Beyond sweeping landscapes and imposing architecture – within the “stories in stone” that are so beloved in New Orleans cemeteries, are the stones themselves. Much like the long-dead people they memorialize, these slabs of honed and carved limestone, marble, and granite journeyed great distances to become part of an irreplaceable cemetery landscape. Whose hands drew that stone from its quarry? Why is the marble found in Greenwood Cemetery drastically different from what we find in St. Louis Cemetery No. 2? Today we share the stories of quarries, infrastructures, and materials that make up New Orleans cemetery stonework.
Louisiana Lacks Workable Native Stone
The geology of southern Louisiana is similar to that of other states along the Gulf of Mexico. Comprised of mostly sedimentary rock, clay, limestone, and sandstone, Louisiana has few stone resources that would be desirable for cemetery monuments. Furthermore, the stone that is quarried in Louisiana has historically been of poor quality for building. For example, during the 1850s construction of the Washington Monument in Washington, D.C., requests were made that each state donate a block of native stone to be placed in the interior of the monument. Louisiana sent a block of sandstone that, within the decade, was so crumbling and decayed that it was replaced with a block of Pennsylvania marble.
Thus, from the eighteenth century onward, the stone used in New Orleans cemeteries was imported from elsewhere. Various types of slate, marble, and granite were made available as trade routes and quarries opened. By the mid-nineteenth century, New Orleans merchants and dealers offered stone from a number of different places. As time went on, the availability and sources of stone widened.
Slate: Shims, Slabs and (sometimes) Headstones
Although slate is a metamorphic rock, it behaves much like the sedimentary shale it is related to. Usually a dark grey or brown, slate is comprised of thin layers bonded together to form a grain. When cut along the grain, slate can be used for paving, roofing shingles, and headstones. Some of New Orleans’ earliest slates were brought from France. By the 1850s, a number of New Orleans streets were paved with slate that had been shipped into the city from the Northeast, usually as ballast stones. In most New Orleans cemeteries, slate was primarily used as vaulting slabs for family and society tombs.
Historic newspapers suggest that slates were imported into New Orleans almost exclusively from Pennsylvania and Wales until around 1850, when slate quarries were discovered in Arkansas around the Ouachita River. Although slate continued to be imported by ship from the Eastern seaboard, the availability of slate in locations accessible by river traffic widened the use of the material as well as lessened its cost.
Despite the availability of slate from Arkansas, Pennsylvania slate continued to be quarried and shipped to New Orleans. Historic Louisiana newspapers frequently mention the quality and availability of slate from the Bangor quarry in Northampton County. Given the same name as a slate quarry in Wales, the “Old Bangor” quarry had an office in New Orleans by the 1870s. Old Bangor slate is “very dark gray, and to the unaided eye has a fine texture and fine cleavage surface, almost without any luster. The sawn edge shows pyrite.” The Williamstown, Franklin, and Pen Arygl quarries of Pennsylvania also had retail agents in New Orleans, who advertised their slate to be of the same quality as that of Wales.
In New Orleans cemeteries, slate was primarily used for interior construction like vault slabs. Yet in some cemeteries the appearance of slate makes a more direct cultural connection to those buried within. In Gates of Prayer Cemetery on Joseph Street (est. ~1850), slate headstones reflect styles reminiscent of the Northeast, where many of those buried in the cemetery originated. In St. Patrick Cemetery No. 2, slate roofs on tombs may have been inspired by construction styles in Ireland, where most of the sextons and interred were born.
Limestone and Marble: What’s the Difference?
Marble (both domestic and imported) is undoubtedly the most prominent building stone in New Orleans cemeteries. Yet by hook or by crook, limestone historically has sneaked its way in. The story of limestone in New Orleans cemeteries is a muted, clandestine one.
Limestone and marble are geologic cousins. In this sense, marble is just a little older and more experienced than limestone. Both begin in areas of high-calcium sediment (i.e. a current or former seafloor).
