THE BIRTH OF THE BOOM: THE CREATION OF BARRE’S GRANITE EXPLOSION
(Part 1 in a series on Barre’s Granite Industry in celebration of Rock of Ages’ 125th anniversary)
The last quarter of the 19th century in
Most industries benefited from technological advances, and Barre’s granite industry was no exception. During this period animal-powered derricks were replaced by steam-driven derricks and blondins; steam drills burst onto the scene; overhead “traveling” cranes were invented; man-made corundum abrasive was created and pneumatic surfacers filled Barre’s granite sheds. Barre’s pounding, whirring, buzzing, jangling, clanging voice of opportunity was heard ‘round the world, calling forth the adventurous, plucky and courageous. And heed that call they did! Thousands came from around the globe to change their lives and forge their personal fortunes in Barre’s granite quarries and sheds.
One of these young immigrants was George B. Milne, who emigrated from a village near
But just twenty years earlier, when Emery L. Smith returned to his native
Barre’s granite industry dates back to the very early years of Wildersburg (later renamed Barre), the name first given to the tract of land granted to William Williams by the
These men and their heirs established Barre’s granite industry, the granite being used primarily for mill wheels and architectural pieces, such as underpinnings, sills and other trim work. Abijah Abbott’s son, Richard F. Abbott, joined his father’s quarrying business in 1834 after his tavern in Jackman’s Mills (
Barre granite weighs nearly 170 pounds per cubic foot, and there was no easy method of transporting it in the early days of quarrying. The difficulty of transporting stone in these early years is cited by Arthur Brayley in the second volume of his work entitled History of the Granite Industry of New England: “Mr. Abbott found it quite difficult to obtain means of transportation, owing to the fact that the devices for handling stones were very inadequate. Very large undertakings were usually left for winter, strong sleds being especially made for the purpose, and when farmers being less occupied and desirous of obliging a man they liked, could more easily be obtained. As many as thirty or more oxen and horse teams would sometimes be required, and on such occasions they were gathered from different parts of Barre and the adjoining towns.”
These same difficulties were highlighted once more when two of Barre’s granite firms were contracted to provide the granite for the construction of the new State House in
When completed in 1837, the Capitol was received with great acclaim. However, due to the labor-intensive methods used to cut the stone and the difficulties transporting the granite, the Barre firms lost money on the construction contract. A general pessimism arose such that many believed that the State House would be the last public building to be constructed from Barre granite. More efficient methods of both cutting and transporting the stone would be necessary if the industry was to survive, let alone grow and prosper.
Upcoming civil strife, technological innovations, charging social values and upwardly mobile Victorians with a taste for the exotic would forever change Barre’s granite industry…