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Grindstones of Edgemont

Grindstones at an old quarry site outside Edgemont
Michael Zimny
Grindstones at an old quarry site outside Edgemont.
Trails, Trains & Pioneers Museum
The Edgemont Block Building
The Omaha Evening Bee (June 12, 1895)
Article from the Omaha Evening Bee highlighting Edgemont Grindstones.
A grindstone embedded in an Edgemont community garden

If you're driving down Highway 18 toward Hot Springs, just outside Edgemont, you might catch a glimpse of what looks like large tractor wheel from the Flintstones era. In fact, it's a grindstone, one of many harvested from a quarry here. Some topographical maps still label the area Stone Quarry Canyon.  

According to Red Canyon Echoes, a local history by Caroline Albright Curl, the stone quarry was developed by the Edgemont Land Company in the 1890's, and utilized sandstone for building material as well as grindstones. "A small factory was erected on site; a spur onto the railroad was put in, and a stone hotel was built to accommodate the men who worked at the quarry. Work began, and by 1894 there were building blocks being shipped into Edgemont; to Newcastle, Wyoming; and to Nebraska."

In Edgemont, several buildings were constructed with this stone, including the two-story Edgemont Block building, the architectural center of downtown Edgemont until it was demolished. Stone was reportedly shipped to Sheridan, Wyoming, and used in the construction of a courthouse and opera house.

When the grindstone concern was in operation, discs were placed around town to demonstrate the wares, an Edgemont tradition that continues to this day. Gilbert Taylor wrote in Glimpses Into Edgemont's Past, that "two were placed in front of the new Edgemont Block and another was placed on Fremont Street, near the Burlington Hotel."

Edgemont grindstones were heralded early on. In 1895, the Omaha Bee raved: "Since the Edgemont grindstone has been put upon the market, and by practical tests has shown its superiority over the far-famed Bavarian stone, the Edgemont quarries have been taxed to their utmost to fill the constantly multiplying orders for the output of the Edgemont quarries." (Imagine a modern news item this excited about anything produced by ordinary laborers).  

Some expected the Edgemont grindstone industry would soon employ thousands of workers, each pressing calloused noses to their disc-shaped labors of love, but that would not come to pass.

Around the turn of the century, the Cleveland Stone Company bought the quarry and soon after shut down operations, allegedly to to squash competition with their other stone works.

Edgemont's grindstone era was short-lived, though remnants linger. The decorative grindstone tradition that dates back at least to the completion of the Edgemont Block continues. Grindstones adorn city sidewalks. Residents use them for pavers. Nobody has a count on how many there are around town.

There's an archaeological site outside of Edgemont where ancient people quarried quartzite for tools. Today there are uranium mines. To (poorly) paraphrase Tina Turner, the big grindstone keeps on turning. Maybe Edgemont's grindstone zenith is somewhere on the sagebrush horizon.