Building Stone Books

I am not alone in my passion for building stone. Today, I wanted to explore a few of the other books about building stone. This is not close to a complete list but some that I have referred to over the years. And it does not include any material on Washington, D.C., which I will write about later this week for those of you headed to the inauguration on January 20.

The list is in no particular order. Any suggestions would be appreciated.

A Geologic Walking Tour of Building Stones of Downtown Baltimore – Available both on line and as downloadable PDF file.

Stone Landmarks: Flagstaff’s Geology and Historic Building Stones by Marie D. Jackson – A beautifully designed, well-written tour of Flagstaff.  Includes a walking tour and wider explorations of the area. You can download an order form at the link.

In Limestone Country by Scott Russell Sanders – A literary exploration of the men and geology of the building stone region around Bloomington, Indiana.  Sanders’ writing is clear, passionate, and compelling.

Albuquerque downtown from a geologic point of view – I mentioned this book in November but felt it needed to be in this list.

Guide to Stones Used for Houses of Worship in Northeastern Ohio Cleveland Ohio, by Joseph Hannibal, Curator of Invertebrate Paleontology at the Cleveland Museum of Natural History. Published by the Sacred Landmarks Partnership of Northeast Ohio.  Dr. Hannibal has done extensive research on the building stones around Cleveland and provides geologic and cultural information on the many churches of the northeastern Ohio.

Building stones of Pennsylvania’s capital area  by Alan Geyer – This doesn’t seem to be in print any more but is availabe through libraries.  It is publication EG5 in the Pennysylvania Geological Survey’s Environmental Geology series.

Geology along Chicago’s Michigan Avenue – A nice walking tour in Chicago with good photos and information. Particularly note the section of the Chicago Tribune Tower with its wonderful carvings of Salem Limestone.

A gallery of architectural geology – Oriented toward Chicago but also with photos of a few buildings outside of the Windy City.

Dimension Stone in Victoria, B.C. – Described as a city guide and walking tour of this wonderful little city in Canada. Available as a 12mb PDF.

Building Stone and Historic Structures in Downtown, Toronto – Written by C.R. Fouts, E.B. Freeman, K.M. Kemp, C. Marmont, and D.G. Minnes – A field trip guide prepared for a 1991 meeting in Toronto.

The Stones of Rome – Next time you venture to Rome, check out this page, full of much information. 

Breaking Away: The Building Stone Movie

Prompted by Silver Fox and inspired by Geology News, this post focuses on one of my favorite geology movies, Breaking Away.  The film takes place in Bloomington in the late 1970s and centers on four recent high school graduates: Dave, Moocher, Cyril, and Mike.  Ostensibly about the relationship between stone mill workers, or Cutters, and college kids, Breaking Away is filled with the angst and self-doubt sewn into young men who cannot follow their father’s footsteps.  “They’re gonna keep calling us “Cutters.”  To them it’s just a dirty word.  To me it’s just something else I never got a chance to be,” says Mike, the character played by a young Dennis Quaid in Breaking Away. 

With no work in the building stone industry, the guys have nothing better to do than loaf around, complain about the advantages of college kids, and swim in the abandoned quarries.  Those quarries are all in the Salem Limestone, a 330-million-year old rock unit that is the most commonly used building stone in the country.  The Salem formed in a quiet sea, which covered what we now call the Midwest and is most analogous to the Bahamas where limestone is now forming. It is a fossiliferous layer rich in crinoid stems, bryozoans, brachiopods, and forams.

Joe Palooka in Oolitic, Indiana

Out of the great beds of white rock came the stone climbed by King Kong (Empire State Building), bombed by terrorists (The Pentagon), and walked through by hundreds of thousands of immigrants (Ellis Island).  In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, it was the stone to use for grand buildings everywhere, as well as for tomb stones, statues, and many other more modest architectural features.  If you are interested in reading more about the Salem, I recommend Scott Sanders’ excellent In Limestone Country

Unfortunately, you cannot get to the quarry where the guys swam in the movie.  It is blocked by a fence and “No Trespassing” signs.  You can, however, see the hole that the Empire State Building came from.  It is near a small cemetery just north of Oolitic, Indiana.  You can also drive through the Salem-rich Indiana University campus in Bloomington, where much of Breaking Away was filmed.

The hole where the Empire State Building was quarried.

Breaking Away is a near perfect movie, at least if you want a good view of a small part of the building stone world.  One extended scene is shot in a limestone mill and features massive cutting tools called gang saws.  When the guys go swimming, you can get a feel for the size of the quarries.  The dialogue between Dave and his father is hysterical.  And Dave, the star, rides a bike, which leads to the final, uplifting moments of the movie, a bike race between our four heroes and the snotty, snooty college boys.  What more could a geology-loving, bike-riding geek want?