Marblehead Limestone for the Soo Lock – Summer 1976

The Great Lakes… 84% of the continent’s fresh water… a different story in every drop.

By Merlin D. Wolcott

Portrait of Alexander Clemons. Image from

Alexander Clemons, who operated the first limestone quary at Marblehead, Ohio, made a will dated September 6, 1870, in which he provided for legacies and the sale of his property after his death, which occurred on March 12, 1886. His personal possessions were scattered among eleven of the thirteen children by his first wife.

Hubbard Mortimer Clemons, who was Alexander’s twelfth child, came into possession of the original contract for the shipment of Marblehead limestone for the Soo Lock. This document was passed on to Hubbard’s daughter, Clara Pearl (Clemons) Hartshorn. After her death October 23, 1964, the contract went to her daughter, Ruth (Hartshorn) Preble, a second cousin, once removed, then to this contributor.

I visited Mrs. Preble occasionally when she lived in Ohio, and after her retirement in Florida we corresponded. Just before she became seriously ill, she sent me the original contract and other family papers.

Alexander Clemons was born 11 February 1794.1 He migrated to Ohio in 1817, and settled at Sandusky, Ohio. His parents and family joined Alexander in May 1819.” The family operated a cabinet shop.

Alexander opened the first limestone quarry at Kelley’s Island in 1833.3 Two years later he quarried the first limestone at Marblehead, Ottawa County, Ohio, when he purchased one hundred and thirty-three acres of land on the south shore of Lake Erie in Danbury Township.’

During the first year of operation, between May and September, 6,470 feet of stone was shipped from his quarry. Some of the vessels and their masters, engaged in carrying stone from the Clemons quarry, follow:

Grampus, schooner, Captain J. Martin; Telegraph, schooner, Captain Thomas E. McGee; Ann Royall, sloop, Captain J. Cobb;

John Grant, schooner, Captain John Nelson

The Clemons quarry prospered with the passing years, because the Marble- head Peninsula limestone was of excellent quality and it could be transported easily. A description of the Clemons quarries states:

The ‘popular name’ was limestone, but the ‘scientific name’ was bituminous dolomite. The color is indicated as gray; the texture, semicrystalline fossiliferous, with massive stratification, even, medium to thick. The stone is listed as of the Devonian and Corniferous . . . At point Marblehead the limestone quarries are all located in a terrace lying a few rods from the beach, where the thickness of the formation quarried is from 15 to 25 feet.”

The Clemons quarries were among the most famous in northern Ohio, since the heavy stones could be shipped by water. Many of the most important public and private structures in the region of the Great Lakes were built of Marblehead stone.

One of the major contracts was for the shipment of limestone for the construction of the walls of the St. Marys Falls Ship Canal in 1854. The following contract with Alexander Clemons, for the shipment of stone to the Soo, was written by John W. Brooks, who was a legal counselor.7

Schedule of Stone to go in Upper Lock St. Marys’ Falls ship Canal to be got by Alexander Clemons of Marble Head.


Thickness of Course Length of Stretchers No. of Headers Length of Headers Front Batter per foot rise
1 – – 24 250 29 4ft 5 1 in 2 Headers 5ft long
2 – – 20 500 58 4ft 4 1 in 4 Headers 5ft long
3 – – 26 500 58 4ft3 1 in 4 Headers 5ft long
4 – – 26 318 00 00 1 in
1 = 24 37 5 4ft 5 Plumb
2 – – 20 74 10 4ft 4 Plumb
3 – – 26 74 10 4ft 3 Plumb
4 – – 26 50 00 00 Plumb


Those courses having the figure “1” against them in red” are to be got out first, those marked “2” next, those marked “3” next and those marked “4” last. As the contract requires a header once in twelve feet of course; the length of two stretchers added to the width of a header should amount to as near twelve feet as possible. A good length for stretches (sic) would be 4 ft 9 inches with a width of header of 30 inches.

I Alexander Clemons of Marble Head Ottowa (sic) County in the State of Ohio, agree to furnish and deliver on board the vessels at my dock, Marble Head Quarry, all the cut stone embraced in the annexed schedule, for the upper lock of the ship Canal at the Sault Ste Marie in the State of Michigan.

The stone to be of such quality and dimension and to be dressed according to the specifications in the contract for constructing said canal.

The stone shall be of grey lime stone of sound and good quality, to be dressed true and even. The upper and lower beds to be parallel.

At every twelve feet in each course (except the bottom one and the coping) there shall be a header extending two thirds (2/3) the thickness of the walls where the walls do not exceed seven and a half feet thick.

