East of the Blue Ridge

Chronicle of an On30 quarry railroad

What is Soapstone?

Soapstone is a term used to describe a range of minerals with the common characteristic of high talc content.

Abandoned soapstone quarry, Albemarle County, Virginia

Talc gives the stone a slippery feel when wet. Soapstone is not particularly rare. Stone from most deposits is milled into powder for its high talc content. But the soapstone in central Virginia is unusual in that it has a high density, consistent grain pattern that allows it to be cut, carved, drilled and routed.

Native Americans carved cental Virginia soapstone into bowls. In colonial days it was used for foot warmers. With the advent of indoor plumbing, there was a huge demand for Virginia soapstone. It is still used for kitchen and bathroom applications, and is well suited for labratory countertops.

Soapstone slabs for countertops

Abandoned quarries in the woods are silent reminders of what was once a flourishing industry in the Blue Ridge foothills.