LARAMIE — For decades, a small hillside north of Laramie quite literally made the University of Wyoming.
But now, the university’s board of trustees has voted to sell the hill, the site of an old quarry that, for decades, supplied the weathered, cream-colored sandstone that’sthe signature look of nearly all campus buildings.
The quarry, no larger than a mid-sized parking lot, has been abandoned for about 30 years. A pine tree or two sticks out improbably from large semi-cut rows of sandstone that lie terraced on the side of a small bluff, surrounded by piles of rocky debris.
But from 1928, when UW purchased the property from the Warren Livestock Co., until the early 1950s, almost every new building on campus was built with UW quarry stone, from the Arts and Sciences Building to the original UW Student Union.
The large quarry blocks were drilled and cut by professional and student labor, then hauled off to be cut into smaller blocks for each building.
The UW Union, built in 1938, used more than 1,300 tons of stone. University records show student laborers were paid 22 cents per square foot, with a maximum salary of $45 per month.
The stone has weathered well over the decades, said UW Facilities Planning Director Roger Baalman.
“It’s a good-quality stone,” he said.
But in the 1950s, the amount of good-quality sandstone in the quarry started to decline. UW started using either artificially made sandstone or purchasing sandstone blocks from Utah.
Sometime between 1952 and 1957, a 100-foot borehole was drilled somewhere on the site — no one knows exactly where — and filled with radioactive waste from university research experiments.
In the early 1980s, the quarry shut down entirely; the service buildings, including a concrete magazine where dynamite was stored, were dismantled or moved.
Since then, houses and barns have popped up around the quarry. UW received several offers to buy the land — to no avail, as school administrators wanted to continue to have access to the quarry’s stone.
But last year, Rob and Mary Garland, who own most of the land surrounding the quarry, asked again to purchase the 13.2-acre site.
In addition, UW administrators started to have concerns that the university could get sued by someone getting hurt by falling off the edge of the quarry edge. And after the Rogers Canyon forest fire last year, school officials also worried about liability for people going out to the quarry site and inadvertently starting a fire, said UW Associate Vice President Mark Collins.
“Given all of those circumstances, we didn’t feel like there was any beneficial use for the university at all,” Collins said.
So, on Thursday, the UW board of trustees agreed to sell off the quarry, appraised at about $50,000, to the highest bidder.
Rob Garland didn’t return a phone call seeking comment late Friday afternoon. But in a letter written to the university in February, Garland’s attorney stated that the Garlands’ motivation in purchasing the quarry is to “undertake surface reclamation of the property and re-establish the native flora.”
When the quarry is sold, it will yield one last gift of stone: UW crews will collect all available sandstone materials at the site before the deed is turned over to its new owner, Collins said.
“Just to make sure we have some of that available to us in an emergency,” Collins said.
In addition, the quarry’s legacy will remain visible to generations of UW students, faculty, and visitors who walk in and around the stately tan buildings surrounding Prexy’s Pasture.
And even new campus buildings are being built in the same look, in homage to the standstone laboriously dug out of a nearby hillside, said UW spokeswoman Jessica Lowell.
“You have this unified look because of this desire to have sandstone,” she said.