Clio Logo

The Public Quarry at Government Island is a Colonial Era sandstone quarry located in Stafford, Virginia. Prior to the Civil War, Aquia Creek sandstone taken from this site was used in the construction of many historic buildings and monuments throughout Virginia and Washington, D.C. In 2010, Stafford County reopened the former quarry as a public park and historic nature preserve. Government Island is a designated site on the Potomac Heritage National Scenic Trail and listed on the National Register of Historic Places.


  • A section of sandstone at the public quarry at Government Island. Image by Cowpie21 - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=21582865.
  • Government Island Quarry. Image courtesy of Architect of the Capitol, via Flickr 2.0 Creative Commons.
The Public Quarry at Government Island is a Colonial Era quarry, public park, and archaeological site located off of the Potomac River in Stafford, Virginia. The history of the area goes back to the Paleo-Indian period, though it was ca. 1694 when it first came into use as a quarry for fine-grained Aquia stone (also called freestone). Easily carved and not prone to splitting, Colonial America utilized Aquia stone for architectural trim. The quarry at Wigginton's Island, established by George Brent, provided stone for tombstones, houses, and churches throughout Northern Virginia. Historic structures such as Gunston Hall (Lorton, V.A.), Christ Church (Alexandria, V.A.), Mount Airy (Richmond County, V.A.), and Aquia Church (Stafford, V.A.) all employ the use of Aquia Creek sandstone. The steps and walkways at Mount Vernon are also constructed of this material.

Owing to its beautiful composition and white color, Aquia Creek sandstone was particularly popular in Washington, D.C., where it was used in the construction of government buildings. In 1791, Pierre Charles L'Enfant purchased the Wigginton quarry on behalf of the U.S. government, which thereafter was known as Government Island. The stone quarried here was shipped up the Potomac River to the U.S. Capitol. Notable examples of D.C. monuments made of Government Island sandstone are the White House, Capitol Building, and the D.C. Boundary Stones, erected from 1791 to 1792 to delimit the official boundaries of the capitol city. Many of the stones are still extant, although heavily eroded. Aquia Creek Sandstone's susceptibility to weathering eventually led to its decline as a preferred building material. By the Civil War, the quarry was worked out and derelict.

The U.S. government sold the property in 1963. Government Island, which was acquired by Stafford County, reopened to the public on November 6, 2010 as a nature preserve and park. The 17-acre park features a boardwalk through the wetlands and woods for observing native flora and fauna, a 1.5-mile trail along the water's edge, and interpretive signage detailing the site's history. It is a designated site on the Potomac Heritage National Scenic Trail, a Virginia Landmark (designated 2003), and listed on the National Register of Historic Places (added 2007).
"Colonial Era Quarry." Fredericksburg Virginia. Accessed January 3, 2017. http://www.visitfred.com/government-island.

"Government Island Orientation." Departments of Tourism and Parks & Recreation - Stafford County, Virginia. Accessed January 3, 2017. http://va-staffordcountyparksandrec.civicplus.com/DocumentCenter/View/683.

"Government Island." Stafford County Virginia Tourism. Accessed January 3, 2017. http://www.tourstaffordva.com/things-to-do/details/government-island.

"Public Quarry at Government Island." Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia. Accessed January 3, 2017. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Public_Quarry_at_Government_Island.
0