For more than a century, the buff-toned Kasota stone quarried from Minnesota River Valley has built schools, stadiums, mansions and museums around the world.
But difficult economic times in the construction industry recently claimed Mankato Kasota Stone, the long-standing purveyor of the beloved building material that ceased operations after 128 years. Once home to at least a half dozen companies mining Kasota stone, the Mankato area now has just one left.
“It has been a great source of pride for many generations for my family,” said Bob Coughlan, co-owner of Mankato Kasota Stone, whose great-grandfather founded the business. “But every business is forced to make hard decisions to evolve.”
Famed for its warm colors — cream, buff, gold and pink — and for durability and texture imbued by crushed sea fossils, the distinctive limestone can be found on many public buildings and private homes in the Twin Cities — from the Nokomis Library in south Minneapolis to the suburban home of hockey star Ryan Carter.
Among its more notable locales beyond Minnesota are the Camp Pendleton Marine Base, the Philadelphia Museum of Art, the University of Wisconsin’s Gordon Commons in Madison and the Chicago Botanical Gardens.
The material has linked Mankato, a small city in southern Minnesota with some 30,000 residents, to the rest of the world. “It’s a beautiful stone, and it is so versatile,” said Paul Lawton, a Mankato architect who has designed many projects using the material. “It’s more than just a local product, it has been used all over.”
But as construction projects withered in the Great Recession, demand for building materials followed suit. Many architects and builders opted to use cheaper, prefabricated materials, as well as brick, glass and steel, instead of the Mankato stone. While the building industry has improved in the past year, the recovery came too late for Mankato Kasota Stone.
The firm’s holding company, Coughlan Cos. Inc., will now focus on Capstone Press, a publisher of children’s books, and Jordan Sands, an industrial sand mining and processing operation. About two dozen people lost their jobs when Mankato Kasota Stone shut its doors, but Coughlan hopes to hire people back in some of the other family businesses.
The news means Vetter Stone Co. is the lone supplier of Kasota stone left in Mankato. Locally, Vetter is perhaps best known in recent years for the stone used to build Target Field, which opened in 2010 — including the quirky overhang atop the right-field wall.
Ron Vetter, third-generation president of the firm, said the recession was a tough go for his company, as well. “We felt a contraction, but there has always been work there, depending on the sector. We’re still actively quarrying and still see a good demand for [Kasota stone],” he said.
Mankato Kasota Stone halted major processing late last month at its plant and has been steadily scaling back operations since then, either filling orders or helping clients find new suppliers.
Two quarries in the city remain active, with others coming in on a lease basis and extracting. A third quarry is shifting to Coughlan’s sand pursuits.
That’s a far cry from two generations ago, when about 2,500 people in Mankato (then a city of 20,000 people) worked in the Kasota stone quarries. “If you could swing a hammer, you could work in the quarry,” Coughlan said. “But it has always been a very hard business.”
Paul Walsh • 612-673-4482
Janet Moore • 612-673-7752
other 19th-century minnesota startups
1860: August Schell Brewing Co. in New Ulm is established.
1866: General Mills starts out with two flour mills on the Mississippi River in Minneapolis.
1868: J.R. Watkins, an apothecary manufacturer now in Winona, begins with door-to-door liniment sales.
1870: Cargill, which began with a grain flat house in Conover, Iowa, in 1865, moves headquarters to Albert Lea.
1878: Red Wing Stoneware Co. is created by skilled craftsmen potters from Germany.
1881: The first Gedney pickle plant opens — making Mathias Gedney’s recipes for pickles and condiments — in Minneapolis.
1891: With a focus on pork, George A. Hormel & Co. is founded in Austin.
• Camp Pendleton Naval Base, California
• Wellmark headquarters, Des Moines
• SC Johnson, Project Honor, Racine, Wis.
• Philadephia Museum of Art
• Chicago Botanical Gardens
• New Britain Museum of Art, Connecticut
• King’s Daughters Medical Center, Ashland, Ky.
• Boston College, Stokes Hall
• University of Iowa, College of Public Health, Iowa City
• University of Wisconsin, Gordon Commons, Madison
• Blue Earth County Justice Center, Mankato
• MNDOT, Mankato
• La Salle Plaza, Minneapolis
• Minnesota Judicial Center, St. Paul
T.R. Coughlan immigrated from Ireland and worked as a masonry foreman on the historic Stone Arch Bridge in Minneapolis. He founded Mankato Kasota Stone in 1885. The company provided stone for many American post offices, cathedrals, universities, museums and federal buildings.