Draft lines shall be run around the surface to be dressed, within these lines they shall be pointed down to a fair and even surface and finished with a brush hammer so as to make good close work of not exceeding three eighths (3/8) of an inch joint, excepting that part of the vertical joint beginning twelve inches from the face of the wall and extending to the rear of the face stone, which -shall not exceed one inch in thickness.

No stone shall have a less bed than height *of a greater bed than thirty inches wide.*

It is agreed that one third (1/3) of the stone in the annexed schedule shall be quarried, dressed and ready to load by the first day of March 1854, one third more by the fifteenth day of April 1854, and the balance by the first day of June 1854; and each stone pro- vided with proper lewis holesfor handling and loading, and when vessels are sent for them they shall be delivered on board said vessels and lowered into the hold or on deck, as the masters of said vessels may desire, at a rate of not less than one hundred and fifty tons per day; and said vessels shall not be detained, but shall in all cases take precedence over other vessels in loading at the dock: and the dock shall at all times be in such a condition that a vessel drawing 9 feet [of] water can be loaded. It is also agreed that upon notice being given with thirty day from the signing of this contract, that an additional quantity of stone of such dimensions and batter as shall be furnished, and not exceeding Ten thousand feet, shall be dressed according to the foregoing specifications, and supplied with the proper lewis holes, and ready for loading, and shall be delivered on board the vessels in the same manner in all respects as the stones embraced in the annexed schedule, by the fifteenth day of July 1854 and at the same prices as the foregoing part of this contract?

I J. W. Brooks, Vice President of the St. Marys Falls ship Canal Co agree in consideration of the faithful performance of the foregoing conditions, to pay the said Alexander Clemons at the

rate of twenty cents per cubic foot for the stones (measured after dressed) and thirty five cents per superficial foot for dressing. Reserving twenty per cent on the amount of stone got out and ready for shipping.

There shall be made monthly estimates and payments.

In witness whereof we have hereunto set our hands and seals

this 17th day of January, A. D. 1854.

W. Brooks

Vice President Alex Clemons

*So much of the above contract as refers to prices of cutting is hereby cancelled and the current prices to be substituted, not to exceed 37½ cts per foot stretchers and 55 cts for the Headers, without the Consent of J. W. Brooks or his agent.

C. Whitwood Agent*

General Orlando M. Poe, engineer in charge of the Poe Lock, in commenting on the first locks built by Charles T. Harvey said,

The canal was a remarkable work for its time and purpose. The construction of the locks especially bore evidence of a master’s hand in their design and execution . . . These locks are now being torn out to make room for a new one, and every step in their destruction reveals the excellence of the workmanship, the honest character of the materials employed, and the faithful compliance with the conditions of under which they were built, not merely in its letter but in its spirit?

  1. Merlin Wolcott, “Alexander Clemons’ Bible Record,” The American Genealogist, (Oct., 1975) v. 51, No. 4, p. 223.
  2. Ephraim Holland Newton, Newton Clemons Family History, MS in possession of
  3. Norman E. Hills, A History of Kelley’s Island, Ohio, (Toledo: The Author, 1925) p. 34. Note: Letter from Maxwell Conklin, Chief, Industry Division, Bureau of the Census, U.S.
  4. of Commerce to the contributor dated 21 June 1961, states the 1880 Census of Mineral Industries “shows 3 limestone quarries under the Clemons name which operated at Point Marblehead in Ottawa County.“. . . “All of these 3 quarries are reported to have been opened in 1830.”
  5. Deed Records, Huron County, Norwalk, Ohio, 10, p. 407.
  6. Ledger Sheet of Alexander Clemons for the year 1835, MS in possession of Miss Eleanor
  7. W. Hawes, “Limestone,” Report of the Geological Survey of Ohio (Columbus: G. J. Brand
  8. & , 1884) v. 5, pp. 635-636.
  9. M. Quaife, “A Salute to the Soo Canal,” Inland Seas, (Spring, 1955) v. 11, No. 1, p. 81.
  10. Joseph and Estelle E. Bayliss in collaboration with Milo M. Quaife, River of Destiny: The Saint Marys (Detroit: Wayne University Press, 1955) p. 106-107.



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About the Author: Mr. Merlin D. Wolcott is Director of the Stark County District Library, and resides in Canton, Ohio. His lifelong interest in family and local history has been his prime incentive for research which has resulted in many articles published in national genealogical, historical and professional library journals. Understandably, he has had a special concern with Danbury Township, Ottawa County, Ohio, where an ancestor, Benajah Wolcott, was the first settler, and became the first keeper at Marblehead Lighthouse.

Among his articles pertaining to the Great Lakes, Mr. Wolcott considers “Marblehead Lighthouse, “ the first detailed account of this famous landmark, one of his most important contributions. Based on extensive research undertaken at the National Archives, Washington, D.C., this article was published in the Winter 1954 issue of Inland Seas.

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