Building Materials and Tools
Wood was scarce when the prairie was settled in the mid 1800s, so the abundant limestone became important in the construction of buildings, bridges, and fences. The Cottonwood limestone, a rock layer that occurs near the base of the hills in the Fox Creek valley, is a common building stone in Kansas. The Chase County Courthouse in Cottonwood Falls, Kansas was constructed of Cottonwood limestone in 1873. Much of the state capital in Topeka, Kansas is also constructed with Cottonwood limestone.
Cottonwood limestone is thick, nearly white in color, even-textured, durable and contains numerous wheat-grained shaped fusulinid fossils (extinct single-celled animals that floated in the water). Blocks of stone three or more feet thick and several feet in length and width can be taken from a ledge. The ranch house and parts of many of the buildings on the preserve are built with Cottonwood limestone. Another layer called Funston limestone was used to build the barn. These stones were taken from rock quarries south of the preserve's boundary.
Miles of stone fences can still be seen throughout the preserve and Chase County. Fences were generally constructed from fieldstone or taken from shallow quarries.
Not all limestone is suitable for construction of fences or buildings. However, it can be ground into gravel for rural roads, driveways, and construction purposes.
Flint was a very common medium used for stone tools and weapon points for thousands of years by early human inhabitants. Arrowheads were useful tools made by the Kansa, Osage, and other American Indian tribes from the chert (or flint) abundant in what would later be called the Flint Hills. Flint was often quarried and found on the ridge tops of the Flint Hills, yet these flint-filled soils were difficult to cultivate. This problem led to a ranching and grazing culture that has dominated land use for over 125 years.
Did You Know?
The limestone blocks used to build the historic house, barn, and outbuildings weigh over 160 pounds per cubic foot. Limestone was quarried locally, faced or quoined, then brought to the ranch for building purposes. Tallgrass Prairie National Preserve