Limestone College has a feature on its campus unique to any other school in the state, if not the country — a former quarry which dates back to before the American Revolution.
The site, also known as Nesbitt’s Quarry, is now a 30-acre lake that takes up about 20 percent of the small private campus in Gaffney. But it was once of the most important mines in South Carolina at one point, even contributing the state’s official stone when the Washington Monument was built in the nation’s capitol.
“Folks look at the (quarry) and think, ‘oh it’s just a lake on the edge on the edge of campus,'” Limestone President Walt Griffin told South Carolina Radio Network. “It really was important back to the period of the American Revolution.”
That history was recognized Thursday with the dedication of a new state historical marker. The plaque on the edge of the lake was funded largely with the help of Limestone alum Virginia Skinner. The 86-year-old senior member on the school’s board of trustees has been an instrumental part of chronicling the history of the 169-year-old institution. She received an honorary doctorate from the school during Thursday’s dedication.
According to the South Carolina Department of Archives and History, Limestone Quarry is the most extensive and best preserved quarry of its kind in the northwestern Piedmont of South Carolina. It’s also the only remaining limestone quarry in South Carolina that has its outline intact.
Deposits from the quarry were used in the production of iron during the American Revolution and throughout the 19th century. By the 1820s, the open pit was a quarry owned by U.S. Congressman Wilson Nesbitt. Eventually, the fledgling Limestone Female High School was founded nearby in 1845. It later became all-female Cooper-Limestone Institute and finally Limestone College in 1898.
The school eventually acquired the quarry, before selling it to pay off debts in 1883. The site continued operating until World War I, when it was closed and filled with water. In 1933, the water was pumped out again and the mine reopened. The quarry operated on its second life for another 20 years until its limestone deposits were eventually exhausted. The quarry was listed in the National Register of Historic Places in 1986.
Griffin said stone from the site was transported to the District of Columbia before the Civil War to represent South Carolina on the new Washington Monument. “In 1848, the request went out from the federal government for each state of the Union to submit a native stone to incorporate in the design of the Washington Monument,” he said. “The president of Limestone College at the time Dr. Thomas Curtis answered the call pretty quickly.” He said the stone was transported to Columbia, where then-Gov. Whitemarsh Seabrook reported it was cut down into a four feet by two feet block and adorned with the state arms and sent to Washington.
The present-day water is considered off-limits to swimmers. Griffin said the lake (which he said is more than 300 feet deep in some places) has strong currents and jagged rocks along its edges.