The following account is of a trip that I made with my husband, Pat Perazzo, in mid-July 1998, to visit the Raymond Granite Quarry near Raymond in Madera County, and to tour some of the Columbia marble quarries in Tuolumne County. After visiting the various quarries, it seemed to me that others may be interested in what we were fortunate to see as some of these quarries are located on private property and are not open to public access.
The purpose of our tour initially was to obtain information on the sources of marble and granite stone used in our Contra Costa Cemeteries by the cemetery/tombstone carvers and monument companies in the San Francisco Bay Area that I am researching. These marble stones were created during the last half of the 1800s and first several years of the 1900s. On many of the old marble stones, you can still see the individual or company names carved near the base of the marble stones. In many cases, the marble stones were mounted atop granite bases.
The granite from the Raymond quarries and the marble from the Columbia quarries were transported all over California by wagon, traction engine, railroads and later by trucks. Both can be found in many of California’s cemeteries, buildings, and other structures. In our cemeteries today many of the marble stones are not generally weathering well. Once stone is quarried from the earth and exposed, rain (our acid rain), wind, frost, vegetation, and chemical actions greatly affect the surface of the stone.1 Some of the marble appears to be “melting” or even has layers in areas where the stone is peeling away or exfoliating. Marble, which is metamorphosed limestone, is much softer than granite and so is easier to carve. The granite monuments are faring better in our cemeteries, but are also deteriorating at a slower rate. Granite is generally made up of quartz, mica and feldspar; and it’s feldspar component decomposes after time from rainwater. 2 Also, stone quarried from the outer edges of the quarry might be of lesser quality that stone quarried further in. In some cases fissures or cracks in the cemetery stones have provided surfaces for further deterioration. (You might want to visit Rob’s Granite Page for a complete description and photographs of granite.)
I hope you find our tour of interest. If you wish further information or have anything you would like to share on the subject, I would be very interested in hearing from you. It is difficult to do justice to these large quarries through photographs as I was unable to obtain views from a distance which would adequately provide the scope of the entire area of the quarries.
In mid-July we started our trip to see the quarries from the town of Mariposa. We stopped by the Mariposa Museum to find out how long it would take to travel to Raymond as we had an early appointment the next morning at the Cold Spring Granite Raymond Granite Quarry. The museum volunteer was surprised we were going there and told me that not many people visit Raymond any more. The next morning we traveled along Highway 49 southward from Mariposa until we turned onto Ben Hur Road and followed that road until it eventually curved to the left and became Green Mountain Road (Road 613). It was a beautiful country road; and, as it had rained the night before, the country smelled wonderful and everything appeared fresh and green. We reached the town of Raymond and found Road 606, the road we needed to get to the Raymond Granite Quarry. The country around Raymond and the granite quarries is very different than the country along Ben Hur Road. In July it was very hot and dry, and you could see the dry, rolling hills which had some green vegetation on them. We were fortunate in that the weather, which had been 100 plus degrees during the weeks prior, had settled down to the relatively “comfortable” high 90s.
Traveling along Road 606 - the Knowles Road - we could see the quarry in the distance about half-way up the hill. It appears as a large, horizontal, light-colored area amongst the trees and darker soil of the hills. You care barely see what appear to be ledges cut into the hill.
I had not been able to find any historical or descriptive information on the quarry prior to our visit, so we thought we were going to an area with one main quarry - the Raymond Granite Quarry. Upon arrival we found signs indicating there were other quarries in the area (Knowles Granite and the Omega on Road 606 and the abandoned McGilvrays Quarry on Road 411, which can be seen from the road.) (After purchasing a booklet from a small store in Raymond, we found that the Raymond/Knowles granite quarries were first discovered in 1886.)
Approaching the entrance to the Raymond Granite Quarry, which is owned by Cold Spring Granite, there are carved granite bears on either side of the entrance. In an article in the Sierra Heritage magazine, the author notes that the bears were carved by Peter Bisson, a Knowles stone carver.3
We arrived at the Raymond Granite Quarry to find a dusty parking lot with the office to the left and large sheds straight ahead. There was no indication of a granite quarry nearby except for the large chunks of the light gray granite (Sierra White) that lie alongside the parking lot. There were also large mausoleums of various colors near the office ready for shipment. Also near the office there is a display area of various colored granite cemetery monuments made of granite brought in from other areas of the United States and from out of the country as well from the Raymond quarry. I was told the quarry does not sell monuments directly to individuals but to monument companies.
