A monument commemorating Cedar Canyon’s Old Gypsum Quarry was officially unveiled Nov. 21 at the former excavation site first used nearly a century ago.
Some two dozen people were in attendance, many of them descendants of Emil and Thora Roundy, who owned and operated Cedar Plaster Mills in its heyday, from 1938-45.
The dedicatory speech was made by Lane Peterson, who wore his grandfather Emil’s hat as he talked about the history of gypsum mining in Cedar City.
The story went as far back as 1849, when Isaac C. Haight, who was part of the Parley P. Pratt expedition, discovered iron ore in the Cedar Valley, along with gypsum, sandstone and limestone near the mouth of Cedar Canyon.
In 1923, the short-lived Mammoth Plaster and Cement Company mined gypsum from the site but never built a mill to produce plaster or cement. A few years after the operation went out of business, Emil Roundy, fresh off a church mission to Australia, ended up working on a farm for George Esplin, who had been one of Mammoth’s founding partners. Emil married Esplin’s daughter Thora (also a descendant of Haight) in 1931.
In 1939, just as the economy was finally making its way out of the Great Depression, Emil purchased 242 acres at the mouth of the canyon, including an old flour mill building which he converted to a gypsum mill.
Over the next several years, Cedar Plaster Mills produced and sold high-quality plaster to customers around the western United States. Cedar Plaster was also shipped to Hawaii for the rebuilding of Pearl Harbor and to Central America for the building of the Panama Canal. Closer to home, it was used for the construction of the Cedar City High School building in the early 1940s.
Eventually, however, the once-thriving business ceased operations in 1945 due to World War II.
“In spite of having to close his mill in 1945, Emil did not dissolve Cedar Plaster Mills Inc. until nearly 40 years later at the age of 86,” Peterson said. “Emil held onto this quarry and always hoped to get back into the gypsum mining and plaster business, as he knew the quality of gypsum and plaster he could produce here was some of the best in the world.”
Portions of the original property that were later sold to the power company and to the city are now part of the Cedar Canyon Nature Park area and the city’s trail system, Peterson added, noting that the Roundy family descendants have retained ownership of 50 acres of the original property.
“Today, we remember and honor Emil and Thora Roundy for their successful development of the gypsum and plaster industry in Cedar City,” Peterson said just before officially unveiling the stone monument with its attached metal plaque.
Peterson also took a moment to thank all those involved with the project, which was privately funded by the Thora Esplin Roundy family trust, with Kevin Roundy doing the stonework, assisted by other family members and friends.
Just as the dedication event was about to wrap up, Peterson pointed to the large white hill a short distance to the north, where a separate and unrelated company has been excavating gypsum for the past several months.
“After 75 years, we are pleased to see for the first time since 1945 a successful gypsum mining operation going on at the quarry across the creek from us,” he said. “Emil would have been proud to see its success. Both quarries are of the same vein of high quality gypsum that have been separated over millions of years by the canyon’s Coal Creek.”
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