Imported Marble: An Italian Commodity
New Orleans was a primary hub for the import and export marble from both Europe and the United States. Used for closure tablets, shelves, memorial sculpture, apex sculptures, tomb cladding, and other decorative elements, marble was the medium in which cemetery stonecutters primarily worked throughout the nineteenth century. Based on documentary evidence, the quarries of Italy were the primary source of marble into the 1850s. Italian marble was either directly imported from Italy or arrived via northeastern ports like Boston or New York. Florville Foy, who advertised aggressively throughout his career, frequently promoted his most recent shipment from Carrara or Genoa, cut into one, two, and three inch slabs. Paul Hippolyte Monsseaux similarly advertised his Italian marble stock.
The slow development of infrastructure and quarry technology prevented American quarries from competing with Italian marble in New Orleans until the 1850s. In 1845, one of the first marble quarries opened in Talladega County, Alabama. Five years later, another opened nearby, operated by J.M.N.B. Nix. Using a publicity tactic that would become common among quarry operators in the United States, the New Orleans Daily Picayune announced that “Alabama produces marble equal in fineness – that is, purity or clearness and susceptibility of polish – to any in the world, not excepting the most beautiful Italian, Vermont, or Egyptian.” It was Nix’s quarry that sent Alabama’s contribution to the Washington Monument. Talladega marble can appear white, blue, or cream, and often displays black, green, or grey veins, although it is consistently characterized by the fineness of its grain. Its unpredictability in quality and appearance, however, made it costly to extract.
Alabama marble remained a presence among New Orleans cemetery craftsmen well into the twentieth century. One of the most recognizable and imposing monuments within Metairie Cemetery, the ornate sarcophagus of Eugene Lacosst, was crafted by Albert Weiblen from pure white Alabama marble.
Vermont not only exported its marble to New Orleans, but its marble cutters as well. One account reflected that the stone cutting yards of New Orleans primarily employed skilled sculptors and polishers from the states of Vermont and Georgia.
By 1916, Georgia was second only to Vermont in its production of quarried marble. Although marble quarrying had existed in Georgia long before, it appears to only have gained prevalence in the New Orleans market after the Civil War. By 1888, the Georgia Marble Company in Pickens County claimed to be the largest marble quarry in the world. Georgia marble is typically coarse-grained and appears in blue-gray, black, white, and Creole, which has dramatic sweeping shades of dark gray, black, and white.
Ubiquitous Georgia Creole Marble
Between 1890 and the 1930s, Georgia Creole marble exploded in the New Orleans cemetery market and made an enormous mark on the landscape. This explosion was the result of expert marketing, improved infrastructure, and enormous supply.
This marble is found in all New Orleans cemeteries, but is much more prevalent in cemetery sections that were developed during this period. The rear sections of Greenwood Cemetery are a sea of Creole marble tombs, for example. This stone allows for an important temporal indicator in the understanding of cemetery landscapes. If you see Creole marble, it indicates a construction or renovation between 1890 and 1940 or so. This marble is still available today, although it is more appropriately named “Solar Gray.”
Marble Preservation Issues
Although marble is to this day associated with stately cemetery monuments, it had a number of disadvantages in the way it was used in cemeteries. In nearly all New Orleans cemeteries, most marble closure tablets are one to two inches thick. At an average height of three and a half feet, and only supported by a single closure pin at their upper edges, marble closure tablets warp and bow outward over time, causing cracks and eventually breaking.
Marble dominated the stone cutting trade throughout the bulk of the nineteenth century for a number of reasons. It fit an aesthetic that went hand-in-hand with Greek and other Classical revival motifs. More than anything else, however, marble was used because it was obtainable and workable. Marble was soft enough to excavate, extract, and sculpt using steam and hand tools, whereas granite is a significantly harder stone and more difficult to quarry.
