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Ozark Stone Cutter Preserves Old Techniques

Freddy Flores is a stone cutter who works in what used to be one of the nation's top limestone quarries. The site no longer enjoys its former days of glory.

(ASH GROVE, Mo.) An Ozarks man is keeping up the long-lost craft of a forgotten ghost town.

Freddy Flores is a stone cutter who works in what used to be one of the nation's top limestone quarries. The site no longer enjoys its former days of glory.

But cutting marble slabs remains a rock solid industry.

"Architects were looking at these new formulas for concrete," says Flores. "Strong as stone, and a fraction of the cost."

The place of Flores' workshop is nearly forgotten, too. In its heyday, the Phenix Quarry was one of the top limestone marble producers in the nation.

Decades before Springfield households had electricity, you could live here in a beautiful stone home supplied by the company.

You'll find slabs of rock from the old Phenix in most of Springfield's buildings downtown, the Missouri State Capital, and even the New York Stock Exchange.

"That's pretty much what constitutes marble. If you can take a beautiful stone and polish it up, that's pretty much marble."

But after the Great Depression and two world wars, marble building blocks became a thing of the past and the city surrounding the quarry became a thing of the past.

"Most of the guys who had a passion for this type of industry had been dispersed all over the world," adds Flores. "Or overseas fighting in battles. So there wasn't really anybody to do this type of work anyway."

The old, dilapidated stone house is one of the last remnants of the original factory town. But even today, there's still a demand for the same kind of high quality stone like the kind you'll find in the Ozarks.

"Our grade of marble is one of the highest grades, but I think what's more interesting to the customer is that it's full of fossils and beautiful evidence of a marine environment here," says Flores.

Competition from overseas keeps marble prices very low. That means domestic stonecutters have to operate on a smaller scale. Flores says he's been finding a niche market among people who want a slab of Ozarks craft in their home.

"It's just the creative process. Most of the customers I work with are doing something that's interesting."

Flores now cuts as many as 120 limestone slabs a year, including a piece for the home of a Branson performer.

The Phenix Quarry is a registered historical site and located between Ash Grove and Walnut Grove, but it is closed to the public.

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