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Potluck: The Stability of Stone

Des Moines



130 Years of Dust

Compiled by Carol Bodensteiner
and Mary Gottschalk

Scottish stonecutter John Rowat immigrated to Iowa in the 1870s to help build the Iowa State Capitol building. When his work there was finished, he walked down the hill and founded Rowat Cut Stone within eyesight of the gold dome.

As the state of Iowa grew, so did Rowat’s business, cutting Indiana sandstone for landmark buildings around the state, including Park Inn in Mason City, Salisbury House in Des Moines, Dubuque Public Library, and Hotel Whitney in Atlantic. At one point the company employed 60 stonecutters, men who fabricated stone for 90 percent of the municipal buildings in Des Moines and surrounding states.

The company is as enduring as the stone it cuts, still operating in the original building at the same location near the capitol. “We have 130 years of dust,” says Dave Gaer, general manager. Look up at the rafters and the racks of stonecutting tools and you’ll believe he’s right.

“Change comes slowly to this business,” says Theresa Van Vleet-Danos, who bought the company in 1985. She’s the first non-Rowat to own the company; she was also the first woman to be employed there in any capacity.

The green movement has helped to generate increased interest in natural materials. “Stone has a natural beauty,” says Gaer, pointing to slabs of granite and marble that range in color from emerald green to sapphire blue to the red-gold of a desert sunset and come from countries as widespread as India, Vietnam, and Brazil. “It’s fascinating that it came out of the ground that way. Stone is as green as can be.”

“This place screams stability,” says Gaer — the stability of stone, the stability of 130 years. 

 Learn more online at — C.B.

Photo courtesy Carol Bodensteiner


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