Old quarry uses news tricks in eco-friendly mining

Wednesday, September 24, 2008
The past meets the future -- Michael Owens of Ozark Southern Stone points out the limestone bedrock from which blocks are split before being finished out on-site. The method now used by the company to mine the rock is quiet, safe and eco-friendly.

ELK RANCH -- When you hear the words "stone quarry," what's the first thing that crosses your mind?

If you said "dynamite," you would be close. But the historic Ozark Southern Stone quarry in Elk Ranch near the town of Beaver has turned that association on its ear by pursuing a newer, greener, safer and less noisy way of hewing the limestone from the earth.


Ozark Southern Stone began in 1883 as Eureka Stone Co., owned by Benjamin J. Rosewater, an early Eureka Springs postmaster, and remained open until the Great Depression.

It was re-opened in 1977 by Don Underwood.

Lowell Johnson, who has owned Ozark Southern Stone since 2006, is now taking the business in new directions.

One way is by finding a method of harvesting the limestone that doesn't require blowing it up to get it.

'Non-explosive agent'

Dynamite -- the conventional means of mining rock -- destroys up to a third of the rock during detonation.

With the method Johnson is now using, the percentage is close to zero.

DexpanŽ is the brand name of the nonexplosive demolition agent Johnson's company is now using to get the limestone out of the ground so it can be cut into blocks small enough to finish out in the shop on-site.

DexpanŽ, a mixture of calcium oxide, amorphous silica and other ingredients, is a powder which expands when wet.

Holes are drilled into the rock and the DexpanŽ, after properly being mixed with water, is poured into the holes. Within 24 hours the expansion splits the limestone slab loose from the bedrock.

This method avoids not only the noise and ground vibration of explosives, but also the danger.

"So we won't be getting any more of those angry phone calls from Holiday Island," Johnson said.

Stone used in famous locales

Another way in which Johnson is doing things differently is by finding new markets for the stone.

It's not just any limestone that comes from this quarry. The high density of the dolomite limestone mined from this quarry puts it in the top three percent of all limestone mined in the country.

It is so dense it would take three Washington monuments stacked on a slab of this limestone to crush it.

Locally, the Crescent Hotel, Basin Park Hotel, Flatiron Building and the downtown Bank of Eureka Springs are among the structures built of limestone from this quarry.

The stone has also been used in Springfield and Kansas City, Mo., Fort Smith and Fayetteville, where it was used in the restoration of Old Main at the University of Arkansas campus.

Celebrities like Kenny Rogers and Eddie Murphy have also used the local stone in their homes.

Local, natural materials

"What we really want to do," said Johnson, "is emphasize getting back to local natural building materials. Do you know how many times the Basin Park Hotel has had to be repainted over the years? Never. No chemicals in the air, no spray. No maintenance."

Johnson said emphasis on using local products is especially important given the high cost of fuel.

"This was the original Eureka Springs quarry," Johnson said. "It's been around 150 years and I'd like to think it could be around for another 150 years."

Johnson said he envisions eventually opening a quarry museum where the public could see the stages the limestone goes through from mining to transformation into beautiful, long-lasting structures.

"I'd like it to show the original tools they used in the 1800s," Johnson said. "I'd like people to know the whole process, how it works."

In the meantime, Johnson and his crew continue carving the raw stone from the earth, as people have done for millennia, and turning it into things of beauty.

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