Granite: A Modern Building Material
Granite was less common but not unheard of in the cemeteries of New Orleans before the Civil War. Visitors in the early 1850s described seeing granite monuments and tombs, and by 1857, quarries in Cape Ann, Massachusetts, were shipping granite paving blocks to New Orleans. The rise of pneumatic tools and machinery in the late 1860s galvanized the New England granite industry in such a way as to widen its production. Around 1880, another innovation – cast iron shot with artificial abrasive – could saw “more than twenty times faster than stone had ever been sawed.” These revolutions in quarrying and cutting came at a time when rail infrastructure was improving by leaps and bounds. Combined with improved communication among funerary, monument, and masonry communities, these advances created a new industrial age that transformed the landscape of New Orleans cemeteries.
By the 1880s and 1890s, stone cutters nationwide were moving away from small shops that depended on local labor and toward conglomerates that served interstate clientele. With greater communication between professional communities, they could order granite from any number of quarries directly, already shaped into slabs and headstones. By 1895, most craftsmen no longer listed their businesses as “marble works,” but instead “marble and granite,” if not simply “granite works.” One of these companies, Hallowell Granite Works, was in fact a New Orleans branch of a granite company based in Maine.
Forming associations and subscribing to numerous journals, stone cutters became monument dealers who ordered their products from the quarry itself. Albert Weiblen operated his business at a steam power plant at the juncture of the Claiborne and Illinois Railroads in New Orleans, where he cut and polished granite and marble. Weiblen and his contemporaries shifted the paradigm of tomb building from brick-and-mortar construction to one accomplished almost entirely with granite block and concrete.
Another expression of the new preference for granite was an unusual cladding system in which rock-faced granite rubble pieces were adhered to the tomb’s body and the pointed with very thick semi-circular joints, usually of Portland cement. Not only were new tombs constructed with this cladding system, old tombs were apparently re-clad in it as well. A number of older tombs were modified with this type of cladding.
Stories Made of Stone
The presence of stone in any one New Orleans tomb speaks volumes to the condition of its construction, the people who built it, and the characteristics it carries on from its point of origin. A modern granite tablet on an 1860s tomb can tell the story of a long period of abandonment followed by hasty replacement of a weathered marble element. A limestone tablet tacked unassumingly on the rear wall of a tomb can tell of a change in aesthetics or the new family memorial that replaced it.
In all cases, they attest to the hands of the people who extracted, shaped, installed, and wept beside their chiseled letters. Understanding the origin and background of these materials comprises one more step toward understanding the significance of New Orleans cemetery landscapes.
 National Park Service, Department of the Interior, Northeast Region, Architectural Preservation Division, The Washington Monument: A Technical History and Catalog of the Commemorative Stones (Washington, DC: National Park Service, 2005), 28.
“Washington National Monument,” The Pittsfield Sun (Pittsfield, Massachusetts), August 22, 1850, page 1. The stone is referred to as “freestone,” meaning a soft, friable sedimentary stone.
 Graham R. Thompson and Jonathan Turk, Introduction to Physical Geology (Rochester, NY: Saunders College Publishers, 1998), 133-137. Slate headstones are found commonly in the Northeast dating to the colonial period. Slate headstones are also present in cemeteries as far south as Charleston, South Carolina and Savannah, Georgia. However, no slate headstones are visible in the cemetery landscapes of New Orleans.
 Mary Louise Christovich, Roulhac Toledano, and Betsy Swanson, New Orleans Architecture, Vol. I: The American Sector (Gretna, LA: Pelican Publishing, 1998), 57.
 Daily Picayune, September 27, 1850, 2; Daily Picayune, May 2, 1853, 1; Daily Picayune, February 28, 1869, 11.
 “Alexander Hill, Welsh and American Slates, Slabs, etc.” Morning Star and Catholic Messenger, July 4, 1875, 6. These slates priced from $6.50 to $10 per square; “Slates! Slates! Slates!” Ouachita Telegraph (Monroe, LA), July 22, 1872, 2.
