Spirit of Rowan 2022: Rowan County’s history is set in stone

Published 12:00 am Sunday, March 27, 2022

When German immigrant Michael Braun was in need of building material to construct his home in eastern Rowan County, he didn’t have to go very far.

Thanks to ancient geological processes that occurred millions of years ago, Rowan County has a rich cache of stone, particularly granite. Braun tapped into that supply when he used granite quarried from about a mile away to build his Old Stone House in the 1760s. The home is the oldest in Rowan County and among the longest standing in the Piedmont region.

Braun wouldn’t be the last to tap into the county’s stone stockpile.

Quarrying was happening in Rowan County before the Civil War and continued in the early 1900s when the area’s unique, rose-colored granite, dubbed “Salisbury Pink” or “Balfour Pink,” became a sought-after material for memorials and paving stones. Granite mined by the Harris Granite Quarries Company was used to build roads in cities like New York and New Orleans.

Granite quarried in Rowan was also used in construction of the Whitney Dam, which started around the turn of the century on the Yadkin River. The ambitious effort brought skilled stone cutters from England, Italy and other European countries to quarries in Rowan, but ultimately went bankrupt before it was finished.

The town of Granite Quarry has long been the epicenter of rock extraction in Rowan County.

“By far the most concentration of quarries, be it abandoned or currently active, are around Granite Quarry itself,” said Norman Ribelin, a land surveyor in Rowan County.

Some quarries around the town have been repurposed while others have been abandoned or filled in with groundwater over time. Polycor sells Salisbury Pink from its quarry near Dunn’s Mountain.

Granite Quarry isn’t the only place in Rowan County where rock has been unearthed. Even in western Rowan County, known for its fertile farmland, quarrying occurred in some capacity. Rose LaCasse, a Mount Ulla historian, has seen evidence of small-scale granite quarrying near Bear Poplar.

Quarrying is still a major part of Rowan’s economy today.

At its Gold Hill quarry, Vulcan Materials extracts a metamorphic rock that’s crushed and used primarily in construction activities. About half of Vulcan’s rocks go right next door to Stalite’s plant, where it is heated to make a lightweight aggregate. The Gold Hill quarry, about 150 acres of which are currently being quarried, provides over $18 million in economic impact annually.

“You can’t build without a rock, so when you have a resource nearby that can provide the rock you need, it’s a big advantage,” said Denise Hallett, manager of government and community relations for Vulcan Materials.

At its 450-foot-deep Woodleaf quarry, Martin Marietta produces stone aggregates used to construct roads and homes. The company also operates a quarry near Kannapolis.

The rocks quarried in Rowan have become critical in the development of North Carolina’s infrastructure.

About Ben Stansell

Ben Stansell covers business, county government and more for the Salisbury Post. He joined the staff in August 2020 after graduating from the University of Alabama. Email him at ben.stansell@salisburypost.com.

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