As public tours are no longer available at the quarry, I had made arrangements ahead of time for a private tour. After seeing photographs of the guided tours in tram cars of the Rock of Ages granite quarry in Vermont,4 my expectations were very different from the tour we were given. Our tour turned out to be an exceptional experience that you could not receive from a more formal tour. This was a more close-up, personal experience.
One of the company employees was delegated to take us through the quarries and the sheds. Our guide, Max, told us that there are several working quarries in the area all owned by the Cold Spring Granite Company, which has a world-wide reputation and is headquartered in Cold Spring, Minnesota. The company not only owns the Raymond Granite Quarry but also the Knowles quarries which you pass by on your way to the Raymond Granite Quarry. The company leases the quarries to other companies.
As our tour began, I realized this would be a tour as none I had ever been on – and much more than I ever expected. After outfitting us with hard hats and safety glasses, we climbed up into a large, old truck and headed up a very rough, dusty, pitted road to the upper quarry. (Being a short person, getting in and out of the truck turned out to be the hardest part of the tour. Good clothes would not fare well on this type of tour.) As we traveled up the hill, a large tractor-like vehicle descended, which Max said was used to transport the blocks of marble down to the sheds. I wasn’t sure how we were going to get by the vehicle that was coming down, but Max casually and effortlessly avoided the oncoming vehicle and continued to steer the truck up the hill to the upper quarry area.
We first stopped at a ledge of light gray granite in the upper quarry that was currently being worked. We were in a section that had previously had some quarrying done. From that high view point, we could see the workmen below us. To the right we could see a machine run by an employee drilling holes along a straight, marked line. Max said after the holes were drilled, a small amount of explosive would be inserted which would cause the granite to split away from the main quarry along a straight line. To the left on the same level other men were working on another section of the granite wall.
Max then drove us down to the lower portion of the upper quarry area that we had observed from the level above. The men were quarrying blocks of granite and worked at a much slower, steadier pace than I had imagined. One thing we noted was that it was extremely hot in the quarry as the temperature was in the high 90s that day and the heat was reflecting all around off of the light-colored granite floors and walls. We got out of the truck, and I started photographing all around the quarry. Just inside the entrance is what appears to be a wall of curving, light-colored granite with vertical lines. These walls were previously quarried by drilling to separate the blocks leaving it now, in its own a way, a beautiful, curving, almost-white wall of vertical lines. As you look off a little further, you can see other walls that were similarly quarried at an earlier time. Then, as you look beyond the quarry, you see the light, golden hills of summer rolling below partially covered by short trees and bushes. From this vantage point, no towns or homes could be seen. Max said that almost all of the employees commute in from other towns in the area.
During our visit to the upper quarry, a large slab of granite weighing several tons had just been separated from the quarry wall. It appeared somewhat unplanned as another smaller piece of granite lay beneath the slab which had to be removed by a tractor before the larger slab could be positioned to be cut to smaller blocks prior to being transported down to the sheds. The surface of the piece of granite that had separated from the quarry wall appeared to be very white, although you could see the a darker gray color where the water used in the drilling process had seeped down. The workman running the drill wore a hard hat and large ear coverings. It was so noisy in the quarry because of the drilling machine, everyone had to shout to be heard over the machinery. Although there appeared to be granite dust all around, little could be seen floating in the air.
After visiting the upper quarry, Max suggested we move on to the older lower quarry. We drove down that rough, dusty road and then used a broader dirt road to travel behind the office and large sheds. As we approached the lower quarry on the left, we could see a tall derrick poised over the lower quarry, which has a more traditional appearance of various blocks of granite having been quarried from the hill. In some ways it is more beautiful than the upper quarry, and it is much smaller. The older granite quarry surfaces appear to have a sandy, sepia-color. In some of the photographs I took, it almost appears to be a tiered, Indian pueblo that you would see in the Southwest of the United States. You can easily see where blocks of granite have been removed from this quarry. Max said this quarry is used mainly for orders of specific, smaller sizes than the blocks taken from the upper quarry. Amongst the straight, cut surfaces are also surfaces that seem to flow into beautiful, smooth shapes. While we visited the lower quarry, two men were using the derrick to move a large granite block from one end of the quarry to the other high above the quarry floor.