 “Brig Casket arrives from New York with sundry marble slabs,” Louisiana Advertiser, April 29, 1820, 3.
“Barelli & Company, commission merchants, selling blocks of Italian marble,” Daily Picayune, March 21, 1845, 3.
 Daily Picayune, November 10, 1848, 7; Daily Picayune, February 17, 1848, 3; Cohen’s New Orleans and Lafayette Directory for 1851 (New Orleans: Cohen’s Directory Company, 1851), page AT.
 Edwards’ Annual Director to the Inhabitants, Institutions….etc., etc., in the City of New Orleans for 1871 (New Orleans: Southern Publishing Company, 1870), 275; Daily Picayune, May 18, 1871, 3.
 Committee on Ways and Means, United States Congress, “Marble: The Alabama Marble Company, Gantts Quarry, Ala., Urges Retention of Duty on Marble,” in Tariff Hearings Before the Committee on Ways and Means of the House of Representatives, Sixtieth Congress, 1908-1909, Vol. VIII (Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1909), 7886-7888.
 “Ship Brings Cargo of Italian Marble,” Times-Picayune, July 27, 1914, 8.
 “Alabama Marble,” Daily Picayune, October 1, 1845, page 2; Daily Picayune, May 18, 1871, 3.
 Committee on Ways and Means, United States Congress, “Marble: The Alabama Marble Company, Gantts Quarry, Ala., Urges Retention of Duty on Marble,” in Tariff Hearings Before the Committee on Ways and Means of the House of Representatives, Sixtieth Congress, 1908-1909, Vol. VIII (Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1909), 7886-7888. In this year, cost to transport Alabama marble to New Orleans was 32 cents per cubic foot.
 Leonard V. Huber et. al. New Orleans Architecture, Vol. III: The Cemeteries, 54-55.
 Vermont Railroad Commissioner, Eleventh Biennial Report of the Board of Railroad Commissioners of the State of Vermont (St. Albans, VT: St. Albans Messenger Co., 1908), 308.
 Daily Picayune, July 15, 1853, page1; Daily Picayune, June 16, 1855, 1.
 Thomas Nelson Dale, The Commercial Marbles of Western Vermont (Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1912), 117-122.
 Tariff Hearings before the Committee on Ways and Means, Second Session, Fifty-Fourth Congress, 1896-97, Volume 1 (Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1897), 275-279; “Random Notes,” The Reporter: The First and Only Journal Published in the World Devoted Exclusively to Granite and Marble, No. 1 (January, 1900): 33.
 David Spence Hill, Industry and Education: Part Two of a Vocational Survey for Isaac Delgado Central Trades School (New Orleans: The Commission Council, 1916), 227.
 “Science and Industry,” The Colfax Chronicle (Colfax, LA), November 3, 1888, 3. This was not an uncommon claim for many quarries to make.
“Georgia Quarries,” The True Democrat (Bayou Sara, LA), January 30, 1897, 7.
 Memoirs of Georgia, Vol. I (Atlanta: The Southern Historical Association, 1895), 211-217.
 A. Oakley Hall, “Cities of the Dead,” in Louisiana Sojourns: Travelers Tales and Literary Journeys, Frank de Caro, editor. (Baton Rouge: LSU Press, 1998), 532-533; Arthur Wellington Brayley, History of the Granite Industry of New England, Volume I (Boston: National Association of Granite Industries of the United States, 1913), 114.
 Ibid., 84.
 Special thanks to Jonathan Kewley of Durham University, UK, for his knowledge and expertise in identifying the Hagan tomb as Scottish granite.
 Soards’ New Orleans City Directory for 1895, Vol. XXII (New Orleans: L. Soards, Publisher, 1895), 1095.
 “Notes from the Quarries,” Stone: an Illustrated Magazine Vol. 4 (1892): 496.