The Marble Jailhouse was built on East State Street in 1901, as local officials tried to impose order on the growing town and its increasingly diverse working class. The one-room jailhouse, which contains two steel-framed jail cells, was most active after Marble passed a local prohibition law in 1908. Use of the jail declined as Marble itself declined after the 1920s, and today the jailhouse is one of the few historic buildings to have survived the town’s many fires and floods.
Law and Order in Early Marble
The town of Marble was established in 1881, after the removal of the Ute people from most of western Colorado opened the Crystal River valley to white settlement. The first marble quarry in the area started in 1884, but development stagnated because of a lack of capital and insufficient transportation infrastructure. Despite those problems, Marble grew to about 150 people, got a post office, and merged with the nearby town of Clarence in 1892. In 1895 the quarries around Marble went into full-fledged operation for the first time to supply marble for the Capitol Building in Denver. The population increased to 200 by 1899, when the town was incorporated and started to elect its own officials.
Construction of the first jailhouse in Marble was probably motivated by anti-immigrant sentiment stemming from the arrival of Italian and Swedish laborers at the marble quarries. Local officials built a one-room wood-frame jailhouse on an East State Street lot donated by the Hoffman brothers. Inside the small jailhouse, which measured about twenty feet by fourteen feet, they installed two steel-framed jail cells ordered from St. Louis. To complete the new law-and-order effort, the Gunnison County sheriff appointed Deputy James Finley to police the town.
Bootleggers and Anarchists
Marble’s development finally took off after 1905, when Channing F. Meek consolidated several smaller marble operations into the Colorado Yule Marble Company. He soon built the world’s largest marble-finishing mill and brought the Crystal River and San Juan Railroad to town. Hundreds of new Italian workers flocked to the area as the company began to get big marble contracts in 1907 and 1908. During these prosperous years, the town had two newspapers, a bank, several hotels and stores, a school, and a hospital. The population grew to a height of about 1,400 by the early 1910s.
The most notable absence in Marble’s list of amenities was a saloon—or any other establishment that sold or served alcohol. In 1908 the town’s voters approved a prohibition law, which took effect on December 3—more than seven years before statewide prohibition, and eleven years before nationwide prohibition. It is unclear whether Marble’s prohibition law reduced local alcohol consumption, but it did increase the jail’s occupancy rate. Enforcement of the law fell especially hard on the town’s Italian working class, for whom winemaking was a cherished cultural tradition.
The jail also saw use in the summer and fall of 1909, when more than 500 Colorado Yule workers went on strike. The strikers were mostly Italian, leading the company to brand them as foreign anarchists. At least one Italian worker was arrested during the strike for threatening to kill a company official. The three-month strike ended badly for the workers, who returned with a pay cut, and led to lasting resentment between labor and management in Marble.
Starting around World War I, a series of fires and floods made production in Marble more expensive. When demand for marble declined during and after the Great Depression, the old Colorado Yule quarry closed and the town nearly died. The last evidence of anyone serving time in the jail came in 1923, and by the early 1940s the building was no longer used. The post office closed in 1943 and the town stopped operating as a municipality around the same time, though it has always retained at least a handful of year-round residents.
Renovations to the jailhouse in the early 1980s included the addition of a wood ceiling, which covered the open gable, and new siding on the building’s north wall. More recently, in 2014 the wood-shingle roof was covered with a temporary metal roof to help protect the building. Inside, the jailhouse still contains the original steel cells from St. Louis, though the cell doors no longer lock. Today the jailhouse is one of the few historic buildings left in Marble, and in 2016 it was listed on the National Register of Historic Places.