Rockhounding in Albemarle, Virginia, soapstone

Alberene Soapstone Quarry
from: Geology and Mineral Resources of Albemarle County – Bull#77 pg 76 &77


The largest soapstone quarries in the United States are along the Albemarle-Nelson County line and are located in both counties.

The soapstone belt in Albemarle County lies just west of Green Mountain.

The soapstone dikes vary from approximately 160 feet to less than 100 feet in width. There are several of these dikes which roughly parallel each other, dip at an angle of approximately 60degrees to the southeast and extend northward to the vicinity of Alberene. North of this point the dikes are not wide enough. or of the proper quality, to be worked commerciallv.

These dikes are metapyroxenite dikes, which have been hydrothermally altered in places to produce the so-called commercial soapstone deposits. The products from these quarries are now sold as serpentine and soapstone.

In 1926 David Ives Bushnell was shown some old soapstone pits just south of Damon in the southern part of the county. His examination of these pits showed that they extended for a distance of 1,000 feet along a high ridge just south of Damon. His archeological work at this point showed that there were more than twenty excavations, ten to thirty feet in diameter and, at that time, from two to four feet deep. They were partially filled with debris. Many broken vessels were found in the debris. which were oval in form with knobs extending from both narrow ends. They were bowls broken in the process of carving. Quartz implements were used in making the~e bowls. It is not known whether the Monacan group of Indians, belonging to the Siouan tribe, made these bowls or whether they were made by an earlier tribe of Indians who inhabited this section. Loc’ation No.24.

The Alberene Soapstone Division of the Georgia Marble Company operates two quarries in this county; one a short distance from Schuyler (Location No. 25) which quarries serpentine, Figure 24, and one near Alberene (Location No.26) which quarries a hard soapstone. Quarries producing standard soapstone are located near Schuyler in Nelson County. No standard soapstone is quarried in Albemarle County at the present time.

Areport made by the author, in 1932, to the Alberene Soapstone Com-pany showed that much of the rock they were quarrying was primarily composed of the mineral serpentine, which rock, at that time, was being sold as hard soapstone.

The hydrothermally altered dikes are composed primarily of the fol-lowing minerals: Serpentine, tremolite, chlorite, talc and small amounts of calcite and magnetite. Where talc and chlorite predominate, the quar-ried rock is sold as soapstone; where serpentine and tremolite predominate the rock is sold as serpentine. The serpentine is used for interior decoration, while the soapstone is made into acid proof sinks, acid proof table tops, electric switchboards and insulators, and for many other purposes where an acid resistant rock is needed. The waste material from some of the quarries is pulverized and used as a filler, or as a lubricant.

The first year for which statistics on the production of soapstone are available is the year 1898 when 10,050 short tons were produced.

In 1929, Burfoot described in detail the talc and soapstone deposits of Virginia, with special emphasis on the deposits in Albemarle County. In 1932, Hess described the same area, discussing the asbestos, talc and soapstone deposits.

From “Geology and Mineral Resources of Albemarle County” by Wilburn A. Nelson – Bulletin 77, 1962

Also the publication “Virginia Minerals” Vol.7 No. 2 – April, 1961 has an article titled “Talc, Soapstone, and Related Stone Deposits of Vitginia” by James William Smith. This publication can be obtained from the Virginia Division of Mineral Resources in Charlottesville.