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A Brief history of

Stony Creek Quarries

by Liza Carroll

 

            The unusual pink granite of Stony Creek was first quarried in 1858 by Benjamin Green. Located directly opposite the Willoughby Wallace library, the quarry extended down to Hall’s Point Road. There is no record of how long it operated. Another quarry was the Branford Granite Co., known today as big Brooklyn; relatively little is known of this quarry.

            The railroad’s arrival in 1852 had a great impact on the industry, improving transportation and the availability of labor. The quarry industry in Stony creek reached its height prior to the strike of 1900 when as many as 1,800 men were employed. Stony Creek during the boom times was a veritable United Nations. The quarry workers were Italian, Irish, Swedish, Finnish, English, Scottish and Spanish.

            Three of the quarries are well documented; Stony Creek Red Granite Company, Norcross Brothers and Guilford’s Beattie Quarry which are all part of the same stretch of granite. The base of the Statue of Liberty came from Beattie Quarry. Beattie was well aware of the dangers involved in quarrying as well as the possibility of silicosis and made the workers stay outside even in winter. Records of the time indicate that accidents at all the quarries were appalling.

            The Red Granite Co., founded in 1876, and eventually taken over and incorporated by a group of New Yorkers, was renamed the Stony Creek Red Granite Co. It was located a bit north north-west of the present Castelluci Quarry and the granite was of exceptional quality. Granite for the post office at Grand Central Station was the last big contract of the company. The Stony Creek Red Granite Co. also furnished the stone for Grants Tomb and shared with Norcross Bros. the South Station in Boston. The company’s stone won second place at the 1898 Chicago Exposition.

            Norcross Bros., from Worcester, Mass., bought property in Stony Creek in 1887 and became the foremost quarry in the area and the only one to operate ever since. For a time it was operated by Dodd Granite Co. and currently as Castelluci & Sons. Norcross Bros. built what is now Quarry Road and then built a spur from the quarry to the railroad track so that stone could be shipped by rail as well as by schooner.

            It is not easy to envision the difficult conditions of quarrying in the 19th century. The surface loose soil and underbrush had to be cleaned and carted off in wheelbarrows. A suitable seam had to be found and holes drilled by hand. The holes were filled with black powder, sometimes as many as sixteen kegs for one hole. The black powder would open a seam with relatively little damage whereas dynamite would shatter the stone into useless fragments. Some blocks weighed 20 tons but could be lifted by the derricks. Norcross at one time had the largest wooden derrick in the world measuring 127 feet high. The huge blocks were hauled to cutting sheds where they were cut and polished as contracted. Many famous buildings were made of Stony Creek granite but the quarries also sold stone for monuments, paving block and rip-rap for breakwaters.

            The Norcross Company’s most unusual contract was for the West Point Monument which was dedicated May 31, 1897. Norcross was selected to provide the stone because its chief characteristic was the ability to produce large stones from ledges of great length without seams. In this case a single blast produced a block 20 feet square and 50 feet long without a crack. The creation of what was ultimately to be the tallest monolith in the world took two years to complete. Unfortunately, the company records of this tremendous job have not survived.

            Transporting the West Point Monument to its final destination was an equally impressive job. It was transported by rail on two flat cars. Because it weighed 75,000 pounds, the top speed of the train was 10 mph to avoid overheating. During the train trip the two flat cars unhitched and the stone rolled to the ground but was not damaged. The monument was brought across the Hudson River by boat then up the hill to West Point by train.

            The Quarrymen’s Union was chartered in 1891 and some of the contracts signed by Stony Creek men indicate there was a significant pecking order in the pay scales among the hundreds of workers. They all had copies of the by-laws which were issued in English and Italian. The pay scale in one contract ranged from 21 cents to 35 cents an hour. The men went on strike March 1, 1900 when the company wouldn’t agree to a pay increase.

            The strike was a serious blow to the industry. However, World War I was an even more serious blow because suddenly both black powder and manpower became scarce. Granite was now not economically feasible as a construction material. The Dodd Granite Co. bought Norcross quarry in 1923 and its last big job was for the Department of Commerce Building in Washington D.C. in 1928.

            The quarries had an enormous impact on Stony Creek, probably infinitely more than the summer people who began flocking to the area about the same time. The quarry workers were here to stay. They needed housing and schools as well as other necessities. There were several grocery stores and two dry goods stores on School Street, a blacksmith shop, movie theater, shoe store, two barber shops, a druggist and nine saloons. No one needed to leave the village for anything.

            Today at Castelluci & Sins the drills are hydraulic, the explosives greatly improved, and the commissions for the stone are larger and still very prestigious. Among the more notable have been the AT&T Building in New York City and the Echlin Headquarters in Branford.

            It is possible today to cut as much stone in a month as the old timers cut in three years. Least you wonder how much longer they can continue to cut granite in Stony Creek, rest assured, there is enough to last at least another 200 years.

 

 

 

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