While the Northern Pacific Railroad gave Missoula builders the freedom to import building stone from other states, the high freight rates tended to protect the Montana stone quarries. Missoula builders did begin importing small amounts of stone for building ornament beginning in the late ISSOs. Polished red granite columns on the, Higgins Block, imported from St. Cloud, Minnesota, remain a well-preserved early example.
Over the years, several of the Minnesota granite quarries shipped decorative stone to Missoula for building trim. Quarries, located in Ortonville, Bellingham, Morton and Rockville, as well as St. Cloud, produce colorful granites not available in Montana.
Missoula buildings also feature decorative granites from Mellen and Wausau, Wisconsin. The Midwest quarries, led by the Cold Springs Granite Co., successfully out-competed the Montana quarries during the 1930 After the Montana quarries closed, the Midwest quarries took over much of Missoulas dwindling cut-stone market.
Missoula’s Federal Building (200 E. Broadway), built in three stages between 1910 and 1938, stands as Missoula’s only historic building faced entirely with imported stone. Federal architects chose Bedford, Indiana limestone because it was inexpensive, attractive, versatile and available in inexhaustible quantities. Federal architects commonly built with the reliable Indiana limestone rather than taking chances on untested regional stone varieties. Today, the entire building remains well preserved and ranks as one of downtown Missoula’s stateliest buildings.
Any discussion of building stone imported to Missoula must include a reference to Missoula cemeteries. Missoulians began importing Vermont marble monuments during the 1870s even before arrival of the railroad. Monument styles shifted from marble to granite during the 1890’s, so Missoulians began importing finished monuments from the famous granite quarries at Barre, Vermont and Quincy, Massachusetts. By 1906 Missoula supported two monument shops which serviced much of western Montana. The shops diversified their stocks with a dozen colorful Minnesota granites as well as granites from California, South Dakota, Sweden, Norway and Scotland. To this day, the Missoula monument dealers market only granite monuments quarried and cut in other states and countries.