In the Sierra Heritage article about Raymond and the quarries, there is a photograph of the Raymond Granite quarry in the late 1800s. This photo appears to be of the same lower quarry we had seen before much of the blocks had been quarried. Large trucks are used to transport the granite today.
Max next took us to the first of the sheds, which is just beyond a large area used for outdoor storage of various pieces and blocks of granite in various sizes, shapes and colors. There are many slabs, both thick and thin, propped upright in the storage yard.
One of the sheds is completely open on the sides and ends and houses a large saw. Here large slabs of granite are cut, and there are many smaller monuments stacked and labeled with bar codes awaiting transport near the shed.
Between the open shed and the next processing shed, we came across about 25 or more large bags full of cobblestone-sized blocks of a darker granite than the Sierra White granite. Max explained these granite pieces will be put through a large, round metal drum that will tumble the small blocks of granite to make them appear “distressed” and old. They would eventually be used as cobblestones at Fisherman’s Wharf in San Francisco.
At the Raymond Granite quarries the granite is a light gray color called Sierra White. The Cold Spring Granite Company also has a quarry further south at Clovis, down near Fresno, in which they quarry a darker granite called Academy Black. At Raymond they quarry stone by cutting blocks away from the quarry walls, but at Clovis they quarry the stone from large boulders of granite. Max told us they don’t have cutting or finishing sheds at Clovis, so they send the granite up to the Raymond sheds for processing. The Academy Black granite a pretty, dark granite, but not nearly as black as the granite from India that we were shown later in the tour. One interesting thing I noted about the granite blocks prior to sizing and polishing is that there are many variations of color within some blocks of granite. Many of the Sierra White granite blocks were more uniform in color than the Academy Black which appeared to contain some brown coloring along with the black.
The next shed we visited was entirely enclosed with many windows running along the center of the room and around the top edges of the shed walls. The large doors were all open. There was a lot of light in the shed to work by, and I was able to take photographs inside the shed without using the strobe light on my camera. The sheds are wide and very long and seemed as large as a football field. Max took us through all parts of the shed in which they were processing smaller pieces of granite of many colors. Along two outside walls of the shed we saw a machine that pushed large blocks of granite into the building and into a saw that cut them into smaller blocks in which water is used in the cutting process.
Inside we saw various areas. One workman was sawing smaller, flat monument pieces, some which required sections to be cut out of larger pieces. In another area, there was a conveyor belt that fed slabs of granite through a guillotine cutter in which a metal blade slammed down to chop the granite into smaller pieces leaving smooth, straight cuts. Another machine nearby, also using water, cut slabs of granite about an inch thick into tiles. Waste pieces throughout the sheds are placed in what appear to be the lower half of a rounded metal container with an open end. There was one workman who was responsible for the carving or finishing work necessary. While most of the words and designs are created today using rubber stencils and sand blasting, Max said they do not do that type of work there at the Raymond sheds. He also said that many of the tools they used in carving the monuments today were the same as were used in the past. All in all, the sheds are kept clean and well-ventilated.
I asked if any women worked in the sheds, and Max said there is only one. She had worked in various positions there for 18 years. She was measuring slabs of granite to cut it down further in size when we saw her.
I asked if they stopped working when it rained, and he said they just put on rainwear and keep on going. I don’t know how they’d get up or down those rough, dusty (and in the winter muddy), roads though. Perhaps Max was referring to the workmen in and around the sheds. He also said the workers do not belong to a union, but the company treats them well and is very concerned about safety issues.
One interesting thing that caught my eye was their cemetery stones - which are stacked all around and inside the closed shed. The Raymond quarry is strictly wholesale; but after I asked, our guide, Max, told me that we could go through a monument dealer and go down and pick our own piece of granite if the monument dealer was agreeable.
There were some beautiful colors of granite at the sheds. One thing I wasn’t aware of was that the granite is graded: their B grade being of a lesser quality than the A grade. Some of the B grade granite contains gold-colored specks that glint in the light because of the iron pyrite in the stone. Max said people prefer not to use this stone as their main cemetery stones but place plaques in the granite blocks when using this stone. There were also many granites from all over the United States and the world - black granite from India, a silvery-blue-gray granite from Finland that was iridescent, and red and even bluish granites.
