Once a thriving company town, Phenix Quarry is no more
By BRENDA ELLSWORTH
For Ozarks Living
Most stories about Phenix Quarry in northwest Greene County focus only on the disappearance of the company town by the 1940’s. One author stated of Phenix, “ What remains for future generations is but a history….a HISTORY OF A GHOST TOWN.”
The company town disappeared after Phenix quarry operations ceased, but Phenix Quarry’s 50 years of contributions to the construction of America. Today, the operation is a modest one, but still fascinating.
Both stories of the town and quarry began when a substantial limestone deposit was unearthed at Phenix in 1885 during the construction of the Kansas City, Clinton, and Springfield Railroad.
Known to many as the “Leaky Roof” rail line between Ash Grove and Olathe, Kan., the quarry opened around 1888 to produce lime. Soon, the quality and hardness of the stone convinced the Phenix Stone and Lime Co. to furnish building stone along with lime.
The company name changed to Phenix Marble Co. and began selling highly polished “Napoleon Gray” marble. The polish was a plus, and growth was phenomenal.
A January 1914 article in Mine and Quarry Magazine reported, “The Phenix Marble Company operates quarries at Phenix, Missouri, mills at Phenix and Kansas City, and stone yards at Phenix, Kansas City, and St. Louis….The company has regular customers in Boston, New York, Baltimore, Louisville, Philadelphia, Cincinnati, Milwaukee, Chicago, St. Louis and other western points as well as in Canada.”
Good economic times of the 1920’s kept the quarry operating 24 hours a day. Five new “ledges” were unearthed, and major upgrades helped meet demand.
In 1926, Mastin Simpson, owner and general manager of Phenix Marble Company and Mr. Kiel, owner of Tompkins-Kiel Marble Distributors built a community building as a gift to the workers and families.
Kiel told the workers he would be willing to build a ‘Kiel Hall’ in every quarry they represented if they provided the service, production, etc. that Phenix Marble Company had given.
Without the records of the Phenix Marble Co., it is impossible to know exactly how many buildings there were. Peggy Perazzo, author of “Quarries and Beyond,” has done extensive research on print articles and ads of Phenix Quarry, documenting a dozen buildings in New York City alone, while Simpson claimed there were 80. Perazzo documented 65 buildings in 35 cities in 21 states using Napoleon Gray or Phenix stone, all prominent in the cities where they were built. In Springfield, First & Calvary Presbyterian Church used Phenix marble.
There major company and bank headquarters, courthouses (including Greene and Lawrence counties in the Ozarks), and notably, the state capitol buildings in Missouri and Oregon, used Phenix stone, plus post offices, city halls, churches, hospitals, schools, museums and art galleries. In the state capitol at Jefferson City, the state stairs, columns and sidewalls, the Rotunda columns, sidewalls, bridge, cornices, arches, and the beautifully carved pieces) and other areas on this floor.
Originally, Carthage marble was used for the statehouse exterior, but as pieces on the landing became worn, they were replaced with Napoleon Gray fashioned by Freddie Flores, stone cutter at Phenix Quarry. Flores has produced replacement stone for the state capitol, Jordan Valley Park, Founder’s Park, Nathaniel Greene Park, Ozark Mountain Greenways, and several Springfield restaurants, offices, and businesses. Many homes have marble countertops, fireplace surrounds, and other interior and exterior pieces from Phenix.
Ash Grove just erected a Welcome sign and way-finding sign using stone from Phenix, in honor of the quarry’s role in the City’s heritage.
Although normally closed to visitors, for at least one day this fall, public tours of Phenix Quarry during Ash Grove’s Back Roads to Main Street Heritage Festival by riding the Back Roads free shuttle. Shuttles on Main Street will leave at 9:30 a.m., 11:30 a.m. and 2 p.m. for a driving tour. KY3’s Mike Landis will be the tour guide. More information and photos of Phenix will be available on the tour.