Iowa is richly endowed with a variety of rock resources suitable for building construction, and their utility is particularly well displayed in the early architectural heritage of our state. Although building stone is still actively quarried at a few places in Iowa, notably the quarries at Stone City, quarrying of building stone was more widespread during the 1800s and early 1900s, before the advent of cement block and poured concrete construction. Wherever rock resources were conveniently located near growing communities and farms, quarry workers labored to extract blocks of rock for building purposes, especially for foundation construction. Blocks were often “dimensioned” into desired sizes by the use of hammer and chisel, leaving marks that often are still visible on historic stone buildings across Iowa. Some quarry operations used rock saws and other mechanical devices to make precision block cuts or create stone lintels, trusses, or decorative pieces. Masons used these stone materials to construct houses, churches, stores, public buildings, and other structures. In the recent past, many quarries in Iowa served as Geologic Sources Historic Stone Architecture.
A diversity of rock types have been used in Iowa for stone construction. Limestone and dolomite have been extensively quarried for building stone. Although most sandstones are not very durable, some that are cemented by iron minerals provide a lasting and attractive building stone, as seen in the Amana colonies. Additional materials are locally important, including field stones derived from glacial drift. Even quartzite, coal, and geodes have been used.
The Iowa Geological Survey has played an important historic role in locating and describing the varieties of stone available for building and other uses in Iowa. Currently most quarries in Iowa produce crushed stone for making concrete, roadstone, agricultural lime, construction fill, and ballast.