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Cold Spring Granite Company and the Henry N. Alexander Family

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Black and white photograph of Quarry, Rockville Granite Company, Rockville, Minnesota, c.1910

Quarry, Rockville Granite Company, Rockville, Minnesota, Henry Alexander left, c.1910.

St. Cloud was an ideal place to settle if you were a quarryman looking to make a living in the 1880s. The area was rich with a multitude of colors of granite. All that was needed was the right skill set. It was an opportunity just waiting for the likes of the experienced, Scottish-born quarryman Henry N. Alexander who at age nine began learning the craft from his stonemason father near Aberdeen, Scotland. Henry came to the United States in 1880 and established a family granite dynasty that today is the largest granite producing company in the United States.

Alexander moved around the U.S. working for various quarrying operations before settling in St. Cloud in 1887. In 1890 he joined forces with other quarrymen in the area to form the Rockville Granite Company. Their first major contract was to create the eight granite columns for the rotunda of the Minnesota State Capitol. Ten years later Alexander bought out his partners and as sole proprietor of the company remade it as a family affair. Four of his children participated in the business. Pat was a stonecutter, William was a blacksmith creating tools for the trade, and Nellie was the company's bookkeeper. John did a stint in every area.

When Henry Alexander died of pneumonia in 1913 at age sixty-five, Pat stepped in to lead the company. Though John was still in high school, he assisted his brother, even leaving school to help him complete a contract. He went to college in 1917, but after a year when Pat was called into service for World War I, John returned to manage the company.

Rockville Granite Company had only one quarry while one of its competitors, Clark and McCormick Granite Company had purchased most of the granite rich land in the area. To remain in business, Pat Alexander decided to move Rockville Granite to Cold Spring, a town west of Rockville. The plant opened in the spring of 1921 quarrying "diamond pink" granite. Its first contract was the Stearns County Courthouse. The company grew thanks to such projects plus a strong workforce and innovations in quarrying and processing. In 1924 it acquired a new name to reflect its location, "Cold Spring Granite Company," and a new president, Ferdinand Peters. He guided the company's finances while the Alexanders focused on manufacturing.

Contracts for buildings waned with the Great Depression. However, the granite industry had a revenue source that remained strong: cemetery monuments. Cold Spring Granite focused on innovative production and sales that helped keep the company in business. However, the leadership team that had steered the company through the worst of the Depression suffered a blow when Peters died in 1938. Once again Pat took over the presidency, leading the company through World War II. It was ship bottoms and hull sections, foundation sets for ships, anchor chains and rudders that kept the company going this time around. Cold Spring retooled their heavy production equipment and with a skilled labor force did important manufacturing for the war.

Pat Alexander died in 1948, at a time when the company was overwhelmed by postwar building orders. His brother, forty-nine year old John Alexander, took over as president of the company. By then, Cold Spring Granite was a thriving business with a reputation for excellence. John continued developing the memorial market while expanding the architectural one. John also led the drive for expansion beginning in the 1950s, when the company bought operations in Texas, California, New York and Canada.

In 2013 the company changed its name to Coldspring, and John's children continued to lead the company. Another Patrick Alexander holds the CEO/chairman position in the twenty-first century carrying on in the spirit of family patriarch, Henry.

Structures made with granite from Coldspring's quarries include the Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, Colorado; the Mormon Temple in Oakland, California; State Department in Washington D.C.; General Motors Headquarters in Golden Valley, Minnesota; Hennepin County Government Center in Minneapolis, Minnesota; Bank of America in San Francisco; and the Korean War Memorial in Washington D.C.

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© Minnesota Historical Society
  • Bibliography
  • Related Resources

Dominik, John J. Cold Spring Granite: A History. Cold Spring, MN: Cold Spring Granite Company, 1982.

Rinn, R. Scott. A Century of Enduring Beauty: Cold Spring Granite Company. Minneapolis: Cold Spring Granite Company and BlueFire Partners, 2002.

Rinn, R. Scott. "Cold Spring Granite Celebrates 100th Birthday." Crossings 25, no. 3 (May 1999): 3.

WWII Defense Contractors
Subject Files, Stearns History Museum, St. Cloud, Minnesota
Description: Fifty-two items, including newspaper clippings and bibliographies.

Granite Industry 1895–2004
Subject File, Stearns History Museum, St. Cloud, Minnesota
Description: Thirty-two items, including newspaper clippings, correspondence, pamphlets, and miscellanea.

Hennen, Joseph "Bucky" Jr. Interview, July 27, 1997.
Oral History Collection, Stearns History Museum, St. Cloud, Minnesota

Smith, Glanville. Interview, March 29, 1977.
Oral History Collection, Stearns History Museum, St. Cloud, Minnesota.

Alexander, Marian G. Interview, January 27, 1978.
Oral History Collection, Stearns History Museum, St. Cloud, Minnesota.

Related Images

Black and white photograph of Quarry, Rockville Granite Company, Rockville, Minnesota, c.1910
Black and white photograph of Quarry, Rockville Granite Company, Rockville, Minnesota, c.1910
Black and white photograph of Henry Alexander's Children, c.1915.
Black and white photograph of Henry Alexander's Children, c.1915.
Black and white photograph of Splitting Granite, c.1938.
Black and white photograph of Splitting Granite, c.1938.
Black and white photograph of Cold Spring Granite Company Plant, c.1940.
Black and white photograph of Cold Spring Granite Company Plant, c.1940.
Black and white image of Marine Engine Block, War Production, c.1943
Black and white image of Marine Engine Block, War Production, c.1943
Black and white photograph of Hilter's Tombstone, c. 1945
Black and white photograph of Hilter's Tombstone, c. 1945
Color image of Cold Spring Granite Company Loading Area, c.2007.
Color image of Cold Spring Granite Company Loading Area, c.2007.

Turning Point

The Rockville Granite Company moves to Cold Spring in 1920, changes their name to Cold Spring Granite, and opens a new manufacturing plant.

Chronology

1880
Henry Alexander immigrates to the United States.
1890
Henry Alexander and partners form the Rockville Granite Company.
1898
Henry becomes the sole owner of the Rockville Granite Company.
1900
The Rockville Granite Company begins production of the pillars for the Minnesota State Capitol building.
1920
Construction begins on the new granite plant in Cold Spring a few miles west of Rockville.
1924
The Rockville Granite Company changes its name to Cold Spring Granite Company.
1950
Cold Spring Granite acquires its first out-of-state quarry, one of five the company will acquire in the next eight years.
1954
Work on the U.S. Air Force Academy in Colorado begins using granite from Cold Spring's Rockville #1 quarry.
1964
The eleven-story mosaic mural on the campus of Notre Dame University in South Bend, Indiana is completed.
1995
The Korean War Memorial in Washington D.C. is dedicated.
1998
Cold Spring Granite celebrates 100 years in business.
2013
Cold Spring Granite Company changes its name to Coldspring.