Moab’s Building Stone: Questions Remain

Ah, Moab, My Moab. For the first time, I decided to see what I could find out about the local building stone. I hadn’t noticed the stone much during the nine years that I lived there in late 1980s and early 1990s. Why would I? I had the most stunning rocks in the world to look at all around me. Now that I am older and wiser, I looked more closely at the few buildings of rock in the land of red rocks.

The best known building of stone is Star Hall. The locals used red rock, what those in the east call brownstone. At present, Star Hall is used for plays, concerts, films, and the like. It is a simple, yet elegant design with a gambrel-style roof and arched windows. Some have called the building Richardsonian Romanesque though it lacks the true rough hewn nature of blocks that I associate with that style but then I am not an architectural historian.

As one might expect of a building erected in 1905 in rural Utah, it was built by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, or the Mormons. These wild and crazy early pioneers sought a meeting and recreational hall. In Grand Memories, a history of the area published by the Daughters of Utah Pioneers, it states that Will Shafer, a carpenter, designed the building; Steve Day quarried the stone; Will Bliss hauled the stone (making four trips a day with his wagon team); and Angus Murray Stocks, a well known mason, dressed the stone. They began working sometime in the spring of 1905 and finished in May 1906.

According to Grand Memories, Day and Bliss got the rock at the “Goose Island stone quarry about a mile above the river spring.” The spring has long been known as Matrimony Spring and until 2008 emerged out of pipe a few hundred yards up Utah SR-128. (Southeastern Utah District Health Environmental Health Scientist Jim Adamson declared the spring contaminated and closed it to public access. At present, you can still access the spring, which now flows directly out of the wall. By the way, if you look carefully under the water at the spring you can see several three-toed tracks, probably dinosaur but possibly pterosaur.)

View of Kayenta Formation at Goose Island

During my visit to Moab, I tried to locate any evidence of a quarry at Goose Island. The area is the first broad bench of rock up the Colorado River and dominated primarily by the Kayenta Formation, a Jurassic age fluvial sandstone. I could find no evidence of any quarry though I did find a neat piece of metal buried in the sand. I suspect that there was no formal quarry and that Day probably just blasted or broke off pieces of rock, which Stocks shaped on site at Star Hall. I also tried to locate any evidence of why Goose Island is called Goose Island and had the same lack of luck.

View from area above Goose Island (where are the geese and where is the island?)

I was also told by a local resident that the Star Hall stone was quarried further up river at Jackass Canyon. The canyon is across the road from the Hal Canyon campground. This area seems less likely as a quarry spot because the slopes consist of rocks of the Moenkopi Formation and Chinle Formation, neither of which would make good building material. Both units are too soft. Of course, Day could have cut stone from debris blocks that had fallen from the rock units above the Chinle and Moenkopi but there is no way to verify this. Plus why would Day travel five miles further to get rocks.

Ultimately, I have to go with the original source of Goose Island though I write this without complete confidence. The stones in Star Hall don’t really look like the Kayenta; they seem too pink but they are fresh, cleaned surfaces as opposed to the weathered rocks found in nature. Any additional insights would be appreciated.

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