202 S. Third Avenue
Cold Spring Granite Company claims to be the largest granite quarrier and fabricator in the world based on number of quarries, sales volume, and the unparalleled number of granite colors offered to customers. The small-town business has earned the respect of architects and gained an international reputation on its ability to provide a complete array of services from mining and finishing to installation. Product lines include architectural and monumental granites with interior, landscape, and industrial applications, and bronze memorials. The privately held company has been led by three generations of the same family.
The Early Years in Rockville
Henry Nair Alexander worked in the granite and slate quarries of his native Scotland alongside his father and brothers. In 1880, he and two of his brothers emigrated to the United States and cut stone in Portland, Maine. He returned to Scotland two years later in order to finish a contract for granite barns. While back home he met and married Maggie Milne.
The American granite industry started to develop west of Chicago just as the second half of the 19th century began. Alexander decided to follow other Scotsmen to the massive granite fields in central Minnesota. In 1889 he and seven other men working for the Breen and Young quarry struck out on their own to form the Rockville Granite Company. Their first big contract--eight large columns--was for the Minnesota State Capitol in St. Paul.
Alexander bought out his partners on September 29, 1898, and became sole owner of Rockville Granite Company. He then moved the business to a quarry location closer to the Great Northern Railroad right-of-way and began modernizing his equipment. He also purchased a farm in the Rockville area to help support his growing family. Carrying on the family tradition Henry's sons started working in the quarry at a young age. A daughter received business training and took over the bookkeeping. In general, Alexander believed a family was a stabilizing influence on his workers, and that belief would come to influence the philosophy of the business, then and in the future.
Rockville Granite Company faced stiff competition when a larger concern, the Clark and McCormick Granite Company, set up shop in 1907 and began quarrying the gray granite which was so plentiful in the area. Alexander kept the business going with projects such as Chicago's Iroquois Theatre and the Minneapolis disposal system. When Henry became ill from pneumonia in 1912, 22-year-old Patrick Alexander, who had left home to work in quarries around the country and in Canada, came home and took over management of the company. Fourteen-year-old John Alexander also helped out at the plant, but their brother William Alexander continued to farm.
When Henry died in 1913, Maggie Alexander decided to try to sell the business to the Clark and McCormick quarry. Unable to get what she felt was a fair price she kept the business, and Patrick became the youngest granite company manager in the country. John, a high school student, helped on weekends, and William assisted with blacksmith work when needed. Maggie died in 1916, and Patrick and John became the owners of Rockville Granite Company, which was valued at about $6,000 including plant, equipment, and property.
John was intent on getting a college education, but that changed when Patrick was called to serve in World War I. John had to return home to help run the plant. By the end of the war the amount of work coming into the plant was on the rise, but business was good for the company's competitor, too. The Clark and McCormick Quarry had acquired practically all the gray granite outcroppings in the area to supply granite for the cathedral being built in St. Paul. Rockville Granite Company had to find a new site in order to keep running. John gave up his plans to return to college and helped Patrick look for a new location for the company.
The Move to Cold Spring
The site of a burned down flourmill, just west of Rockville in Cold Spring, looked like a promising location. It was on a river with a dam for supplying power, and the town needed new businesses. The loss of the mill had cost jobs, and the other big employer, Cold Spring Brewing Company, was suffering because of prohibition. Cold Spring banker Fred Stein and Cold Spring Brewing Company owner Ferdinand Peters recruited several other businessmen to help bring the quarry company to town.
On October 5, 1920, Rockville Granite Company was incorporated with Peters as president, Patrick Alexander as second vice-president, John Alexander as secretary, and Fred Stein as treasurer. The mill purchase price was $30,000. The company made a $200,000 stock offering and quickly sold over 40 percent of that and then borrowed additional cash to finance the startup costs. The new plant began operation in the spring of 1921. The Alexander brothers, as managers of the newly incorporated company, searched for new granite outcroppings to supply material for the plant. The stone they found had a pink tinge and was used to supply their first major job, the Stearns County Court House in St. Cloud.
The Rockville Granite Company was now on solid financial ground, and the company could begin growing. A full-time draftsman and later drafting assistants were hired and concentrated on architectural projects. A sales force was formed and opened offices near large building construction sites in Minneapolis, Chicago, St. Louis, and Philadelphia. New equipment was purchased and quarry and plant operations were revamped to cut down waste and increase efficiency. By 1923 the company could retire its debts and pay interest on its stock. Well-established in its new location, with an expanded physical plant and about 75 full-time employees, the company was ready for a name change. In 1924 Rockville Granite Company became Cold Spring Granite Company.
