Limestone Buildings: Why Are They So Popular in the Texas Hill Country?

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Limestone was such a common material that even the Austin capitol building was originally supposed to be made of limestone, like many other buildings in the Hill Country. In 1888, however, a large enough supply of limestone for the massive building, leading to the decision to opt for granite instead.

How Limestone Got From Quarries to Buildings

Limestone quarry west of Austin in 1880

Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Limestone’s journey from quarries to buildings is interesting, and it explains some of the features you see in limestone buildings. For buildings constructed in the 1800s, power tools did not exist, so they had to get creative with their stone cutting techniques. Luckily, limestone is relatively soft compared to other stones and cuts more easily. To get the limestone out of the ground and into precise blocks, the quarry workers would drill holes large enough to fit poles made of local cedar or cypress. After dousing the wood with water, the wood would gently expand and predictably split the stone. Workers also added holes to the sides of the limestone blocks to accommodate tongs, which would grip the block, allowing it to be lifted or moved with ease. These drilled and chipped holes remained in the limestone even after it was used in the building, and you may see some of them if you look closely at limestone buildings around the Hill Country. To get the stone from the quarry to the construction site, workers would load it onto wagons, which transported the material to its final destination. Using a locally available stone made this journey faster and reduced overall costs.

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