The information on this and subpages has has been aggregated for further research into the quarries located within Columbia County and related activities. Most images were taken in St. Helens, Oregon

Newspaper references

All from the Columbia Register 1904:

The Sister's quarry below St. Helens is being run full blast. The ruble is shipped  by barges to Portland and other points for street improvement. Jack McKie has a large contract for Belgian blocks. There is no finer rock in the world than that taken from the St. Helens quarries for street pavements.

Jack McKie has finished his Fort Stevens contract and is now filling a contract of 450 tons of rock for the Vancouver barracks, which will be shipped from the Sister's quarry by barge. He has also a contract for 150,000 Belgian blocks for the City and Suburban railway of Portland.

The Rock Crusher started up again Wednesday morning.

8/26/1904  The Columbia Register

Jack MacKie has a gang of men opening up a quarry on the Lamont place a short distance above the Sister's quarry.  The St. Helens quarries are furnishing a large amount of macadam for Portland.

12/23/1904  The Columbia Register

The rock chute at the Sisters quarry below town is being cut down to a lighter grade. It will be several days yet before barges can be loaded there.  Dock Cade is “fixing up” his scow during the lull in the work at the quarry. We learn it will be Mr and Mrs. occupying the rooms before long.

1/6/1905  The Columbia Register

Business at the Sisters quarry has been renewed.  A scow has just been loaded.  The chute is completed except the bottom, which will be made of rail road rails.

St. Helens Mist April 23, 1915

St. Helens, the home of the Belgian paving block, should forthwith' present its claim in a forcible manner to the authorities having in charge the work of paving the seventy miles of highway in Multnomah county as a prospective, meritorious and deserving candidate as the supply source for a great deal of the material to be consumed in that enormous volume of public work. This claim would not have to be based upon any sentimental assumption, but upon the fact of genuine merit, backed by dollar for dollar value. There is no patent paving material that is in any manner whatever a competitor of the Belgian block in point of durability. A pavement laid with the idea of carrying heavy traffic, certainly should be laid with no other material. This, of course, is the foremost reason for presenting the cause of the Belgian block to the consideration of the prospective customer. However, its claims for favor are many. In the first place, the Belgian block is strictly a home product. In this respect, also, it has no competitor. And, further, too, being a strictly home product, all the expenditures in its employment as a paving material would immediately flow back into the channels of home commercialism. Furthermore, Belgian blocks is the only paving material which has no cost for the raw material. Nature's lavish hand in placing this superior basaltic formation at our disposal has made it possible to utilize it at a comparatively low cost. A Belgian block pavement is the only one that can be guaranteed to stand up under heavy traffic. It makes no difference what other class of paving material is used or by whom it is placed, the consumer can not expect to have a guarantee of its durability. No contractor will guarantee patent paving material at all. With the Belgian block no guarantee would be necessary. Its durability has for many years been an undisputed fact. The portion of the highway from the oil tanks, in the vicinity of Linnton, to Portland, is, no doubt, carrying the heaviest traffic of any section of road in the state. Approximately 100 ten-ton auto trucks make the trip daily from the tanks to the city. No patent paving can long withstand such a severe test. The distance from the oil tanks to the city is approximately two miles. It is proposed to surface that section of the highway to a width of eighteen feet. For that work It would require approximately 900,000 regulation size Belgian blocks, and even though the first cost of the improvement by the use of stone blocks were greater, the ultimate cost would be nominal. as future cost of repair would be entirely eliminated. Portland has sent into the coffers of foreign institutions during the last decade hundreds of thousands of dollars for paving material. Vitrified or Seattle brick has been extensively used for paving the streets of the Oregon metropolis. Tho money so expended built up foreign institutions at the cost of the home product. The test of time has demonstrated he fallacy of such business methods. The use of the wooden block, another strictly local product, and excelled tor standing up under heavy traffic only by the Belgian block, has been Industriously avoided, greatly to the discredit of the authorities and to the financial loss of the community at large. The merit of the Belgian block should be presented to the Multnomah county authorities in the most convincing manner possible by business interests of this community. Certainly, it does seem that out of the great volume of material to be consumed in paving the 70 miles of Multnomah county roads, such a meritorious local material as Belgian blocks should be given the consideration which is due it.