Growth created its share of problems for Cold Spring Granite. The company, which had operated a union, or closed, shop for many years, was struck when a contract was made to deliver granite to an open shop on the West Coast. The labor movement was in its formative years and working to gain strength and momentum; a compromise which would have allowed Cold Spring to fill its contract could not be negotiated. The closed shop policy was ended, and about one-quarter of the men left the company. But due to relatively high wages the vacancies were quickly filled. Many of the men hired then later moved to supervisory positions. And others who joined on at the time were to be the first in a line of family members stretching for several generations that worked for the company.
According to John Dominik, author of Cold Spring Granite: A History, the company found early success due to the experience of the employees and their ability to innovate. Men with expertise in the industry were drawn on board, and Patrick Alexander strove to introduce production techniques that enhanced their competitiveness. Together they adapted equipment from other heavy industries for use with granite and became leaders in the field.
The Depression and War Years
The economic depression of the 1930s dried up the architectural work Cold Spring Granite had depended on in its early years, and the company had to temporarily shut down. After resuming operations the company responded by shifting to monument work and by becoming increasingly self-sufficient. Employees painstakingly built their own surfacing wheels, which were needed to finish the stone, and when the cost of the steel shot used in the cutting process rose dramatically, they made that, too.
During the Depression, John Alexander took over the management of monument sales. In order to keep the plant running in the winter months he offered incentives to monument dealers who placed off-season orders. Promotional materials with drawings and photographs of the monuments and mausoleums were also generated. After the economy improved and architectural work increased monument sales continued to hold an important position in the company.
Transportation was a large part of the expense of granite production. Cold Spring Granite had persistent difficulties relating to delivery of its unwieldy product. Most shipments were made by rail: breakage and long delays were common. In the mid-1930s, a trucker who hauled the company's granite from the plant to the railroad proposed that finished granite could be shipped directly to work sites on semi-trailer trucks. Consequently, Cold Spring shifted away from rail to truck transportation, ending its dependence on railroad schedules and routes, cutting shipping costs, and lessening the risk of damage which occurred during the transfer of stone from truck to train to truck.
The company suffered an important loss in 1938 with the death of its president. Ferdinand Peters had guided the company through its incorporation and managed the financial aspects of Cold Spring Granite while the Alexanders concentrated on production. With Peters's death, Patrick Alexander once again headed the company his father had founded. He soon faced another crisis.
When the United States entered World War II architectural steel manufacturers diverted their efforts to military production: construction jobs became scarce. But Cold Spring Granite had the experience and equipment for handling large, heavy material. John Alexander pursued war contracts and then managed production. The plants were converted to handle steel instead of stone and manufactured&mdash¯ong other things&mdash⁄ips bottoms and hull sections. Men who had been quarriers learned to be welders.
With the end of the war came a flood of structural granite orders. But the quarries had been nearly idle for four years, and experienced men had been lost to the war. Cold Spring fell behind in production. To ease the burden the Royal Granite Company in St. Cloud was purchased. The monument end of the business also needed some attention, for consumer preferences had changed. Flat markers--which allowed for easier care of cemetery land and created a parklike look--had cut into the market. Ferdinand "Frosty" Peters, son of the late Cold Spring president, promoted a line of bronze markers anchored in granite, and a wholly owned subsidiary, Granit-Bronz, Inc., was established. During this time of change the company again lost its president when Patrick Alexander died in 1948 and was succeeded by his brother.
Time of Expansion
"John Alexander's tenure as president of Cold Spring Granite Company was marked by unprecedented expansion," wrote John Dominik. It was through those acquisitions that the company "became the largest granite concern in the world." Prior to World War II Cold Spring Granite had already obtained quarries that allowed it to supply a rich variety of colors to its market: "black" Canadian granite; South Dakota Ruby Red granite; and Minnesota Rainbow granite. During the war the company purchased the quarries situated in the original Rockville location. The postwar expansion began with Royal Granite and was followed by the purchase of the Texas Granite Company of Marble Falls; a Purple Crystal granite quarry near Rockville; a quarry and a small plant in Raymond, California; the Lake Placid Granite Company in New York; and still more quarries in Minnesota, South Dakota, California, and Canada. The quarries and plants purchased during the 1950s and 1960s benefited the company in terms of proximity to desirable market areas or job sites and with the added expertise of the new employees.
