Thursday, February 4, 2016

Granite by Sea

Style and nobility mobilize the human spirit into enterprises beyond our solitary capacities. They captivate even the pragmatist at sea with his eye toward the responsive curves of the sail and the sobering demands of his voyage. He attunes to the awesome forces of the marketplace, of the maritime elements, of buoyancy with a load of stone. He has employment. Someone, somewhere, has put value on his freight.

Cape Ann granite sloop Albert Baldwin, 1896
Nathaniel L. Stebbins photograph
Society for the Preservation of New England Antiquities
A barge, the simplest cart afloat, maximizes cargo capacity but can't move by itself. Add a sail, make it longer than wide, reduce the bluntness up front, and you have a scow. The scow never was a thing of glamour on the sea nor on the tongue. But it had virtues of economy in the coastal trade and could operate with minimal shoreside facilities.

Scow lifting stones at Knowlton's Point, Rockport
Photo courtesy of Peabody Essex Museum
 Scows proved their worth in ferrying stone for construction of the breakwater close offshore for the Sandy Bay Harbor of Refuge. A self-dumping type could discharge grout directly onto the submerged breakwater foundation by opening gates in the bottom of the craft. Some scows were moved by tugboats, some by their own sails.
A hybridized granite coaster
Photo courtesy of Peabody Essex Museum
We might liken the subtle variations of sailing vessels that granite shippers co-evolved with the ship yards to the complex assortment of vehicles on our roads today. The photograph above, as received from the Maritime Collection of the Peabody Essex Museum, labels its subject "Rockport Sloop," though the square-ish lines and bulky rudder suggest a more utilitarian, scow-like  lineage.1

Granite sloop shooting the gap inside Straitsmouth Island, Rockport
Photo courtesy of Peabody Essex Museum
Sloops comprised the more typical, graceful, and numerous single-masted freighters in the coastal trade. They specialized in short-distance coastal hauling within Massachusetts Bay. Granite companies filled their holds and decks until water reached the scuppers.

Sloop America and schooners at the Rockport Granite Company wharf, 1905
Postcard photo from the Sandy Bay Historical Society
Schooners carried the larger cargoes, especially those "going outside"-- navigating the more formidable routes around Cape Cod to distant ports.

Gloucester Daily Times, October 18, 1897
The full newspaper account will appear in next week's essay.
Every seafaring community lives in the promise and the challenge of the natural elements. At every embarkment the mariners weigh their readiness for unknown tests.
        The sad news of the drowning of two of our highly respected citizens, an account of which is given in another column, seems to bring a calamity home to all of us who have known the men and were as intimate with them as if they were brothers. Of all the sea faring men these who are in the carrying of stone have the most hazardous lives. The vessels load deeply,  and when the moment of danger comes there is little chance for the crew, as the vessel with her solid freight soon goes to the bottom.

All the participants in the granite trade, from individuals to corporations, made their decisions within perceptions of cost, risk, efficiency and competitive circumstances. Mechanization increasingly influenced business on land and sea with increasing capability and, potentially, with improvements to working conditions. Steam-powered boats brought new advantages to the granite shippers from the 1870s forward.

In the face of an important deadline the Cape Ann Granite Company incurred an unexpected expense to complete delivery. For the past week the sloop Albert Baldwin icebound at Bay View having on board the last of the polished granite for the Boston Court House; steam tug expected today to tow the sloop to Boston - Gloucester Daily Times, Jan 20, 1893.

Steam Lighter William H. Moody with a load of grout, outside Pigeon Cove
A naval warship, one of the potential beneficiaries of the Harbor of Refuge,
lies offshore.
Charles Cleaves photo, courtesy of the Sandy Bay Historical Society
Tugboats often maneuvered the sailing freighters within the confines of harbors. Steam lighters became more dependable and cost effective than sloops for localized granite shipments early in the twentieth century. In those decades the larger capacity stone schooners transitioned toward barges in the tow of ocean-going tugboats. Engines at every stage of the industry supplanted human, animal, and natural power in producing useful stone.

1. See E. D. Walen and Howard Chapelle, "Rockport Granite Sloops," in The Mariner, The Quarterly Journal of the Ship Model Society of Rhode Island, April 1931.
2. John Leavitt, Wake of the Coasters, 1970.
3. I am indebted for research guidance to Erik Ronnberg, ship model maker par excellence and Adjunct Curator for Maritime Collections at the Cape Ann Museum.

1 comment:

  1. Barbara Erkkila (RIP) advocated that the Gloucester Railroad Bridge be reconstructed in Cape Ann Granite. Maybe using our abundant "local granite leftovers" would save the state some of the estimated $63 "mil"?