What is Austin Stone? About Architectural Limestone

Back to the Limestone Quarries of Austin, Texas

A White Stone Home with White Stone Retaining Wall in Austin, Texas
A White Stone Home with White Stone Retaining Wall in Austin, Texas. Photo by Jessica Lynn Culver / Moment Mobile / Getty Images (cropped)

Austin Stone is a type of masonry material named after the limestone rock quarries in Austin, Texas. On older homes, natural Austin stone is set in orderly rows or irregular patterns. On newer buildings, the "neo-Austin Stone" is often a man-made material manufactured from Portland cement, lightweight natural aggregates, and iron oxide pigments. This imitation stone is frequently applied as a veneer.

Today the name implies a uniformly white-colored stone or stone-like material—a generic term for the pure white limestone once associated with the Texas town. The construction material provides a clean, sanitary look for both interiors and exteriors. Often, exteriors combine areas of stone with areas of wood siding.

Texas Limestone:

Austin stone is a kind of "look" by manufacturers of synthetic stone, produced to appear as if it is real stone cut from the pure white limestone quarries of Austin, Texas.

"Lime was big business in Central Texas," says Austin blogger Michael Barnes. Limestone quarries supplied construction materials for a growing nation's buildings from the mid-1800s until well into the 20th century. "Austin white limestone—along with other color variations—can be finished rough, called 'rusticated,' or sawed, or smooth and finely dressed, dubbed 'ashlar.'"

Since 1888, Austin White Lime has been a supplier of quicklime plaster, a calcium oxide substance that results from heating high quality, pure limestone.

Since 1929, Texas Quarries has been quarrying and fabricating (e.g., sawing large blocks to various sizes) Texas Limestone. "We quarry and fabricate limestone indigenous to Texas," says their Website: "Cordova Cream and Cordova Shell from the Hill Country; Lueders Buff, Gray, and Roughback from the Abilene area." Cordova and Lueders are more general place names, like Austin.

The family-owned Texas Stone Quarries includes Cedar Hill Cream limestone and Hadrian limestone. Limestone containing the shells of sea creatures (sometimes called shellstone or shell limestone) is popular for upscale coastal communities, such as some of the Florida Home Designs by Taylor and Taylor.

Questions to Ask Before you Begin with Stone:

Achieving a "look" with stone involves answering many questions about color, finish, shape, and application.

  • For exterior or interior use?
  • For cladding, veneer, or structural use?
  • Real (natural) stone or fake (i.e. faux) polyurethane-based foam panels?
  • Thin stone veneer, cultured stone, or cast stone?
  • How will the stone be applied? (dry stack or grout / mortar?)
  • What finish type? (e.g., polished or rusticated?)
  • What pattern type will the stones be laid on the wall?
  • Where is the color in real natural stone and manufactured stone? Is the color only in the top layer?
  • Do I need a mason or can I do it myself?

Marketing Colors:

Although Austin Stone may never have been a limestone color, the name has become descriptive of a white, pure limestone. Like paint colors, stone fabricators like to introduce new hues to their products—or at least new names. What may have been "Austin Stone" one year might be "Texas Cream" the next.

Other names include "creamy limestone" and "Chardonnay." Austin stone is often in the white/yellow category compared with white/grey hues sometimes called "glacier." Other color names may include Rattlesnake, Texas Mix, Nicotine, Tumbleweed, and Sunflower. One can use imagination to give a descriptive stone palette name to a yellow tint.

Limestone Quarries Beyond Texas:

Most of the limestone used in America does not come from Texas, however. Harald Greve, PE tells us that almost "80% of the dimension limestone used in the United States is quarried in the state of Indiana." The colors of Indiana limestone, however, are generally off-white gray and buff. Limestone of different shades is found around the US and throughout the world. Some architects have long favored designing with Travertine, a colorful form of limestone; and the popular Jura Stone, a limestone found in Germany, is so rich looking that it's often called Marble.

Perhaps the greatest structures built with limestone blocks are not in the Western world at all—The Great Pyramids of Egypt

Sources: "We Built This City: Historical Austin Materials" by Michael Barnes, May 16, 2013 at www.austin360.com/weblogs/out-about/2013/may/16/we-built-city-historical-austin-materials/ [accessed December 10, 2014]; History, Austin White Lime Company at www.austinwhitelime.com/; "Quarrying and fabricating Limestone" by Harald Greve, Masonry Construction, Publication #M99I017, September 1999, PDF at www.masonryconstruction.com/Images/Quarrying%20and%20Fabricating%20Limestone_tcm68-1375976.pdf; All About Jura Limestone / Marble, Globalstoneportal.com [accessed June 5, 2016]