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The Production of Granite in the New England States1

By A. T. Coons

Historical Review 2

Period Before the Civil War

The stone industry in New England began in colonial times with the use of boulders and cobbles. The splitting of dimension stone from boulders was a crude operation. The stone for King's Chapel, built in 1749-1754 and considered an architectural masterpiece at the time, was obtained by dropping heavy iron balls upon heated boulders and hammering the split stone into shape. Split stone was used mainly in the construction of wharves, foundations, and wells, and cobbles were used for street paving. The sources of supply were within reasonable distance for transportation by water or by teams of oxen. About the beginning of the nineteenth century considerable granite was conveyed to Boston from Quincy, Mass., by ox teams and from Chelmsford (now Westford), Mass., by canal. Quarrying from the ledge began in Quincy in 1825 to supply stone for the Bunker Hill Monument, and with the introduction of quarry implements and the "plug and feathers" or "wedge and half-rounds" method of splitting stone, the industry developed rapidly.

The first quarries of more than local importance were convenient to water transportation, on the coasts of Massachusetts and Maine. The rapid growth of American commerce, with the resulting requirements for harbor improvements and coast protection, created a strong demand for granite in the construction of jetties, sea walls, wharves, and forts. This demand was supplied at first from quarries in Quincy and Cape Ann, Mass., and later from quarries in Rhode Island and Connecticut also. During the century that has elapsed since the opening of the first ledge quarry at Quincy other uses have been developed to so great an extent and the requirements for sea walls and similar construction work have been so well supplied that granite for such work now constitutes only a small part of the total output.

The use of granite for architectural work also grew rapidly during the second quarter of the nineteenth century, and many buildings in the larger cities on the Atlantic coast were erected of granite from the coast of New England. The Quincy granite, owing, no doubt, to its reputation gained as the stone used in Bunker Hill Monument, to its favorable position near tidewater, and to the more advanced methods of quarrying it, was probably the leading building granite during this period, although other granites along the coast of Maine and Massachusetts were finding an equally extensive range of markets. Inland granites of New England, now well known, were supplying mostly local demands, which included a few important buildings, such as the State capitols in New Hampshire and Vermont. Toward the middle of the century the construction of railroads, by furnishing transportation, began to give these granites more extensive markets.

Granite paving blocks were introduced into Boston in 1840, into Philadelphia in 1848, and into New York about 1850 and soon became one of the principal granite products. The blocks first used were considerably larger than the modern blocks, their surfaces measuring a square foot or more in area; but experience soon resulted in the adoption of blocks essentially like those used to-day.3

Granite flagstones, principally from Quincy and Rockport, Mass., were probably introduced before the Civil War, and flagstones from granite quarries along the coast of Maine were probably used in Boston and other cities along the Atlantic coast not long afterward.

Granite was only occasionally used as a monumental stone until after 1860, but by 1880 its desirability for this use had become generally appreciated.

The available data on production of stone for the early years of the industry are very incomplete and represent only the leading quarries and possibly also the cutting plants. Much stone produced for local use and rough construction work, such as walls, piers, and docks were probably not included in the figures of production. the report of the Eighth Census, for 1860, gives only the total value of all kinds of stone produced in the New England States. The value of the output of Connecticut ($532.704) was mostly for sandstone, and that of Massachusetts ($289,626) included granite, marble ($122,496), and "pudding stone." Granite produced in Maine in that year was valued at $295,280, in New Hampshire at $23,540, and in Rhode Island at $6,800, but none was reported from Vermont. The granite industry in Maine and Massachusetts was then considered very prosperous.

Period Since the Civil War

Building Stone

There are no data available to show the effect of the Civil War upon the granite industry of New England, and none of much value to show the size and growth of the industry before 1880. The figures compiled by the Ninth Census,4 for 1870, suggest a substantial increase in the total value of output of the leading quarries compared with the period before the Civil War, but the comparison is obscured by the fact that prices were relatively high in 1870. During the 25 or 30 years after the Civil War the granites that were the most prominent before the war still led in production. The darker-red granites of Maine, the dark bluish-gray granite of Quincy, Mass., and the lighter-gray granites of Rockport, Mass., Hallowell, Maine, and Concord, N. H., were prominent among building stones. The lighter-pink coarse-grained granites had been regarded with less favor by some because of their coarser texture and because their minerals lacked sufficient contrast in color, especially for monumental work.5 Gradually, however, and probably owing in large part to the growing popularity of the buff and gray limestone from Indiana, tastes changed in favor of the lighter-colored building stones, and from 1895 to 1900 the pale-pink granites, particularly those of the Penobscot Bay district, Maine, and Milford, Mass., became prominent. Some of the darker-colored granites found a growing demand as monumental stone.

From 1865 to 1890 the principal granite products were building, paving, and monumental stone. Crushed stone for water-bound macadam was gaining recognition, though its output was insignificant compared with that of to-day

The general increase of the industry in 1889 as compared with 1880 is striking.but does not imply a steady growth. Sales of stone in general were though to have decreased in 1883 owing to a marked preference for brick construction, and they decreased again in 1884 owing to a general industrial decline. In 1885, however, both the output of granite and its popularity for ornamental and decorative use showed a gain, whereas prices, owing to increasing competition, declined. from then until 1890 the industry was prosperous. This half decade was the first of two conspicuously prosperous periods for the building-stone industry since annual statistical information has been available.