ST. HELENS MIST  Vol. 35 5t. Helens Oregon, Friday, August 4th 1916 





The most horrible accident recorded in the annals of Columbia county occurred Monday forenoon at about 11:30 at the county quarry on the Fred Adams place, on Tide Creek, eight miles north of this place on the Columbia Highway, when six men lost their lives in a flash.

The scene of the accident is horrifying beyond description, as portions of human bodies were scattered over an area of nearly two acres. Pieces of human flesh were hanging on trees and parts of bodies were blown nearly a quarter of a mile distant. Out of the mass of human wreckage only two bodies could be recognized, that of Leroy Lewis and Joseph Keelan. 

The road workers had finished drilling a "coyote hole,” a "T" shaped tunnel into the solid rock, and were storing and tamping black powder and dynamite when the death dealing blast occurred. 

“Coyotìng” a hillside is done to save time and labor and has been followed in the road work. Instead of blasting away the obstruction bit by bit, a tunnel is driven into the hillside and a huge quantity of explosives rammed into place. The result usually clears away the hillside.

Such force accompanied the fatal explosion that the countryside was shaken. Persons living and working nearby came rushing to the smoking tunnel and in the flush of excitement were unable to take coherent action. Mr. Akin was the one to notify the coroner, who gathered the severed atoms of flesh and bone to return them to this city. 

LW. Akin, superintendent of the quarry, and the only survivor, was at the mouth of the tunnel in which seven cans of black powder had been loaded. A few minutes before the accident, F.H. Lewis, who was in the tunnel with the other men, asked him if he would take the cover off a can of powder. Just as he bent over the can to do so, the explosion took place. An avalanche of rock passed over him, thumping him on the head with small fragments of rock, but aside from being badly shaken he escaped with slight injuries. 

He saw the great volume of dirt and rock pouring out of the tunnel. When the dust cleared a little, he went to the tunnel. Lewis had been near the edge of the opening and Keelan was directly at the mouth when he saw them before the explosion, but they were nowhere to be seen except bits of flesh and scraps of clothing. Mr. Akin’s coat was only a short distance from him and it was torn into shreds. 

The real cause of the accident will remain a mystery.  Mr. Akin is of the opinion that it was caused by a flashlight coming in contact with the explosives, thus making a connection. He is quite sure that none of the men were smoking, as smoking was strictly forbidden by Mr. Lewis. Mr. Lewis was a powder man of many years' experience and took every precaution to guard against accident.

Just before the explosion occurred young Lewis came out for the explosives, while the crew remained in the hole helping to set the charges. This accounts for the fact that his body was not mangled, as he was nearest the opening. His body was blown a distance of perhaps a quarter of a mile and his head in the opposite direction, landing at the edge of the creek. Keelan’s body was torn in two and found almost a quarter of a mile from the mouth of the tunnel. The other bodies could not be found except in small pieces. 

Henry Lewis leaves a wife and four children. 

C.E. Winchell also leaves a wife and four children. He had just commenced working  the tunnel that morning.  He had commenced work on the tunnel less than a hour before the explosion occurred. 

George Hammar was married a little over a year ago and is survived by his wife and a baby a few weeks old. 

Herman Voss lived in Warren with his parents. 

Joseph Keelan was a son of Mrs. Thomas Keelan of Portland, and his body was shipped to that city for interment.

Frank H. Lewis and son, Leroy Lewis, and Charles Winchell were interred at Warren Thursday, Rev. J.S. Wood, formerly Pastor of the Free Methodist Church at Houlton, officiating. 

