Washington Monument Marble Quarry
In 1833, the Washington National Monument Society was founded to create a memorial to the United States’ first president, George Washington. A year before a design contest for the memorial was announced, the society laid down guidelines: “Its material is intended to be wholly American, and to be of marble or granite brought from each State, that each State may participate in the glory of contributing in material as well as in funds to its construction.”
Arkansas would ultimately donate three stone slabs to the Washington Monument in Washington DC, which was constructed intermittently from 1848 to 1888. The first stone, representing the state of Arkansas, was taken from a mountain in what was then Carroll County (now Newton County) near what would become Marble City, later changed to Marble Falls, presumably named for this site. The city of Little Rock (Pulaski County) and the Masonic Grand Lodge of Arkansas each contributed a stone in 1851 and 1856, respectively, while the citizens of Washington (Hempstead County) made a monetary donation of $22 in 1853.
In 1954, the Newton County History Society erected a marker on the west side of Scenic Highway 7 to honor the locally quarried block of stone. The marker’s inscription states that it “commemorates the Arkansas marble in Washington’s Monument taken by Beller and Harp bros. from this hill in 1836.” The 1836 date has been widely publicized but is incorrect, perhaps having been attached to the project because it is the year Arkansas attained statehood.
The quarrying actually took place more than a decade later. In August 1849, a newspaper item disputed the claim that only New Hampshire had readied a block of marble for the monument. “Our friends at the marble quarry in Carroll county have for some time [been] preparing a block of Arkansas marble, for that purpose,” a Van Buren (Crawford County) newspaper reported. By December, the immense limestone slab was on its way to Washington DC, having been hauled sixty miles on a log wagon over the Boston Mountains to the Arkansas River, near Clarksville (Johnson County), then sent by boat to the nation’s capital. It was said to be one of the first blocks of stone received at the construction site, and upon its arrival Arkansas senator Solon Borland had “Arkansas” carved on it in large, raised letters. All donated blocks were placed in the obelisk’s interior stairwell, visible at various levels, and because Arkansas’s stone was set into the lower part of the monument, National Park Service documentation assigned a date of 1850 to both its arrival and installation.
Much of what is known about this stone comes from the Arkansas Geological Survey’s report of 1890, which claims that the rectangular block weighed 9,000 pounds. (Other sources put the weight at 2,000 pounds.) The stone is Early Mississippian limestone, fine-grained and containing fossilized crinoid stem fragments throughout, ranging in color from light pink to chocolate brown. The monument’s unpolished block is referred to as both limestone and marble, the latter being an industry term for any stone capable of receiving a high polish.
The 1954 commemorative marker’s ambiguous language refers to the Beller and Harp brothers. Peter Beller, who established a mill on nearby Mill Creek in 1840, has always received credit for quarrying the slab. However, his brother Elijah Beller, a stone mason and tombstone carver living in Arkansas in the mid-1830s and again after 1848, may well have participated. The Harp brothers were William, Samuel, and Elijah Harp. The 1836 start date is further invalidated by the fact that Elijah—who would have been ten years old in 1836—did not arrive in the Buffalo River valley until 1844. Another family history adds James Adair to this list, also stating that the stone was quarried in the late 1840s.
The site later became known as Willcockson’s quarry, its stone prized by tombstone carvers into the 1900s. Though called a quarry, it was never one in the conventional sense. Rather, it was an outcrop or ledge from which rock slabs could be taken, and as late as 1890 the marks of the Beller and Harp drills and saws used to cut the monumental block were still visible. The site is believed to have later been covered by Highway 7.
For additional information:
Adair, Artie. “James Adair, One of Several Who Quarried Stone for Washington Monument.” In Newton County Family History, edited by Thomas Niswonger. Jasper, AR: Newton County Historical Society, 1992.
Arkansas Intelligencer (Van Buren, Arkansas), August 18, 1849, p. 2.
Geo. Watterston, Secretary W.N.M.S. “Washington National Monument.” Richmond Enquirer (Richmond, Virginia), October 27, 1835, p. 4.
Hopkins, T. C., and John C. Branner. Annual Report of the Geological Survey of Arkansas for 1890. Vol. IV, Marbles and Other Limestones. Little Rock: Brown Printing Company, 1893.
Jacob, Judith M. The Washington Monument: A Technical History and Catalog of the Commemorative Stones. Washington DC: National Park Service, 2005. Online at https://www.nps.gov/parkhistory/online_books/wamo/stones.pdf (accessed November 6, 2019).
Lackey, Walter F. History of Newton County, Arkansas. Jasper, AR: Newton County Historical Society, 1950.
Pittsburgh Daily Post (Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania), January 11, 1850, p. 2.
Washington Telegraph (Washington, Arkansas), August 22, 1849, p. 2.
Washington Telegraph (Washington, Arkansas), September 14, 1853, p. 2.
Weekly Arkansas Gazette, June 13, 1851, p. 3.
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