Thursday, January 8, 2015

Enterprise and Light, Halibut Point 1913

A one-per-decade series of glimpses, 1860-1960

Babson Farm Quarry, Halibut Point, 1913
Oil painting by Leon Kroll
What makes a scene appealing to an artist, and how does he make it his own?
When Leon Kroll fixed his gaze on Halibut Point in 1913 he encountered dual majesties of nature and industry. He approached this scene with a bright innocence very different from his usual subdued palette and emphasis on human figures. The composition and colors offer a child-like response to the choo-choo train dwarfed by an immense man-made hole in the rocky shoreline. It's the kind of painting he might have made years earlier in the company of the Impressionists he studied with in France, but nothing like his canvases that were winning praise and prizes at the New York Armory Exhibition of 1913. It suggests he was flabbergasted by what he saw.

Leon Kroll in his Folly Cove studio, c. 1940s
Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institute
For Kroll coming to Cape Ann was an excursion from another world. Sixteen years later he was drawn back to begin renting studio space in Folly Cove and finally to build his own studio there. The light and the land were that compelling.
From his vantage point in that first encounter he might have observed Altti Peterson in this drilling crew at the Babson Farm (Halibut Point) Quarry.

Babson Farm Quarry c. 1913
Altti Peterson second man from right
Family photo.
Twenty years earlier Altti's parents Antti and Maria Kokkonen with an infant daughter had arrived in Rockport from Finland via New York and Boston. They got off the train at the end of the line and walked up Granite Street with all their possessions toward Pigeon Cove. They crossed the Granite Bridge over the tracks leading down to Granite Pier. At the Rockport Granite Company office that same day Antti - surname now Peterson, after his own father Peter - was hired on to work at the Babson Farm Quarry.

Locomotive shuttling granite blocks from quarry to wharf
beneath the bridge on Granite Street
SBHS photo
Antti's sons Altti and Carl had formative work experiences at the Babson Farm Quarry before moving on to other careers. Altti was a striker (sledgehammer) in a two-man team for the larger blasting holes, later moving to pneumatic drilling. Carl scrambled around work stations on precarious ladders as a tool boy running back and forth to the blacksmith shop for sharpening the drills. Carl's son Fred, who provided this information, eventually became a manager at the Cape Ann Tool Company and presently serves as Treasurer of the Friends of Halibut Point State Park.
Derrick lifting a granite block to the locomotive at Babson Farm Quarry,
for transfer to the shipment point at the Folly Cove Pier
CAM photo
Rockport Granite Company inspectors at the quarry
CAM photo
By this time nearly all the quarrying operations on Cape Ann were owned and operated by the Rockport Granite Company. It sustained business in a competitive market all over the Eastern United States, meeting capital and labor requirements, production standards, and stockholder satisfaction. 

Placing capstones on the Sandy Bay Breakwater
SBHS photo.
The major propellant to expansion of the Babson Farm Quarry was the decades-long effort to create a Harbor of Refuge off Rockport, that envisioned a nearly two-mile long offshore breakwater at depths averaging sixty feet, capable of offering shelter to naval and commercial ships in stormy weather. Located on the coast with limitless stone, Halibut Point was in a unique position for development of the quarry. It sent a prodigious quantity of its core to the project.
Babson Farm
The Rockport Granite Company acquired nearly all the Babson Farm on both sides of Granite Street. It rented the land to aspiring immigrant Antone Balzarini for agricultural pursuits and raising horses for quarry teaming. Later generations of the Balzarini family created the Old Farm Inn on part of the property.

Halibut Point - Folly Cove 1873
Watercolor tinted etching by Kruseman Van Elten
Forty years earlier a painter chose to portray Halibut Point serenely. By 1913 enterprise had created an industry at its zenith but soon to fade and disappear. Social, technological, and economic forces extinguished the light of the granite industry. Federal funding for the harbor of refuge dried up. Concrete and asphalt replaced paving blocks as automobiles replaced horses.

The light of full citizenship lifted immigrants out of a low-paying and dangerous workplace. The light of natural beauty eventually resulted in the acquisition and dedication of Halibut Point to quiet enjoyment for the Commonwealth.

Interview sources:
·Marie-Claude Kroll Rose (daughter of Leon Kroll), 2014
·"The Reminiscences of Leon Kroll," Columbia University oral history manuscript,     1957
·Fred Peterson, 2013
·Mary Balzarini Anderson (daughter of Antone Balzarini),
   in Rockport Recollected, ed. Roger Martin, 2001.
CAM  Cape Ann Museum
SBHS  Sandy Bay Historical Society

1 comment:

  1. Thank you, Martin. I learn so much from your posts.