Stone City, Iowa, is a little unincorporated village two miles west of Anamosa on the banks of the Wapsipinicon River. It was originally used as a company town for the workers of the local quarries in the 1850s.
Stone City is not only known for its Anamosa Limestone quarries and historic limestone architecture, it was also the location of an art colony in the early 1930s, which was founded by Grant Wood and fellow artists.
Once known as the Anamosa Quarries, Stone City workers mined limestone that became the primary building material for railroad bridges, bridge piers, and foundations for major buildings. Over 150,000 railroad car shipments of limestone were sent from Stone City to various destinations between 1859 and 1895.
As people settled into the area, buildings began going up, including Columbia Hall in 1883, a three-story hotel and opera house complex, which used 500,000 tons of limestone. John Green, one of the community's founders, bought a mansion overlooking the town, and soon began to construct more buildings; a post office, railway station, schoolhouse, among others, all made of stone.
In 1905, acement manufacturing plant opened in Waterloo and replaced the quarried stone in many construction projects. It had an adverse effect on the economy of Stone City and one by one, the quarries began to shut down.
In 1932, Grant Wood and Adrian Dornbush established an art colony in Stone City. The two artists leased 10 acres of land on the Green estate, which included the Green mansion, Ice house, and Water Tower. The upstairs of the mansion was converted into a dormitory and the rest of the house was used for a business office, kitchen and sculpture studio.
The basement of the Ice house was converted into a bar called “The Sickle and Sheaf” where instructor Dennis Burlingame tended bar. The upper portion of the water tower was converted to a small apartment where Adrian Dornbush lived. It was referred to as “Adrian’s Tomb”.
As many as 120 students enrolled (including artist Isabel Bloom) and some were housed in ice wagons. It was a mecca for artists and art lovers. Sunday afternoon tours were offered to the public. In terms of attendance and reputation, the art colony was a huge success. However, it was never a financial success since many of the students were allowed to work in exchange for tuition. (Information courtesy of the Stone City Foundation)
Grant Wood, best known for his picturesque paintings of Iowa, including "American Gothic," was born in 1891, on a farm just a few miles away on the other side of Anamosa. He moved to Cedar Rapids after his father died, when he was 10. It is said that Grant Wood chose the setting for the colony because it reminded him of his boyhood.
Stone City's Columbia Hall was purchased in the 1930s and torn down in 1938 to use the stone elsewhere. In 1963 the Green Mansion was tragically damaged by fire and torn down in the 1990s.
Tours of Stone City will be conducted Sunday, July 10. contact Stone City Foundation for more information.
Stone City will host a festival September 18 and will feature artist displays, blacksmithing, and city tours.