Thursday, October 13, 2011

Sioux Quartzite

Debra Holland, Author
 By Debra Holland
Copyright © 2011 Debra Holland

When pioneers settled the West, they made homes and other buildings of whatever materials were available, wood, sod, or adobe brick. Yet when the time came for people to build their civic buildings, monuments, or mansions, the builders often used stone or brick. When building these monuments, the owners and architects often wanted the most beautiful and durable stone. One hundred plus years later, many of these buildings are still standing, a historical tribute to the people who designed, built, and used them.

The decorative stone used in many important early buildings in South Dakota, Minnesota, and Iowa was Sioux quartzite, a pinky brown stone that lent a rugged elegance to the facades. Quartzite is sandstone that has been subjected to heat and pressure, and has been cemented with siica. Sioux quartzite is almost 100% quartz, so it resists erosion.

This house, built in 1890, had the
quartzite facade  on the outside of the
first story and wood on the second.
Recently, I flew to Sioux Falls, South Dakota, for a wedding, but managed to slip in time for research. I loved the quartzite stone on the old buildings (and some modern ones) and even brought a handful of stones back with me.

In one of the museums, I asked if the veins of quartzite extended into Western Montana because I wanted to use it in my fictional town of Sweetwater Springs. To my disappointment, I learned that it didn’t. However, I realized that the hero of the book I’m currently writing could have seen the quartzite on his travels through the West, and imported it when he built a newspaper office.

Sioux quartzite also lends beauty to the countryside. In Falls Park, in Sioux Falls, thousands of years of the Big Sioux River flowing over the stone have carved amazing channels through the rock. Unlike most vertical waterfalls, these falls are more like a liquid escalator, swirling around the pillars and basins cut by the water.

While the water flows swiftly, the river is broad and shallow, allowing for wading and swimming in the various pools. In spite of the park setting, it’s easy to imagine the Native Americans living by the water, and, in the 1900s, how important the river must have been to the early settlers.

Road paved with
Sioux quartzite
Aside from the practicality of living by the river, the beauty of the surroundings must have gladdened the hearts of all who saw it, whether they were passing through, or making their homes there. I’m glad I had a chance to experience it.

Thanks, Debra!

Check out the Montana Sky series from Debra Holland!  Learn how Starry Montana Sky came into being in RTW's Debra Holland: Starry Montana Sky.

Buy links: Amazon Smashwords Barnes & Noble


  1. Debra, when my husband and I went to Souix Falls several years ago, someone or some business had dumped soap into the river and below the falls was filled with dirty suds. We were disappointed, but I'm happy to see it's back to looking lovely again. I loved both your books and look forward to the third. Write fast!

  2. I probably passed houses made of Souix quartzite and never even knew it. What an interesting blog, Debra.
    Your Starry Montana Sky novel looks beautiful.
    I wish you every success with your series.

  3. Too bad you didn't see the falls in their beauty, Caroline. Thanks for the compliment about my books.

    Sarah, I never thought much of stone buildings before, either.

  4. As a metamorphic rock, quartzite doesn't occur in 'veins' per se. This seems like a minor notion, but in actuality it can mean everything in your search to find quartzite in your local area. At the beginning of the process that evolved the material into quartzite, it did occur as quartz in veins or slabs of igneous rock or mixed up as an element in granite. This 'primal' magmatic rock was uplifted into elevations and subsequently worn down through mostly water erosion. The quartz became sand on ancient rivers and oceanic beacher. Later, the sand was covered by other layers of sediments (including shale, clay, loess, and so on. The top layers became so heavy they compressed the sand into sandstone like you see at Sedona and in the Grand Canyon (though not necessarily red colored). Then, after eons of even more compression the sandstone coalesced into the dense matter known as quartzite. Point is, it's distribution isn't governed by magmatic extrusion, but rather as an erosion sediment. It should be easy to find out if some might be available in any quantity in your area. Start by checking with your local rock hound club. Landscapers also might know.

  5. I come from a family of rock hounds, so this post and the comments are fascinating. Thanks to Debra, Caroline, Sarah, and John! John, your explanation cleared up some questions I had.

  6. John, that's for adding your information to the discussion. Definitely interesting.

  7. That's why I love what I do. Thank You for sharing regarding the historical tribute to the people who designed, built, using decorative stone. Jaime,


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