The Stones of the Quarries

Stones of the Quarries“Stones of the Quarries,” is a documentary short produced by Robert Apse this past summer. I was fortunate enough to be included. Enjoy!

The Stones of the Quarries is a short documentary connecting historians, nature preservers, and quarry workers to the world of granite quarrying in northern Massachusetts. An industry that once encapsulated Cape Ann in the 1800s until the great depression, leaves behind traces of its history not only in the quarries themselves but in the roads, bridges, monuments and buildings that helped rebuild America after the American Revolutionary and Civil Wars; stretching from Massachusetts to as far south as New Orleans, Louisiana. Maybe even in your own town.

Official Selection Newburyport Documentary Film Festival 2014

The film features:
Leslie D. Bartlett: Quarry Photographer and Granite Historian
John Ratti: Park Interpreter, Halibut Point State Park
Ramona Latham: Educator/Interpreter, Trustees of Reservations
Barbara Erickson: President and CEO, Trustees of Reservations
George Johnson: Cape Ann quarry worker

Music by Gareth Hobbs

Below the Keystone Bridge – Part One

ABOVE: 1872 E.G. Rollins Stereoview of the Great Arch. With the completion of the tunnel from the quarry to Flat Ledge, and the bridge’s completion permitting street traffic through to Pigeon Cove, the process of quarrying accelerated. In the photo above we see the ox cart tracks and a stiff leg derrick to the rear center. Atop, the road level provides a bird’s eye view of work in the quarry. Three silhouetted figures stand akimbo, at the center of the bridge, peering into the quarry. One pedestrian scurries by.
It would be several years before the Rockport Granite Company made the decision to add a railroad system to this quarry system.  [commentary by Leslie Bartlett]
“It took four years to tunnel through the solid rock, drilling and blasting it away, moving the fragments and large pieces as they were loosened. In September 1871 the tunnel was so far advanced toward the highway that a fence had to be put up blocking off half the street.

Foot by foot the workmen progressed, and in the spring of 1872 the roadway was turned more to the west side, for the old roadbed was to be cut away. By July the workmen were blasting out the face of each wall twenty feet below the surface to make a niche for the abutment of the arch. The work was being done under the supervision of Jonathan Pratt of Quincy, said to be an expert on stone arches and bridge building. He told the men the bridge was one of the largest in the state.

The first part of August the men began to erect the arched bridge over the sixty-five-foot span, bank to bank. By September the huge trusses were in position to hold the arch, and the courses of heavy blocks for the arch were creeping up each end as they were set. They would be joined in the center with the final block, the keystone, on each side of the arch. The eastern side was inscribed with the date 1872. On Saturday, September 29, 1872, the keystones were set in and the bridge became a solid arch capable of supporting itself for all time, although it still had its timbers in place.

It was the fastest construction anyone had ever witnessed, for the bridge alone had taken only eleven weeks to complete. The building of the bridge was not without a death by accident. In the spring of 1871, the huge shears used for hoisting rocks and clearing the channel to the tunnel came down with a mighty crash. One of the giant timbers fell on a workman named Peter Rogers, and he was so badly injured that he died that same evening.”
Barbara Erkkila, Hammers on Stone, pp.136

The Butler Did It…

Gen. Ben. Butler, Jonas French and the Cape Ann Granite Company that is.

Quick work by Mark Erwin id’d my mystery  photo as the Philadelphia City Hall. A little more digging turned up precisely what part Cape Ann granite played in this building.

The following image is from:

“Philadelphia’s City Hall,”

By Allen M. Hornblum, George J. Holmes, page 110


“Someone stood up and started to speak in a foreign language…”

Suspicion ruled every corner of the quarry worker — employer wage and labor movement struggle in the 19th Century. And the Cape Ann Quarry workers & quarry owners were no different. The common language for the immigrant populations which streamed to Cape Ann seeking works was the language of the hand tool.

Not the words that came from their mouths.

Over the course of the several strikes related to hours and wages, the workers often could not even organize themselves enough to be able to get to a meeting at an agreed upon time. This resulted in great disdain on the part of the employers. Over time, as English was acquired by the immigrants, they became more efficient in presenting their demands. And this increased the violence of the response by the quarry owners. They were losing the upper edge in a business which in fact, had not produced a single millionaire quarry owner anywhere in the United States. The owners themselves then organized into the Granite Manufacturers Association, in which the Rockport Granite Company played a major organizational role.


“Someone stood up and started to speak in a foreign language…”
-Charles Rogers, on the occasion of the 1906 Babson Farm Quarry Strikeunioncard

Doctor, Doctor, Quick Run Quick, the Quarry Horns a-Blastn…

Some one is more than just a little sick.

July 17, 1874

Miss Lucy F. Corliss, daughter of Benjamin F. Corliss, a graduate of Vassar, universally beloved by the community, was instantly killed near the premises of the Pigeon Hill Granite Corporation. In company with a party of friends she was riding around the Cape, when a fragment of stone, weighing some four pounds, thrown from a blast in the adjacent quarries, came crashing through the top of the vehicle, striking her on her head and inflicting a fatal blow.

The Historyof Gloucester the Town and City,

James Pringle, 1892 pp.242-243


(Note to Peter Parsons, the names of the Drs. and dates can be found by reading the microfilm versions of the papers from 180s-1890s. It was a grim spectacle, kept away from the casual passerby.)

Presence defined by Absence

For Weights of Blood

Granite farms.
For swaying breaths
Granite bridges.

For a watering eye
Granite walls
Granite headstones
For what is lost

For what adheres
To the lip’s stir
As to the granite
A hand’s shadow.

Granite oblations
Propped on the summit
For faceless prescence
By soft-hand absence.

– Ted Hughes –

Awed to Heaven

Awed to Heaven

BEWARE you descendants of the Granit Quarries workers of Cape Ann

The Fidelity Secret Service Bureau of New York is about to release proposed solutions to the labor complications your ancestors created.

Findings to be presented online to Cape Ann Quarry Employers Sunday, November 24, 2013.

If you cannot read English, find someone who can.



We provide “big men,” thoroughly familiar with this class of work. We are the Union Busters




My Little Granite Hammer



The economic world of the quarry industry came down the hardest on the hardiest group – the pavers. Quarrying stone was a world which required careful estimation and timely delivery. When the pavers went on strike, they were hampered by a lack of English or common language; they were viewed with contempt and distrust. The quarry owners felt that their workers had no understanding of what an agreement meant.

“My Little Granite Hammer,’ appears  in print in 1916, and is a call for a ‘G.U.’ a Grand Union to emerge and work together. The poem signals the adoption of English as a means of direct expression and appeal to all men working with stone – sandstone & marble included.