Herman Voss and George Hammar were interred at Deer Island Thursday afternoon.

From http://columbiariverimages.com/Regions/Places/basalt_cobblestone_quarries.html

1904, St. Helens, Oregon, Quarries and Belgian Blocks ...

Two quarries in the Oregon community of St. Helens were also the source for Belgian blocks. In 1904 a contract was given for 640,000 blocks to be used on Portland streets. One quarry was located on Milton Creek, and the other below town. It was known as the Sisters' quarry.


1964 Sentinel Mist Diamond Anniversary Edition

Map of  former St. Helens Quarry Company holdings in 1928

Excerpt from http://columbiariverimages.com/Regions/Places/basalt_cobblestone_quarries.html

Although they represented a significant industry in Ridgefield, very little is recorded about the quarries from which the cobblestones were obtained. The James Carty family owned the land and John (Jack) McKie operated the quarries, apparently leasing the sites from the Cartys. McKie worked under contract to the Portland Contracting Company and employed many Ridgefield residents. ...

Work book pages in the possession of the McKie family indicate that the quarries were still in operation in April 1903, and the oral family history states that the contract expired in 1909 (10).

Although the local significance of the quarries was short-lived, they played a significant role in the economic and cultural growth of Nineteenth Century Portland and Ridgefield. Since Portland was not the only American city searching for a satisfactory paving material for its streets during the Nineteenth Century, on a national level the quarries represent an important technological experiment in the evolution of American cities."

(1) H.W. Scott, History of Portland, Oregon, (Syracuse, N.Y. 1890), p.206.

(2) The Sunday Oregonian, 19 May 1974.

(3) Oregon Journal, 15 July 1974.

(4) Scott, p.206.

(5) The Sunday Oregonian, 19 May 1974.

(6) Doug Bridges, memorandum to Bob Gustafson, (City of Portland, Oregon: Bureau to Planning), 15 June 1977.

(10) Mrs. Allan McKie, letter to James E. Carty, 28 May 1975.  

Excerpt from National Registry of Historic places Nomination Form

The Basalt Cobblestone Quarries represent a significant, ''technological period in the development of Portland, Oregon and other American cities, and at the turn of .the century, industry in Ridgefield, Washington.

As Portland grew from a frontier village into an urban and commercial center in the second half of the Nineteenth Century, some sort of street improvements quickly became imperative. The rainy winter climate of Portland turned dirt streets into impassable muddy quagmires, while in summer the streets dried out into dust bowls.  Several different materials, including wooden planks and macadam, were used in the search for a satisfactory paving material that could withstand the extremes of Portland's climate. Beginning about 1880, basalt blocks were quarried near Ridgefield and barged upriver to Portland for use as paving material. The basalt was chipped into brick-shaped pieces of a standard size, called Belgian block, and laid on the streets. Sewer blocks were also cut from the quarries.

By 1885, three miles of Portland's streets were paved with Belgian block"1" and eventually the paving may have covered as much ,as 30. miles of streets before its use was discontinued. It was used in both east and west Portland. The stone was hard, and when it was evenly laid it made a firm - and noisy - street. Constant use created problems, however, because the corners of the blocks wore down. They then formed a cobblestone surface that was slippery when wet and water froze in the joints during cold weather. Horses pulling heavy loads could not get traction on the slick surface. The uniform ground on which the blocks were laid caused the paving to warp, and the constant lifting of the blocks for sewer and water line repairs (Portland doesn't have alleyways for utilities) and the installation of street car tracks also contributed toward an uneven surface. The Belgian block paving eventually proved as unsatisfactory as the other paving materials in use at the time.

Out of the Past

Copy of Perry columns121.pdf

Transcription of Roy Perry Column from August 8, 1968

Quarrying Description by Roy Perry

Geology of the St. Helens Quadrangle

Geology of St Helens Quandrangle 1946.pdf