Sunday, 20 April 2014 16:56

Old Limestone Quarries of Santa Fe

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Old Limestone Quarries of Santa Fe    By  Richard Barrett
Before there was polished granite table tops, flagstone patios, sandstone block rock terraces, "pen" tile, bricks and cinder block there was limestone! In days of yore you use'd what you could get and close at hand. In Santa Fe that meant limestone. 
Most Santa Feans drive or walk by it every day, whether they know it or not. The Federal Court House, the terrace in front of the San Miguel Church,the Santa Fe river and old Acequia embankments, the south Capitol district's raised basements and CCC work projects. Everywhere you go in old Santa Fe, there it is, limestone.
Where did it come from?
It came from our back yard.
A cursory look at the the 1961 USGS  7.5 min. topo. map of the the Santa Fe quadrangle shows over twenty different quarries within two miles of the plaza.
It all started with the Territorial Federal Building next to the present day PO in downtown SF in 1853. It all ended about 1940 when all the CCC workers went to war.
Although sandstone was also used in this period, such as the St Francis Cathedral and Loretta Chapel, it was much more costly due to milling into blocks, dressing and  transportation  (the "Bishop's" quarry was located on the of top Cerro Colorado, a Mesa
due south of Lamy).
The Wikipedia site on the cathedral erroneously identifies it as yellow limestone. It is not. It is sandstone of the Morrison formation.
Other sandstones used for ornamental work also came from south of Santa Fe in the Cerrillos Hills and environs.
Limestone though was the basic available stone. Easy to quarry and dress, it also bonds well with cement (limestone being its source). The limestone  in question has been variously described over the years with many different nomenclatures, but the current consensus is that it is of  the Mississippian Arroyo Penasco Group/La Pasada formation. It is approximately 800 feet thick and outcrops from the foothills east of Santa Fe, into the Pecos River Canyon and over into the Las Vegas area.
Of the twenty or so quarries in the Santa Fe area the largest grouping was off Valley Drive, northeast of town in the appropriately named drainage of the Arroyo de la Piedra. Nine quarries are shown on the map, making it an easy, close, down-hill coast into town for the hauling wagons.
These being the closest to the present Federal courthouse it would be obvious to surmise that that is where the stone came from.
The next closest are the four on Gonzales Road just up from Cerro Gordo road. These may have been used for the retaining walls along the river and various acequias in town.
Three more are shown just downstream from the Twomile Resevoir where Cerro Gordo curves into upper Canyon Road. To the north are three more along an unnamed arroyo flowing south by the namesake Cerro Gordo hill.
There is another cluster on Hyde Park road in what is now  called Cerros Colorado (a more erroneous name if I've ever heard one, as the whole project was excavated and built on limestone).      
A curious aside in relation to this development is that most of the stone was hauled away to the intersection of Airport and Aqua Fria roads to be used as fill. The builders and landscapers then brought in truckloads of sandstone. Although you do see some of the local limestone used,most is sandstone.
As an active stone mason from 1990 to 2010 I was lucky enough to cross paths with a local builder named Robert Frank who let me have all I wanted from the fill site and to let me scavenge at building sites. In all I used 20 to 30 tons over the years, a fraction of the thousands of tons hauled away and buried.
Across the road from Cerros de Colorado is another development called Paseo del Norte. It to has old quarries.
Almost all the sites mentioned have been obliterated by new residential construction and are now virtually invisible. But when viewing the described areas on Google map it is obvious from the grey coloring of earth where these limestone outcroppings are. 
How many thousands, if not hundreds of thousands of tons were quarried is anybody's  guess. All I know is that a lot of Santa Fe is built on and out of this rock.
If you ask for native limestone today at any of the local rock yards, you will probably be met with a blank stare. It is just no longer available.
Santiago E. Campos US Courthouse,Santa Fe , NM, GSA Home page
Museum of NM/Office of Archaeological Studies
Vista Canada Ancha: Survey of proposed water line
Wallace/Lentz Archaeological Notes 207, 1996
Geology of Santa Fe Region/NM Geological Society
Bauer, 1992
Industrial Minerals and Rocks in Santa Fe county, p.179
NM Geological Society, Guidebook 41, 1990
Building with Stone in Northern NM
Austin, Barker/pg. 405
Adam Read link to nomenclature:
http://geo info.nmt. edu/publications/periodicals/nmg downloads/23/n4/nmg V23 n4 p.103
Wikipedia "St. Francis Cathedral" Santa Fe, NM
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