Maryland Department of Natural Resources

Building Stones of Maryland

by Karen R. Kuff and James R. Brooks
1985

A building stone is defined as any massive, dense rock suitable for use in construction. Whether igneous, metamorphic or sedimentary, a building stone is chosen for its properties of durability, attractiveness, and economy. A dimension stone is a building stone that is often quarried and prepared in blocks according to specifications. A decorative stone is a stone that can be quarried, cut or carved and is most highly valued for its pleasing appearance. It is more often used in interior construction for decoration and monuments than as standard building stone.

The Washington Monument, Baltimore, MD
The Washington Monument, Baltimore, MD

There are a number of rocks in Maryland that have, at one time or another, been used as building or decorative stone. The earliest settlers used local fieldstone to build their houses. Later, as the demand grew for more elegant buildings and monuments, stone was sought which was both durable, and attractive. From the 1840's to the early 1900's, there were many quarries opened in Maryland for the various types of building or decorative stones described herein. The dimension, building, and decorative stone industries today are almost non-existent because of competition from other, lower cost materials. Only the Setters Quartzite, the Sykesville Gneiss, and some Paleozoic sandstones are currently being quarried.

The first four "granites" and gneisses that are discussed were frequently used in buildings around Baltimore. In descriptions of buildings,these stones have often been confused, but with careful observation, the differences between them can easily be noted.

Many other rock formations were used throughout Maryland for building material. Often these were simply rocks picked up near the site of construction and are termed "fieldstone." Initially, most building stone was obtained this way, but about 1825 technology and transportation had developed to the point that it was feasible to quarry stone at specific sites. In addition to the better know quarries, many small quarries sprang up throughout Maryland to satisfy the local demand. Even after the better building stones became everywhere available, it often proved to be economic to use field stone and local quarry rubble for hidden foundation work. Before the era of the massive stone buildings abated, stone was imported from as far as Indiana. The Baltimore Museum of Art, completed in 1929 was made from Indiana limestone.

The building stone industry of Maryland in recent years has diminished in importance. New construction technology, together with a less labor-intensive economy and modern architectural leanings have reduced the demand for stone. Ample deposits of stone are still available, but present trends do not indicate a revival of the building stone trade in the foreseeable future.

SELECTED REFERENCES

Dorsey, J. and Dilts, J.D., 1981, A guide to Baltimore architecture: Tidewater Pub., Centreville, Md., 267 p.

Edwards, J., Jr., 1969, Mineral resources of Harford County, in The geology of Harford County, Maryland: Md. Geol. Survey, p. 104-111.

Gary, M., McAfee, R., Jr., and Wolf, C.L., 1972, Glossary of geology: Amer. Geol. Institute, Washington, D.C., 805 p.

Geyer, A.R., 1977, Building stones of Pennsylvania's capital area: Pa. Geol. Survey, Env. Geol. Rpt. 5, 46 p.

Kuff, K.R., 1980, Directory of mineral producers in Maryland 1970: Md. Geol. Survey, Inf. Cir. 30, p. 22-23.

Mathews, E.B. and Watson, E.H., 1929, The mineral resources of Baltimore County, in Baltimore County: Md. Geol. Survey, p. 219-288.

Merrill, G.P. and Mathews, E.B., 1898, The building and decorative stones of Maryland: Md. Geol. Survey, Vol. 11, Pt. 2, p. 47-241.

Vokes, H.E. and Edwards, J., Jr., 1974, Geography and geology of Maryland: Md. Geol. Survey, Bull. 19, p. 116-123.

Watson, T.L., 1910, Granites of the southeastern Atlantic states: U.S. Geol. Survey, Bull. 426, p. 39-69.

Winkler, E.M., 1975, Stone: properties, durability in man's environment: Springer-Verlag, New York, 193 p.

Winkler, E.M., ed., 1978, Decay and preservation of stone: Geol. Soc. of Amer., Eng. Geol. Case Hist. II, 102 p.

Withington, C.F., 1975, Building stones of our nation's capital: U.S. Geol. Survey, 44 p.


Downloads and Links

For more information on building stones in Baltimore, see the Geologic Walking Tour of Building Stones of Downtown Baltimore.

This publication is available as a pamphlet entitled "Building Stones of Maryland" from our Publications Office

This pamphlet was prepared by by Karen R. Kuff and James R. Brooks, 1990
Compiled by the Maryland Geological Survey, 2300 St. Paul Street, Baltimore, MD 21218
This electronic version of "Building Stones of Maryland" was prepared by Bob Conkwright, Division of Coastal and Estuarine Geology, Maryland Geological Survey. Please send comments on this page to Dale Shelton (dshelton@mgs.md.gov)