Carved in Stone | Bethesda Magazine

Carved in Stone

How a Bethesda farm woman overcame family hardships to build a thriving quarry business

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Photo illustration by Alice Kresse; Images courtesy of Montgomery Historyn

In 1921, Lilly Moore Stone’s husband, Frank, passed away from a debilitating stroke. Soon after, two barns on the Stones’ Bethesda farm burned to the ground, destroying the year’s harvest. “I was desperate,” Stone recalled in a typed reminiscence kept by the Montgomery County Historical Society. “My friends said, ‘Sell the farm and come to the city.’ But I was born on the farm and attached to the country.”

Stone pondered a dismal future until a stranger rode up on her front lawn. “Mrs. Stone, you have fine stone on your place,” Stone recalled him saying. “If you will have it quarried and delivered, I will buy it.”

The stone outcroppings on the family farm—straddling River Road about a half-mile north of Seven Locks Road—had been quarried for the first time in the 1830s by Stone’s grandfather, Capt. John Moore, a veteran of the War of 1812, who used slave labor to dig stone largely on contracts from the C&O Canal Co. Quarry operations stopped after the Civil War, and stone was quarried only intermittently after that.

“It seemed a stupendous undertaking for me” to reopen the old family quarry, Stone recalled. Still, she hired some men, bought a secondhand truck and threw herself into the job. She was 63, but age didn’t prevent her from riding the truck and getting into the pit with the men. She named the quarry “Stoneyhurst” after her 18th-century stone home standing along Seven Locks Road.

Stone successfully delivered her first load in 1924, and the quarry took off. As The Sun, a New York City newspaper, reported in 1929, “It is an inspiring scene to observe Mrs. Stone as she busies herself with the detail of mining an average of eighty tons of rock a day, requiring the services of thirty employees and the operation of a fleet of six or seven trucks.” Stone didn’t wield a pick herself, but she was intimately familiar with how to deliver a building stone noted for its strength and beauty. “She typified the modern woman in business—in a novel role at that—probably the only woman quarrier,” The Sun reported.

Quarrying was grueling work. Wedges were pounded by hand into seams in the rock, then large sections of stone were peeled from the quarry walls. Whole sides of a cliff could be removed in two or three huge slabs. The tumbled stone was then broken down by sledge hammer and sorted, ready for shaping by a mason.

The stone’s distinctive variegated colors—blue, green, yellow, brown—soon became a common sight around Washington, D.C. Stoneyhurst stone can be found in houses, churches, the old Bethesda post office building, the original Bank of Bethesda building, stone walls along the George Washington Memorial Parkway, bridges on P and K streets and Massachusetts Avenue, the Washington National Cathedral, the elephant house and flight cage at the National Zoo, and St. Albans School in Washington, D.C.

Stone was also civic-minded, heading county boards and commissions. She was instrumental in having a flag officially adopted for the county and founded the historical society in 1944. She died in 1960 at age 99. The business continued into the 1980s, when the property was sold. Luxury condos now sit on the old Stoneyhurst site. The quarry may be gone, but Stone left an indelible mark on the building of Bethesda.

 

Author and historian Mark Walston (markwalston@comcast.net) was raised in Bethesda and lives in Olney.

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