Minnesota history researchers visit local marble industry
See a video from Researcher Randy Croce of the “Who Built the Minnesota Capitol Building” project filming at Bethesda Cemetery in Nelson.
It was an overcast afternoon at Bethesda Cemetery during the last week in October as researcher Randy Croce perched his video camera in front of the marble headstone of Felix Arthur, the first man who was killed in 1898 while working on the Minnesota Capitol building.
Arthur was one of six men who died on the 11-year project after he was caught in a conveyer belt. The others, who were then unprotected by workers’ safety regulations, fell from high places.
Arthur became a key figure for Croce and his partner David Riehle, two members of the “Who Built the Minnesota Capitol Building” research team, not only because of the role he played in constructing the St. Paul historical site where the researchers live and work, but because the marble used on the 100-plus year old structure was mined in the place Arthur called home - Pickens County, Ga.
“We have spent the last several years researching the people who were involved in the construction of the monument,” Croce said, who, along with the research team, were led to Pickens County where marble was mined and transported to St. Paul for use on the exterior of the state capitol over 100 years ago. “There are over 120,000 visits to the capitol every year, 60,000 of which are students, but on those tours there is nothing included about the actual building itself and the people who worked on the building, from those who worked in the quarries to those who laid the stone. We want to tell the untold stories.”
Croce and Riehle spent a few days in Pickens, trailing these stories, traveling from the marble mines and quarries to individuals’ homes who were either local historians or decedents or people who worked on the capitol project, through Nelson and Ball Ground and Jasper points of interest.
The research team will take interviews and video from their trip and create three versions of the documentary, one for students to use in class, one for tours of the capitol and one full-length documentary.
Like the local man Felix Arthur, other marble workers who lived here were transported to St. Paul to work on the capitol during construction. According to local resident Sue Cochran, who guided the men through Nelson, many Pickens men during that time period were taught marble craftsmanship from Italian immigrants familiar with the trade.
“There were a lot of Italians who came to Pickens during that time who knew how to polish and sculpt marble,” she said. “They came here and taught the locals how to do it. All people here knew was farming.”
Riehle and Croce say their trip here was very productive and pleasant, and that highlight was finding and being taken to the defunct quarry, Amicalola Quarry #1, where the Minnesota capitol’s marble was mined so many years ago.
“We have spoken to some very knowledgeable people here,” Riehle said. “This has been an incredible experience. It’s funny, I feel kind of like this is the Land of Oz. Everything is made of marble, even some of the sidewalks. You see marble in places you wouldn’t expect to.”
Visit www.pickensprogress.com for a video of Croce talking about documenting marble mined from Georgia.