This period of prosperity was followed by a decline in the demand for buildings and by the panic of 1903, when the output of structural stone and clay products decreased greatly. The output of stone as a whole continued to diminish until 1896, when the total value of all building stone sold was estimated at $10,000,000. The production of Portland cement was then beginning to increase rapidly, but the demand for buildings, after five years of curtailment, had now become so great that all structural materials found ready markets, and their production increased until 1902. After two years of decrease the sales of building stone as a whole increased until 1906, which marks the end of the second prosperous period of the industry. After a marked decline in 1907 and 1908 sales of granite for building fluctuated with a slight net gain until 1913, in spite of keen competition with lower-priced building materials for both rough construction and higher grades of architectural work. The effect of this competition has been gradual restriction of granite to the more costly buildings.

The drastic curtailment in high-class building during the war period 1914-1918 was to be expected, and since then the high costs of production and transportation together with labor troubles have delayed revival of the building-stone industry. There is, however, another shortage of buildings, and with industry in general becoming stabilized the demand for building granite may be expected to increase.

Granite for Other Uses

Monumental stone-As already stated, the use of granite for monumental stone had attained considerable prominence by 1880. Since then the production of monumental granite has made such districts as Barre, Vt., Quincy, Mass., and Westerly, R. I., famous throughout the country. The output was on the whole steady.until the war period, when the abnormal prosperity of some industries and the increased demand for memorials caused a marked increase, whereas the output of other granite products greatly decreased. The severe depression that followed the war, however, greatly reduced the demand for monumental stone, and curtailment of output has been continued by labor troubles, which have led producers of monumental granite in particular as well as several producers of granite of other classes to adopt what is practically the open shop.

Paving stone-The demand of paving stone appears to have continued steadily except in periods of general depression until about 1895, when keen competition began with other materials that had certain advantages over granite blocks as then prepared and laid. The years 1909-1911 marked a high point in both the quantity and value of granite paving blocks sold from New England quarries, as well as from all quarries in the United States. This period was followed by a slight decline and by a second high point in 1913-14. The expected decline during the war period lasted until 1919, when, owing to renewal of street improvement in cities that had the heaviest traffic, the paving-block output began to increase. It declined again in 1920, but increased in 1921, when the value of the paving blocks sold was the largest ever recorded. There is no question regarding the greater resistance to wear of granite paving blocks as compared with competing materials, and the latest improved methods of preparing and laying them produce smooth road surfaces that will maintain their smoothness so long as the foundation upon which the blocks rest withstands the weight of traffic. As cheaper pavements are proving satisfactory for light to rather heavy traffic, the growth of the granite paving-block industry is expected to keep pace with that of extremely heavy city traffic.

Crushed stone-The demand for crushed stone began late in the nineteenth century with the introduction of water-bound macadam roads. The use of crushed stone in concrete for foundations and buildings began about 1900, and its effect on the building-stone industry was soon noticeable. By 1907 the value of the crushed stone sold exceeded the combined values of the building and monumental stone. The quarries of New England States were among the first to supply crushed stone, but most of this material was basalt. Few of the New England quarries that supply building and monumental granite furnish crushed stone in any quantity. Massachusetts is the largest producer, and the greater part of the output comes from quarries especially operated and equipped for turning out this product. The production of crushed granite from the New England quarries, except for yearly fluctuations due to the effect of business conditions on the demand, showed a general moderate increase from 1896 to 1915, when the unusual conditions caused by the war brought about a rapid decline, and in 1918 the output was less than in any other year since 1902. A small increase in 1919 was followed by decreases in 1920 and 1921, but production in each of these years exceeded that of 1918. At present water-bound macadam is being superseded by asphaltic and cement-concrete pavements, in which gravel is used as well as crushed stone for the aggregate. Specially prepared crushed granite is finding considerable favor in terrazzo work for floors and in the better class of concrete exterior construction. In this work the color of the stone, as well as well as its durability, is all importance.

Conclusion-The development of several products from one quarry and the finding of uses for what has heretofore been waste are indications of the present trend of the industry. The diversification of the granite industry and increased competition of all its products with other materials has resulted in gradual elimination of companies not properly equipped and financed to meet the present exacting requirements. The industry has advanced in the last century from one of primitive methods to one requiring elaborate and expensive equipment. A comparison of the years 1902 and 1919 in the census table.shows that although the number of quarries and employees greatly decreased, the output did not change in proportion.


Dale, T. Nelson, The Chief Commercial Granites of Massachusetts, New Hampshire and Rhode Island, Bulletin 354. Department of the Interior, United States Geological Survey, Washington Government Printing Office, 1908.

Dale, T. Nelson, The Commercial Granites of New England, Bulletin 738, Department of the Interior, United States Geological Survey, Government Printing Office, Washington, 1923.

1 The Commercial Granites of New England. pgs. 436-441. This entire document was quoted from the cited book. I have also copied the author's original footnotes listed in The commercial Granites of New England.

2 "Adapted from text by G. F. Loughlin, forming a chapter in the History of the Mineral Industries," compiled by E. W. Parker for the Carnegie Institution."

3 Brayley, A. W., History of the Granite Industry in New England, vol. 1, pp. 167-170. Boston. 1913.

4 Ninth Census, vol. 3, p. 749, 1872.

5 Merrill, G. P., Stones for Building and Decoration, p. 61, 1903.

The Production of Granite in the New England States

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