Werner quarry

Of the quarries in operation at the present day those of Werner Bros, were opened as early as the beginning of the century. In 1872 Charles J. Werner reopened a quarry, which since his death in 1888 has been operated by his sons, who purchased in 1890 a second quarry, which had previously been opened by Robert Wilson. These quarries became of some importance in 1893, when one of them is spoken of as the principal Ellicott City quarry, although it is now producing little or no building stone except during the fall of the year when random rubble is quarried for local use. The output for the year 1896 did not aggregate over 200 perches. 

Weber quarry

The most active quarry at the present is that operated by A. Weber (see Plate XII, Fig. 2). This quarry is situated on the Howard county side some distance below the station. The material has been furnished in recent years for some important buildings, as those of the Woman's College of Baltimore, but most of the material seems to be used for Belgian blocks, curbing and macadam.

In the Weber quarry there is one prominent series of bedding joints, which strikes in a southeasterly direction and dips at a low angle into the hill. The jointing is so prominent and so irregular that it modifies the manner of quarrying quite perceptibly, as the stone is first obtained in irregular masses and then worked into desired form by hand. Such a process increases the cost of operation, but at the same time furnishes considerable random rubble of a size suitable for ballast and rough road material

Across the river from the Weber quarry, in the opening worked by Gaither, the jointing is more regular and the face of the quarry is seamed into innumerable rhomboids several feet in diameter (Plate XII, Fig. 1).

The opportunities for shipment and drainage are good. Those of the Weber quarry are seldom excelled, as the opening is in the side of a hill so close to the tracks of the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad (main stem) that cars may be loaded simply by turning the derrick boom.   [Hoisting crane]
Maryland Geological Survey, v2  1898

Weber Quarry by the railroad station   1910

The Weber quarry, opened in moderately high cliffs along the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad on the opposite side of Patapsco River from the Gaither quarry, is the principal quarry in the Ellicott City area in Howard County. The opportunity for shipment is excellent, as the quarry is so close to the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad that cars are readily loaded by turning the derrick boom. 

The Weber quarry was the only quarry operating in the Ellicott City area at the time of examination in 1908.
Watson, Thomas Leonard.  Granites of the southeastern Atlantic states.  1910

"Slaty and crystalline granite appear to predominate, mixed with slates and a rock approaching hornblende rock in external character. The granite may be well seen in the neighborhood of Ellicott's mills, where there are extensive quarries that furnish vast quantities for the Baltimore market."
The American Journal of Science.  1834 

"Quarries of granite were immediately on the ground, and of beautiful quality; but the implements used for blasting rocks, cutting down trees, digging out foundations, and for other laborious purposes had been brought from Pennsylvania, where, as in other colonies of Great Britain, they were regularly imported. The only iron tools manufactured in Baltimore county were crowbars, which, through the favor of the proprietors of Dorsey's Forge, named Avalon, were afterwards purchased from that iron works, also situated on the Patapsco, near Elkridge Landing."

Dr. Haydin's 1811 mention of rock in Ellicott's mills --
"Here it may not be amiss to notice a peculiarity which is observable in this part of the ridge; I have observed that its course was in some instances almost due east and west; at others almost north and south. An instance of this kind is visible at this place and at Gwinn's Falls. The stratified part of the ridge, or southern half has an inclination of nearly forty-five degrees west of south, while the unstratified or northern part runs nearly in a westerly direction, and seems to terminate abrubtly at Gwinn's Falls, at the distance of three miles, (I should judge) from and above the Frederick, Town road. The above course of the stratified range is continueded in its south westerly direction until near Gwinn's Falls, it seems to take a direction of about twenty degrees west of south, while the stream or current (the course of which above the ridge is north and south) runs over its bed nearly at a right angle across the ridge, or quite in an eastern direction; after which is assumes a course nearly south; while the ridge, in part is continued down on the west side of the stream and passes the Frederick Town road, a small distance from the bridge erected over the falls at Messrs. Ellicott's mills."
 “Haydin’s Geological Sketch of Baltimore”  July 12, 1811 in The Baltimore Medical and Philosophical Lyc├Žum, volume 1

Links on quarries, and tools, here: HERE

©2017 Patricia Bixler Reber
Forgotten history of Ellicott City & Howard County MD

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