Thursday, June 30, 2016

The Cape Ann Granite Company, Part Two - Trains, Ships and Stone

Stoddard Atlas, 1884
By its second year of operation in 1870 the Cape Ann Granite Company owned 125 acres in the rocky hills of Bay View. Its dressing yards flanked wharves it had constructed along Hodgkins Cove. Today these wharves host the University of Massachusetts Marine Station, jutting into the Ipswich Bay between Annisquam and Lanesville.

Bay View, Coastal Survey of 1857
Prior to the arrival and naming of Bay View by General Butler in his 1863 shoreline tenting vacation there had been modest quarrying activity in the nearby uplands. Local entrepreneurs shipped stone from rudimentary facilities at the head of Hodgkins Cove.

Beers Atlas, 1872
During the mid-1860s Benjamin Butler built a summer home of the local stone on the headlands overlooking the Cove.  As a newly elected member of Congress he recognized the value of Cape Ann granite in the contemporary federal building boom. He drew his former military aide Jonas French into the business as operational leader and sold him a piece of the property for his own home. Their residences sat side by side in the Atlas of 1872. French's Rock Lawn estate commanded the higher ground, as detailed in the Atlas of 1884.

Cape Ann Granite Company facilities and the locomotive Polyphemus 1
Even before it was incorporated in 1869 the prospects of the Cape Ann Granite Company rested securely on a contract to supply stone for the foundation of the Boston Post Office. Sleight of hand within the government purchasing department soon amended the contract to embrace the entire building. Competing firms, especially the established Rockport Granite Company which claimed to have underbid them, asserted that the newcomer lacked the ability to meet timely standards of quality and volume. They alleged improper influence on the part of Congressman Butler and the scandalized whiskey distiller Jonas French. A Congressional inquiry heard testimony from Mr. Butler that he had nothing to gain in the matter and had not advised Mr. French on pending federal appropriations. It let the matter rest.2 But investigative journalists come to the opposite conclusion, producing a letter from a Treasury Department official that referred to devising schemes to avoid "embarrassing conditions of the law." 3

The Boston Post Office 4
Stone supplied by the Cape Ann Granite Company
The magnificent edifice was completed. With these and other receipts the Cape Ann Granite Company rapidly expanded its facilities. In 1870 the Company acquired its own steamer, the 200 ton Phoenix.5 By 1872 its wharves accommodated ten vessels. In September of that year it dedicated its mile-long railroad connecting the quarries to Hodgkins Cove. The locomotive William French pulled four platform cars of guests on each tour. Everyone was invited to a clambake, chowder, and congratulatory speeches on Congressman Butler's lawn.6
The granite staircase, Philadelphia City Hall 7
Stone supplied by the Cape Ann Granite Company
In February 1879 the twenty-ton locomotive Polyphemus arrived by barge at the Bay View works, doubling the weight of the previous engine. 8 Even before this new capability went into service the quarrymen had accomplished the remarkable feat of freeing a 150-ton block, lifting it onto rail cars, and guiding it down the rails to be shaped and polished into the 18' x 27' pedestal for the General Winfield Scott Monument in Washington DC. 

The three-masted schooner Jonas H. French 9 managed to carry this immense block and two adjoining pieces lashed on its deck, to the nation's capital. But that was not its only cargo. In the hold, perhaps for ballast, was a consignment of granite for Congressman Butler.

This obscure item in the Salem Observer 10 quite possibly revealed a sub rosa channel of compensation for Benjamin Butler's contributions to the Cape Ann Granite Company. Many tons of stone embarked from the wharves of Bay View for this distant construction.11

Offices and living quarters constructed by Benjamin Butler
220 New Jersey Avenue, Capitol Hill, Washington 12
The final pieces for the platform of the Scott Monument left Hodgkins Cove on November 11, 1873. Colonel French traveled to Washington by land to supervise the installation. As days and weeks went by he gave the schooner up for lost. When at last the Jonas H. French reached port safely and he heard the crew's harrowing story he determined to present the captain with a gold watch, with this citation:
I beg of you, in behalf of the Cape Ann Granite company to accept the accompanying watch. We deem this special recognition of your services as eminently fitting, because under most trying and difficult circumstances, amidst a succession of terrific gales continuing for five days, you resisted the importunities of your crew to throw overboard the very large and valuable stone upon the deck of your vessel, comprising a portion of the base of the Scott monument, and succeeded through your good seamanship and indomitable will in landing them safely. You were equal to the emergency.13

The General Winfield Scott Monument14
Massachusetts Avenue and 16th Street NW, Washington DC
The massive, ornate monolith reached its destined location on rollers after District officials were satisfied that street pavement could support its weight. It had been hewn from the largest block quarried in America up to that time.15 At every phase the officers and employees of the four-year-old Cape Ann Granite Company met engineering challenges with ingenuity and pluck. 

1. John E. Rogers stereograph, courtesy of the Cape Ann Museum.
2. Boston Daily Advertiser, March 28, 1870.
3. Springfield Republican, April 22, 1870.
4. Library of Congress photo.
5. Cape Ann Advertiser, June 10, 1870.
6. Cape Ann Telegraph, September 21, 1870.
7. Photo from Allen M. Hornblum and George J. Holmes, Philadelphia’s City Hall, 2003.
8. Cape Ann Advertiser, February 28, 1879.
9. The Cape Ann Light on June 29, 1872 announced the launching of this 300-ton vessel in Bath, Maine, Captain Hutchins, co-owned by R. C. Sturgis of Boston.
10. Salem Observer, September 13, 1873.
11. The Washington, DC Daily National Republican, November 10, 1873.
12. Photo from Harriet Robey, Bay View, 1979.
13. Cape Ann Advertiser, January 23, 1874.
14. Library of Congress photo.
15. Boston Herald, April 26, 1873.


  1. Martin, your post nudged me to read a bit more about General Butler. His creation during the Civil War of designating slaves who crossed over from Virginia as "contraband." Thought this was an interesting document.

  2. That staircase is just stunning!!! I cannot believe how much research you put into these posts.