Did You Know (Quarries)

Photos by E.J. Lefavour

For many years Cape Ann — Rockport in particular — sustained a thriving granite industry. As early as 1800, the inhabitants of Cape Ann began cutting the peninsula’s 450 million year old granite into blocks of stone. The granite industry gradually expanded throughout the 19th Century to the point where it actually superseded the fishing industry in Rockport as the town’s primary business. Quarrying reached its zenith about the year 1910.

The Cape Ann granite industry became successful for a number of reasons. The fine quality of the granite quickly attracted the attention of builders all along the eastern seaboard. As word spread, the granite was regularly shipped throughout the world. Cape Ann’s location allowed for quarries to be set-up close to shore so that the granite blocks could be shipped by vessel. This was important in the early days when railway service was non-existent. Despite the above advantages, it was the rugged character, ingenuity, and perseverance of the people of Cape Ann that made quarrying successful. The men worked year-round in the quarries — irrespective of weather. Before steam engines and drills became available in the 1850s, most of the arduous work was done by hand or with teams of oxen.

The Great Depression ushered in the collapse of the local granite industry. By that time, demand shifted to concrete and steel for building construction and asphalt for street paving. For over 100 years, however, the rock cut and shipped from Cape Ann was used in the construction of many famous buildings throughout the U.S. — including parts of the Statue of Liberty and other great monuments. Paving stones from local quarries were used in the construction of thousands of streets worldwide.

Today, most of the quarries in Cape Ann have filled with both rain and spring water to form deep ponds. Many of the quarries are now hidden in forests which nature has reclaimed. Owing to their colorful beauty and intriguing nature, the quarries are popular with visitors and artists alike. Guided quarry tours are offered frequently at Halibut Point State Park in Rockport — site of the Babson Farm Quarry.

From www.cape-ann.com 

E.J. Lefavour

www.khanstudiointernational.com

7 comments

  • The Brooklyn Bridge is made from Cape Ann granite.

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  • Great photos EJ, I can’t wait to dive into one soon. As for where all the granite went I hear all sorts of stories, The Washington DC Monument, Park Avenue and Broadway paved in lower Manhattan, even the Brooklyn Bridge. But there doesn’t seem to be solid info as to where this rock went. The only two chunks I have definitively tracked (because someone has done a great writeup somewhere on the net) is the two red granite bowls outside the train station in DC came from Red Ledge quarry.

    Somebody has to have written the ledger of where all this stone went. I like facts and numbers. Has anyone calculated how many Brooklyn Bridges you can make out of all the holes in Cape Ann?

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  • Awesome pictures. Halibut Point is truly awesome.

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  • Quarries are beautiful and magical places, although they can be dangerous to dive into, Paul. A number of kids drowned in the quarries in my hometown when I was growing up, after diving in and hitting their heads on hidden rocks. I remember my father, one of the few divers around in those days, being called on a number of occasions to assist in body recoveries. I’d be more inclined to walk, jump or slide in. These particular quarry photos weren’t taken at Halibut Point, but at a somewhat hidden quary, off Quarry St., if I remember correctly. It would be an interesting research project to uncover where all that quarry rock ended up. There must be old records somewhere.

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    • I’m glad you added a cautionary note about diving into quarries. Shouldn’t have used that verb. I use it in a loose sense, the closest I get to actually “diving” into a quarry is when I am up to my knees in icy cold water at Steel Derrick and want to get the shock over with as quickly as possible and sort of flop into the water.

      My goal is do it prior to March 7 but I’ll be cheating by wearing a body glove.

      But the AO1 buoy is holding at 38F and today the air will get up to 45F so ocean swimming is not too far off.

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  • When I was much younger we would swim in the quarries, nice memory you brought back!!

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  • I recall coming to Cape Ann with a group of friends in high school (a very long time ago) and swimming in a quarry, which I thought was the one at Halibut Point, but may have been elsewhere. Now it seems they are mostly all fenced in with “no trespassing”and “no swimming” signs all around, which I understand from a safety and liability standpoint, but I’d love to find Steel Derrick that Paul has referred to, or others that you can still access and swim in (once it actually gets warm enough – not in March).

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