After the sheds, our tour was finished; it had lasted about 2 ½ hours and had been very hot. I had used up five rolls of film showing just how much there was to see. The company employees, especially Max and my contact Rhonda Kassis, Sales Assistant, were very hospitable and provided me with the information about the Sierra Heritage magazine article.
One of the Raymond Quarry employees told us that we should go to the Hills Pride Inn - Robert's Roost, which is owned by a local historian Robert Casaruang. She said he has many photographs on the walls and drawers and he has kept the history of the area. We found Hills Pride Inn, but we were unable to wait until it opened as we had to get back to Mariposa. (Mr. Casaruang provided many of the photographs in the Sierra Heritage magazine article.)
Max had suggested we go down to Raymond and have lunch at the town’s only grocery store/café, which we did. We followed his advice and found it to have good food, and it was a great relief to get in out of the sun for a while. While there I found the booklet on the history of Raymond that Max had told me about - The History of Raymond - which is a copy of an article from Raymond High School Tattler of March and April, 1933.
Raymond is an interesting little place. It used to be a large, bustling town in the late 1800s because a railroad spur was built to it and stage coaches were used to carry passengers to Yosemite. Later another railroad track was built in from Merced in 1907, and Raymond lost all of the tourist business to Yosemite. Of all the buildings built then, only a few are left; and everything built for the railroad is gone except for a monument across the street from the store about the Wild Cat Station, Raymond, CA. (There is another monument in front of Hills Pride Inn about the town of Knowles.) Luckily for Raymond someone had discovered the granite nearby in 1886, so the granite business helped keep Raymond alive - only the town didn’t flourish as much as during the Yosemite times.5
There was one quarry that we missed seeing - the McGilvrays Quarry - which is one-half mile down Road 411. In Sharon Giacomazzi’s article in the Sierra Heritage magazine, she wrote beneath a photograph that she took of this quarry in 1995, “McGilvrays Quarry, ‘the old quarry.’ At Knowles, a long abandoned source of Sierra White granite, is now filled with rubble and sixty feet of water.”
As I said earlier in this account, our trip to the Raymond Granite Quarry was a wonderful experience. Even with all the high-tech machines and saws that use diamonds and lasers, you can still imagine how workmen in the past achieved the same results with equipment necessitating more time and manual labor than today. In the sheds, though, many of the hand tools are still used.6 One big difference is that the number of workers needed today is much less than prior to when power tools were developed such as the pneumatic drills. As power tools were perfected and came into wide use, fewer men were needed to do the work.
While the Raymond Granite Quarry is not open for public tours, you can stop at the office for information on the company and see their display area. There are many places to visit in the area that are well worth exploring including Raymond and the nearby roads, especially Road 606 which leads to the Raymond Granite Quarry. We thoroughly enjoyed our Raymond visit and would have liked to have had more time to explore. On our way back to Raymond, we chose to take an alternate route - Road 800 - back to Mariposa on our way to Columbia to tour the marble quarries. Road 800 turned out to be much longer and rougher, many times turned into a dirt/gravel road (in 1998). I would not suggest this as a easy route to take unless you are adventurous and have a vehicle in good working order or want to travel at a leisurely pace.
Arnold, Walter S., Sculptor/Stone Carver. Chicago, Illinois. July 6, 1997.
<http://www.stonecarver.com/> (main page)
<http://www.stonecarver.com/union.html> (stone carver unions)
<http://www.stonecarver.com/carvtool.html> (carving tools)
Cold Spring Granite Company. “The Cold Spring Granite Company Past, Present and Future.” July 26, 1998
Giacomazzi, Sharon. “Of Rocks and Rails: The Story of Raymond.”
Sierra Heritage. (May/June 1995): pgs. 52 – 57.
Neep, Rod. “Recording Monumental Inscriptions.” Cinderford, Gloucestershire, England. May 1997.
Resch, Tyler. “Eroding Heritage: Acid Rain is Melting Old Gravestones”
In-Roads - The Vermont Magazine. 1982
Rock of Ages Corporation. Barre, Vermont
<http://www.rockofages.com/> (main page)
<http://www.rockofages.com/craftsman/index.html> (The Process of Crafting a Rock of Ages Memorial)
Shaw, A. C. “The History of Raymond.” Copy of article from Raymond High School Tattler. (March/April, 1933) This booklet was printed by Karl H. Krohn, 1982. (I obtained this booklet at the Raymond General Store in Raymond, California.)