Rock of Ages 4: Limestone & Marble

Limestone, which was fairly easy to carve and extremely popular during the 1700s, was also referred to as “Tennessee Marble.”28 At the height of its popularity, it was used in tomb structures, but most of the limestone inscriptions carved during the 1700s and 1800s are no longer legible.[29]

Marble, which is re-crystallized limestone, replaced limestone by the 1830s. Marble graves quickly gained popularity because of their beauty instead of utility. Slabs of “Vermont Blue” and “Italian White” became the two most-demanded colours from marble importers. Artisans found these slabs easier and softer than sandstone to apply and showcase their craft; however, they continued to use sandstone to make monument bases through the 19th century.[30]

Memorials with round or pointed with cursive inscriptions were the soft (and usually white) marbles with dates between 1845 and 1868; but if the stone was flat-topped, it was the harder dolomitic-type marble with dates from 1830 to 1849.[31]

Marble still is an important choice as cemetery monument material and comes in a wide range of quality. Some marbles are proving to be quite permanent, while some others are not, as acid rain has caused severe damage to the poorer grades of marble.

Regrettably, it was discovered that both marble and limestone slowly dissolve when exposed long-term to the weather. The surfaces change into a fine white gypsum dust, which is called “sugaring,” but when combined with other elements it creates a black crust that blisters and crumbles away the stones’ surfaces.[32]

Marble gravestones remained popular through the 19th and early 20th centuries, but were slowly replaced by granite, because of its better long-term durability.[33] Many of the sculptures atop monuments are still carved in marble.

[29] Farber, Jessie Lie. Early American Gravestones: Introduction to the Farber Gravestone Collection. American Antiquarian Society
[30] ibid.
[31] MIGenWeb (Michigan Genealogy) [Internet]
[32] King, Greg G. Michigan Historic Cemeteries Preservation Guide. 2004: McNaughton & Gunn Inc, Michigan
[33] Veit, Richard F and Nonestied, Mark. New Jersey Cemeteries and Tombstones: History in the Landscape. 2008, Rutgers University Press

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