This is a timeline of the major quarries on Cape Ann and how the Rockport Granite Company eventually acquired most of them.
The letterhead of the Rockport Granite Company reveals the extent of the Company’s holdings – both on Cape Ann and beyond. Not only did the Rockport Granite Company quarry in Maine, but at one time it also owned a pink granite company in Lebanon, N.H. With offices in Boston, N.Y. & Chicago, it was a company which could offer its granite for contracts across the United States.
This painting is by Margaret Howard Yeaton Hoyt (mother to Wm. Hoyt, one time curator & benefactor at SBHS).
The scene depicts two paving stone cutters working granite and “chipping” rough edges into their wooden chip tub. Typically at lunch time we would find one of their children, who after delivering the lunch pail, would spend time emptying out the chips from the tub.
Fading into the background, we have a cascade of paving cutter sheds lining the top edge of old Granite Pier in Rockport, Ma. [For many years this painting hung in the basement of the SBHS, in what was originally the ‘Granite Museum.’ Overtime the frame, backing and painting acquired mold, when I realized who the painter was, the painting was moved out for possible restoration.]
Image courtesy of SBHS
As you walk in along below the Keystone Bridge in Rockport, take a look to your left; there inscribed on the wall is a veritable tale told in chisel. A lineage of initials & dates. A permanent colophon. Emotions of whimsy, striking anger, and the wish to be remembered.
More hidden on the right wall, and down along the ledge which held the ladder by which all workmen climbed down into the quarry, are more carved initials which date back as early as 1881. The ‘Signing of the Quarry Walls,’ is almost unique to the Flat Ledge Quarry. (Almost because there is one other example to be found in Rockport.) These wall surfaces were revealed as the Keystone Bridge neared completion in 1872, located below the bridge, there was no further quarrying to take place.
The carvings therefore, took place in areas obscured by buildings and sheds, and away from the peering eyes of the Rockport Granite Company Treasurer who would lean over the Keystone Bridge. observing the pace of workers.
They stand as individual expression, from an era where men had to work together to make their daily bread.
NOTE: the ‘All Done,’ chiseling to the left includes an elaborate ! exclamation point.
“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
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
MY LITTLE GRANITE HAMMER
I have a little granite hammer which I carry in my kit,
a little three-pound dandy and I’ve used it quite a bit.
All the way from Maine to ’Frisco and from Georgia to the Pole,
My little granite hammer is a comfort to my soul.
I have laughed at sandstone fellows with a clumsy wooden mall
and a hammer like a coffin, but they get there after all;
and the marble Cutter joins me with his automatic tool
but will all get on together if we share the Golden rule.
It’s a grand old trade we follow if a feller does his part;
though his tools may slightly differ there is no difference in his heart,
and wonder why the Dickens we should carry different cards,
when we might be altogether as we should be, loyal pards.
You can do a bit of my work, I can do a bit of yours,
There should be no wall between us making enemies and boors,
let us join our separate forces; nail our colors to the wall;
and hail each other brother, with one union over all,
We have Duncan! We have Blasey! We have Griggs and Walter price.
We have brains enough to guide us and we ought to cut some ice,
we can cut down our expenses and our troubles quite a few,
if we only get together in a brotherly G.U.
– Jo. Evans