Located in the Conference/Research/Study Center of The Sanctuary, the rugged split-face granite fireplace and chimney wowed all of the judges participating in Masonry Construction's Top Projects competition. "Gorgeous," declared coordinating judge Colin Munro; "I love The Dirsmith Group's fireplace." Structural engineer Dan Shapiro admired the "massive, monumental granite stonework, which is especially well-adapted to the site." Bill Palmer appreciated the considerable effort required to move and position the colossal stones.

Situated along the Mississippi Flyway in rural northwest Illinois, The Sanctuary is an 1800-acre wildlife refuge, private estate, and residence that is dedicated to habitat restoration, conservation, education, and research. The Dirsmith Group designed the Conference/Research/Study Center and the landscaping in and around the center and main lake. "The massive granite stonework of the fireplace-as well as the surrounding walls, piers, and cascading stonework-sets an enchanting scale to this unique property and surrounding site," according to Suzanne Roe Dirsmith, the firm's president. "Masonry blends the land and the buildings into one."

The client desired that the stonework be exceptional and that the granite "be of a close range of shades of warm gray," said architect Ron Dirsmith. "We knew quite a few sources and after some months developed a process on how this could be accomplished. Linari Masonry was selected as it was one of the best Old World masons in the trade and had done quite a number of beautiful projects for us."

After creating the preliminary sketches, the Dirsmiths found local quarries and stone suppliers and many other sources for the thousands of tons of boulder stones that were used for building the fireplace, as well as the project's many landscaping features. The boulders, some over 15 tons, were trucked to the site on a 3/4-mile access road that had been constructed for the project. While truck cranes placed the large landscaping boulders along the road, the stonemasons used a variety of tools and equipment, as well as strength, ingenuity, and perseverance, to build both the chimney and the fireplace. Chain winches, chain hoists, wedges, levers, pry bars, and rollers counted among the devices used to move the mammoth stones.

Project team
Private Foundation Trust
Architect: The Dirsmith Group, International Architects, Highland Park, Ill.
Landscape architect: The Dirsmith Group, International Architects
General contractor: Owner
Masonry contractor: Linari Masonry, Highwood, Ill.
Masonry supplier: Linari Masonry and local and various quarries and sources in Minnesota