National Preservation Month Feature: Sandstone Houses in Arlington
By OK Carter, Landmark Preservation Commissioner
Posted on May 02, 2022, May 02, 2022

Did you know that May is Historic Preservation Month? Throughout the month of May, the Landmark Preservation Commission is featuring historic sites and structures to highlight Arlington’s unique history. Share your favorite pieces of Arlington history on your social media or by email to [email protected]!

Though use of sandstone as a residential building material has been clearly on the wane for more than a half century, more than 15 examples of such construction grace Arlington’s central area. Some of those homes are now close to a century old but as functional as ever—a testament to their lasting durability.

The Arlington Landmark Preservation Commission recently conducted a survey of such historical structures, finding sandstone homes ranging from a diminutive cottage of less than 500 square feet near the UTA campus, to a former home-turned-business on West Abram Street measuring more than 3,700 square feet.

Many of those homes—all built before 1950—might well qualify for historic designation. And yes, a few sandstone homes in the city exist outside the central area.

SOME QUICK BACKGROUND, starting with this question: What is sandstone? Sandstone forms from beds of sand laid down under the sea or in low-lying areas on the continents, exactly the conditions that would be true of the future Arlington of 65 to 95 million years ago. As a bed of sand subsides into the earth's crust, usually pressed down by over-lying sediments, it is heated and compressed. Sandstone is often overlaid with layers of limestone.

That sand under pressure for millions of years becomes sandstone. Depending on what minerals leach into the sediment, color of the sandstone can vary from tan, yellow and gray to pinkish and reddish and—if iron is present—dark brown to almost black, in which case it is called brown stone. Though sandstone is rock, it is also easier to cut from quarries and to shape into building blocks than harder rock such as limestone, granite or marble. Though softer than most rocks, sandstone also resists weathering, though not as well as brick.

Sandstone as a material for human habitation qualifies as old news, small sandstone homes dating back thousands of years.

“An old stone home is a reflection of its builder’s heritage and masonry skills as well as the region in which it was built,” said Arlington’s Brian Cotter, a land development planner and landscape architect. “Historic examples remain in Arlington of this vernacular like the late Francis Koby’s office on Cooper Street just south of UTA as well as the Burt Grant salon on West. Abram Street. Many home builders utilize the Texas Red Sandstone now on new construction on the facades of homes. Everything old is new again.”

One of the most notable and visual uses of sandstone in Arlington was the infamous Top O’ Hill Casino (now Arlington Baptist University) on East Division Street. Casino operator Fred Browning utilized sandstone for gates and fencing on the property and a couple of structures, one of which is now the ABU alumni office, but which originally served as a private stable for Browning’s favorite racehorse, Royal Ford.

Sandstone was a preferred and economical home building material in Scotland, many of those craftsmen eventually migrating to this country. Some of those likely ended up in Arlington building what, at the time, would have been considered premium quality homes.

Though clearly there are many “pro” issues to sandstone home construction, there are also “con” issues:

  • It absorbs water. Unlike granite, sandstone is a relatively porous material.
  • It can scratch.
  • It can be slippery when wet.
  • It stains.
  • It weathers and ages.
  • There are fewer color options.
  • It can be hard on your body.

Most of the above likely had little influence on limiting modern-day sandstone home construction, but other issues would have. Over time, skilled craftsmen accustomed to working with sandstone have disappeared. Sandstone is heavy and must be mined, then transported, then sized and shaped— all time, cash and labor consuming. And finally, cheaper, more conventional construction materials became available. Though the occasional sandstone homes will always be built, those homes will be few in number, making Arlington’s remaining sandstone homes architectural and historical rarities.Sandstone House located in Arlington

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