Tour tells geological tale of stone buildings
A building’s materials often are tied to its surroundings, and that’s definitely true in Marion, a geologist told a group that took advantage of a Flint Hills Counterpoint tour Saturday.
“There’s a strong connection between the buildings we’re going to look at and the landscape,” Rex Buchanan, director emeritus of Kansas Geological Society, said, kicking off the tour at the Historic Elgin Hotel.
Limestone was a prominent building material in downtown Marion.
About 250 to 300 million years ago, during the Permian period, Kansas was covered by a series of shallow seas that flowed in and out. The sea was 60 feet deep or less and relatively warm.
“That was the depositional environment of these limestones. Modern analogs — where you would go to look at what Kansas would have been like back then” include the Bahamas, Buchanan said.
He joked that that’s why geologists often have conferences in places such as the Bahamas or Caribbean and just happen to schedule them during winter.
Eric Meyer, publisher and editor of the Record, talked about the history of Marion’s downtown buildings. The predominant use of limestone grew out of fear of fire more than anything aesthetic, he said.
“Great portions of Main St. were burned down,” he said.
Early residents “made fun of people who built frame buildings and praised people who built stone buildings,” he said.
The Elgin, which opened Sept. 15, 1886, almost got the wrecking ball at one point in its history, manager Jennifer McDonald said. A church in Topeka wanted the hotel’s handcut limestone.
The hotel was built from Cottonwood limestone, Buchanan said, noting that in the world of geology, materials are named after places, not people.
The best example of Cottonwood limestone, quarried in Chase County and named after Cottonwood Falls, is the Capitol building in Topeka, he said.
Cottonwood limestone is a “very dependable, reliable limestone,” Buchanan said.
Moving on from the Elgin, the tour stopped at the Kellison home at 202 E. Santa Fe St. It features chiseled stone with a smoother surface as well as decorative touches. Buchanan pointed to problem areas with the home’s stone that have been repaired.
Owning such a home, he said, “is going to be a labor of love.”
Down the street at Valley United Methodist Church, 300 W. Santa Fe St., he noted areas of darker stone.
“Some is due to mineralization, but it’s also from lichen,” he said.
Buchanan praised Marion for keeping its historic courthouse, another stop on the tour. An example of Romanesque architecture, he said, the courthouse as well as the Hill School at 601 E. Main St., are significant buildings in Marion.
The Hill School is the oldest building in Kansas in continuous use as a school. The original part of the building from 1873 is made from Cresswell limestone, which likely came from Marion County, while an 1890 addition is Cottonwood limestone, probably from Chase County.
It was constructed at a cost of $15,000, $376,000 in today’s dollars, for the 250 students in the district, Meyer said. The 1890 addition cost $12,000, $392,000 today.
Last modified March 23, 2023