Thursday, April 2, 2015

A Granite Museum

At a particularly warm spot in our interview, Halibut Point State Park's first supervisor Gail Halloran reminisced about Rockport native son Walter Johnson who loved to share his knowledge of the granite quarrying industry. Gail provided the photographs.
Gail Halloran:
"Did you ever know Walter Johnson? He was a great teacher. His father came over from Sweden in the 1800s and became a quarry foreman. Walter spent a summer working as a quarry tool boy, in 1919. He taught me how to split granite. He used to give demonstrations here. 

He'd walk over here every day. He was over here so often, talking to people, that he started giving impromptu tours on Sundays. On rainy days we'd sit here, like this, and he'd tell me all kinds of stories. He introduced me to Ray Parsons, who was a blacksmith. We got a lot of tools from him. We have a lot of tools that aren't on display.

Walter called me up one day. "Gail, what are you doing? I want to show you something." He lived over on Phillips Avenue. He said, "Meet me outside." He had this wooden Swedish sled that he wanted to show me. "Get in. I'm going to give you a ride." And we went down the hill. He was eighty-eight years old. I had a lot of fun working here."
Walter Johnson and granite at Halibut Point, 1987
The concept of a Granite Museum appeals to many people who experience Halibut Point, but the State remains ambivalent about including one within the Park. The primary mission has remained quiet enjoyment of nature, unique scenery, and a monumental glimpse at a quarry. A display facility carries vexing questions of funding, staffing, and security.
Nevertheless when a Town-owned stone building was torn down in Rockport in 1985, some choice granite blocks were stored at the Park for incorporation into a potential museum.  

The cake, ground-breaking day, 2000
By the year 2000 passionate organizers seemed to have garnered the necessary support for the museum. Friends President and driving force Marianne Edwards commissioned a cake depicting the sketch by planning consultants City Design. They hoped a granite museum would be dedicated by and to Walter Johnson.
Ground-breaking ceremony, September 30, 2000
L to R: Arnold Hage (past-president of Friends), Ted Tarr and Marjorie Davis (Advisory Council), DEM Regional Director David Hall, State Representative Bruce Tarr, Park staff Dick Knowles, Friends President Marianne Edwards, DEM Commissioner Peter Webber, Gail Halloran, Ed Jylkka (current vice-president of Friends), Walter Johnson in wheel chair.
Gloucester Daily Times, April 17, 2001
The granite museum has yet to materialize at Halibut Point. Recently the Friends of the State Park have formed a partnership with the overseeing Department of Conservation and Recreation to create the best possible display of granite industry items. 

In Phase One, just now going out to bid, the Friends have committed $25,000 with 2:1 matching funds of $50,000 from the State, to assess the structural and spatial potentials of the existing Visitors' Center for educational displays. If all goes well, Phase Two will allocate a similar level of funds for the installations. 

The scale and setting of the quarry provide a monumental tribute to the resourcefulness and resolve of the granite workers. Expanded display facilities will give the public better exposure to their accomplishments in a competitive industry at a dynamic time in American urbanization. 

A full-fledged museum may not be practical but we can anticipate dedicated displays that conserve and share the materials dear to Walter Johnson's heart.

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