Beautiful “Quarry Gardens” Also in Schyler

The Quarry Gardens at Schuyler are nestled into a 600-acre property owned by Armand and Bernice Thieblot. The featured quarries were actively mined between the 1950s and 1970s.

Opened in the Spring of 2017 as a public garden, the Quarry Gardens features about two miles of walking trail, more than 30 galleries of native plant communities, and a Visitor Center that includes exhibits on native plants, local ecosystems, and the history of the soapstone industry in Schuyler, as well as a classroom. Future goals are to establish a designated plant propagation area as well as sites for plant research.

Soapstone and Schuyler

Soapstone exists in only a few places in the world, among them Alaska, Brazil, Finland—and Central Virginia. For more than half a century, it was the reason and livelihood for the community of Schuyler.

Since the 1890’s, Schuyler has been the soapstone capital of the world, mining and shaping talc-rich steatite into products both useful and beautiful. Schuyler remains the only active soapstone-quarrying area in the U.S.

Soapstone is a metamorphic rock composed mostly of talc and magnesium. It is dense, solid gray, and non-absorbent; resistant to both acids and bases, electrically neutral, and heat-retaining. It has a soapy-feeling surface and is easily carved. Such qualities made it a useful material for laboratory countertops, laundry tubs, film developing tanks, electrical backboards, telephone switchboards, stair treads, and other architectural features.

There were some 90 quarries in the area. Six of those—now appearing as two rock-sided pools of water (each about an acre in area and 30-45 feet deep)—are central to the Quarry Gardens. It is estimated that some 800,000 tons of soapstone were removed from this site, and 600,000 tons of quarried stone discarded here.

Exhibits

A few artifacts of the quarrying process are visible on the quarry walls and along the trails—including mountains of soapstone blocks, now colonized by plants and animals.

Exhibits in the Visitor Center illustrate the history of the soapstone industry in Schuyler, and include an operating model of the 17-mile long Nelson and Albemarle Railroad, which transported stone from quarries to the Southern and the Chesapeake & Ohio lines. The Quarry Gardens Foundation also holds a small library of books about the local soapstone industry.

Visits to the Quarry Gardens are by appointment only. They will be happy to welcome you for a tour on open days—normally Fridays through Sundays—between April and November. There is no admission charge for individual tours (although donations are happily accepted and $10 per person is suggested).

Be Advised

As a natural site, the Quarry Gardens have no paved surfaces. Trails are covered in wood chips. There are places where cliffs drop directly into the quarry pools; there are no fences. They want you to be safe, so each initial visit is guided. The site may not be suitable for children under six.

If you would like to visit, go to
www.QuarryGardensAtSchuyler.com, click on a tour date, and let them know how many are coming, and confirm RSVP

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