As the company expanded Cold Spring Granite won larger architectural contracts. In 1957, the company was chosen as granite supplier for the new Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, Colorado. Rockville granite was used for fortress walls, building facing, walkway steps, and the plaza. The million-dollar project was the beginning of a push to convince architectural firms to use their granite in large construction projects.
Just as the combined talent of the Cold Spring crew had solved production problems in the past, they came together to meet the architectural challenges of the 1960s. New techniques were developed in order to apply granite to modern office towers such as the 54-story Bank of America building in San Francisco. After completing several skyscraper projects, the company shifted its focus to large plazas including those at the Atlanta International Headquarters of Coca Cola Company, the Chicago Civic Center, and the Twenty State Street Mall in Boston.
Even though the architecture of the 1960s and 1970s was dominated by modernism--more large commercial buildings were faced with glass, metal, and precast concrete than with stone--Cold Spring grew. Between 1975 and 1980 sales increased by $5 million per year, with sales topping $50 million in 1980. By the early 1980s builders had begun to move away from modernism and emphasized the color and tradition found in stone. Cold Spring Granite Company rode with that resurgence.
A Third Generation of Alexander Family Leadership
The leadership of Cold Spring Granite had passed on to a third generation by this time. Thomas Alexander, Patrick's middle son, was made president in 1968. Like his father and uncle before him, his involvement in the company started at an early age, first with small jobs around the office and then work in the plant. An experienced pilot, Thomas nearly left the granite business, but his uncle, John Alexander, brought him on as his assistant. Through doing the company's production cost accounting Thomas became familiar with every aspect of the company, which enabled him to guide the development of new products and production methods.
In 1983 Patrick Alexander, the namesake of his uncle, became the fifth Alexander to lead the company. He had followed in their footsteps and learned the business from the ground up. He worked in the quarries and the precasting plant while still in high school. After graduating from St. Edward's College in Austin, Texas, he went on to the Marble Falls plant. Eventually Patrick took over supervision of operations at Raymond, Lake Placid, Texas, and Cold Spring Granite of Canada, Ltd.
The first five years of Patrick Alexander's term as president were marked by rapid growth. The number of employees increased from 700 to 1700, annual revenues rose to more than $110 million, and the company spent $40 million for quarry and plant improvements. But it also was a time marked by uncertainty. In the mid-1980s the granite industry was hit by high building vacancy rates and apprehension about federal tax law revision: the result was a slowdown of office and apartment construction. Foreign competitors were also an issue of concern for the American granite industry. Italy held 70 percent of the total structural granite market, compared with Cold Spring's 15 percent.
In 1987 Cold Spring along with two other American granite companies filed a suit with the International Trade Commission (ITC) against Italian and Spanish granite firms. They claimed that government subsidies were allowing the foreign companies to sell granite below cost. Patrick Alexander was quoted in the Star Tribune as saying that the Italian and Spanish firms "are slowly but surely driving otherwise competitive U.S. companies out of business." The companies were seeking penalty duties on foreign granite. Even though the commission initially found that there was a "reasonable indication" that U.S. granite firms were being hurt, ultimately it ruled against them.
Although the purchase of new granite and plant sites had slowed in the 1970s and 1980s it had not ceased entirely. Cold Spring acquired Capitol Marble and Granite Company, Inc., Granite Falls, Texas, in 1988. With Capitol's annual revenues of $20 million, the investment was expected to boost Cold Spring's sales to $130 million.
In 1989, Corporate Report Minnesota reported that Cold Spring Granite controlled 30 percent of the $500 million domestic market for granite, employed 1900 workers, and operated 31 quarries. Structural granite still provided its greatest source of revenue, but one-third of its business came from tombstones and mausoleums, and another ten percent from a new commercial line of highly polished granite tiles and countertops.
The 1990s and Beyond
Cold Spring Granite laid off over 400 employees in 1991 in response to a severe downturn in the construction business. To help boost sales it introduced a line of unfinished granite slabs targeted for sale to international granite fabricators. Continued diversification resulted in a drop of architectural sales to about 28 percent of business by 1995. With a long history of successful adaptation to rapidly changing circumstances, a powerful legacy in itself, Cold Spring Granite nonetheless appeared solidly positioned in the industry as it prepared to enter its second century in business.
Principal Subsidiaries: Granit-Bronz C.S.G Inc.; Texas Granite Corp.