Thursday, September 20, 2018

Offbeat - Liam Marlaire

Family’s legacy is seen in buildings made with Dunnville sandstone

  • con-Stone-1-101116

    An undated photo shows workers at the Dunnville Stone Quarry.

    Contributed photo

Local reminders of his ancestors’ craftsmanship abound for Rolland Freid.

“Dunnville sandstone” was used in the building of the Mabel Tainer Center for the Arts in Menomonie and a number of schools, institutional buildings and homes, not only in the region but across much of the United States. Family lore has it that Freid’s grandfather, Alfred, had a hand in carving the eagle that rests atop the federal building and courthouse in downtown Eau Claire.

Rolland Freid, a Memorial High School graduate and Vietnam War veteran, worked the family farm and spent 27 years in information systems for Eau Claire County. He continues to reside in Eau Claire as a retiree.

Collections of family heirlooms and historical documents piqued Freid’s interest in his ancestry. A family reunion a few years ago added fuel to the fire.

Dunnville sandstone was discovered in 1882 by railroad surveyors, according to a historical marker near the Dunn County site. Found along the banks of the Red Cedar River, it was recognized for its “beauty, durability and functionality as a building material,” according to a 2010 Dunn County News article.

Alfred Freid immigrated from Sweden and worked in the Dunnville Stone Quarry in the late 1800s and early 1900s. Stonecutting was a common skill among his relatives abroad, and he worked on buildings such as the one that is now home to Eau Claire City Hall.

According to the Dunn County News, the most famous installment of Dunnville sandstone can be found at St. Thomas Cathedral in New York City. “(The) interior is decorated with intricately carved stone from Dunnville quarry,” the story reads.

•  •  •During Rolland Freid’s research, he came across an academic paper by Marlene Dingle from 1968 titled “History of the Downsville Cut Stone Company.” The report details the growth and heyday of the industry in Dunn County, particularly in the aforementioned area between Dunnville and Downsville that spawned several quarries.

“The coming of the railroads meant the stone could be moved further and more efficiently,” she wrote. “It was then found to be useful in the construction of entire buildings and for ornate carvings and trim work.”

Dingle wrote that one of the companies, H. Walter Stone Co., in 1920 was paying stonecutters 65 cents per hour or $6.50 daily. Quarry and yard workers earned roughly 40 cents an hour or $4 a day.

Time off often was spent fishing the river, she wrote, or conducting practical jokes. “One of their favorites,” she wrote, “which they would pull on a newcomer, was to send him out to find the stone stretcher. Without question the ‘greenhorn’ would search diligently for the non-existent tool.”

The stonecutting industry in Dunn County never returned to its former glory after the Great Depression and World War II.

“As the nation’s attention turned to the war effort, stonecutters and laborers at the Dunnville quarry were forced to find other employment,” reads the Dunn County News story.

Rolland Freid continues to take pride in the work his grandfather did for western Wisconsin and beyond. He has a large set of tools once used by Alfred, who carved his own gravesite memorial at Lakeview Cemetery in Eau Claire.

“I was an only child, so a lot got handed down to me,” Freid said of his genealogical research. “I felt I should do something with all this.

“Eventually, I’ll hand it down to my kids.”

Contact: 715-833-9215,, @marlaires on Twitter.

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