City Quotient: Stone Quarries and the Bean Dinner

Columbus Limestone and the lakes left behind

Jeff Darbee
Columbus is full of old stone quarries.

Under the Water

BY JEFF DARBEE

Columbus Limestone and the lakes left behind

There are some lakes on the east side of the Scioto River around Route 104 on the city’s South Side. Are they part of the river? If not, where did they come from?

Those are old stone quarries that produced a lot of Columbus Limestone (see CQ, October 2017). Columbus Limestone underlies 13 Ohio counties from Lake Erie southward and can be as much as 105 feet thick, so many quarries are quite deep. (The words “rock” and “stone” are sometimes used interchangeably, but “rock” typically refers to the material in its natural state and “stone” refers to rock manipulated or worked for human purposes.)

Many quarries are closed around Columbus. Probably best known was Marble Cliff Quarries (see CQ’s very first column in March 2014), once owned by Sylvio Casparis. As we explained then, the quarry had no marble, which is metamorphosed limestone. But “Marble Cliff,” whether referring to the quarry or the nearby community, just sounds better than “Limestone Cliff.” Today, a lot of development is going on there, including a new Metro Park scheduled to open in the fall.

An earlier quarry, now under the west leg of I-70 near the Hilltop, was the mid-19th century source of stone for the Statehouse. An active quarry is northwest of Upper Arlington and another is west of South High Street, not far above Scioto Downs. Their main product is crushed limestone—gravel—used in landscaping and some industrial processes. To see why Columbus Limestone is described as “highly fossiliferous,” just take a close look at the exterior walls and columns of the Statehouse.

I’ve heard of some sort of annual bean dinner in Columbus. What can you tell me about it?

As Tevye of “Fiddler on the Roof” might say, it’s tradition! The Bean Dinner has long been an annual event in the city’s Hilltop neighborhood on the West Side. Sponsored by the Hilltop Business Association, it goes back at least 100 years. The inspiration came from gatherings of Civil War veterans to commemorate their wartime rations of beans and coffee, and grew into a community festival.

The beans were cooked in big pots on open fires, and local businesses displayed their products. It was also a popular place for politicians to meet and greet the electorate, but the dinners were canceled in the 1970s due to some security concerns. In 1981, they were revived at Franklin Heights High School, then later moved to Westgate Park with the blessing of the city’s Recreation and Parks Department. Today, the event is called the Hilltop Bean Festival and has offered attractions such as music, arts and crafts vendors, an antique car show, a children’s area and, of course, food—including “secret recipe beans.” Unfortunately, the pandemic forced the cancellation of the 2020 festival, and it may not happen this year either (check with the Hilltop Business Association). But something that’s gone on this long is sure to rise again.

Sources: Google Earth; hilltopbusinessassociation.org; everfest.com; columbusmessenger.com

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Jeff Darbee is a preservationist, historian and author in Columbus. Send your questions to cityquotient@columbusmonthly.com, and the answer might appear in a future column.