Thursday, April 20, 2017

Growing Pains

The Granite Industry, Part 3 of 6

Out in the north villages of Gloucester and Rockport the nineteenth century granite industry began to offer an alternative livelihood to fishing and subsistence farming. There was money to be made from a possibly unlimited resource beneath their feet, in a trade less vulnerable to the vagaries of nature on land and sea.

Economic opportunity set up rewards and conflicts as it does everywhere. Initiatives had to be accommodated as varying interests jostled and evolved. Quality-of-life standards shifted, grew and submerged with the changes. Immigration inserted a wild card into conservative values. It was a turbulent century for concepts of proprietorship and individual rights. The seeds of regulation in a laissez-faire environment grew even in village life. Newspapers reported on virtues, conundrums, and offenses to good order.

It is the custom of Messrs. Clapp & Ballou's quarries at Pigeon Cove, to hoist from the pits by attaching the fall to cattle and driving across the main road....On Thursday afternoon as Mr. H. H. Tarr was driving past at a somewhat brisk trot, the rope suddenly descended in front of him and but for his presence of mind in instantly throwing it over his head, serious consequences would have resulted. I wish to call the attention of the proper authorities to this dangerous practice, and would suggest that the fall be rove through a snatch block and the cattle driven parallel with the street instead of across.

Cape Ann Advertiser, June 24, 1870

Lanesville quarrymen
Annisquam Historical Society photo
As an example of the complex relationship of hopes and hurdles for an industry nested within a village we can compare three newspaper articles in the Cape Ann Evening Breeze from the year 1885.

The pleasant days which we have had of late have caused things to look more stirring at the pits and wharves, and the merry sound of the hammer is heard all about us. In a few weeks the scale of summer prices will be fixed, new men will be employed to swell the force, and the old hands will change from one quarry to another. May the season develop a better industrial status than we had last summer.
February 26

The industrial situation does not appear very favorable at the present time. The granite companies offer only $1.60 a hundred for New York blocks this season. Last year the price was $2.20 to $2.25. The quarrymen are also offered less than last year. At present it is not possible to tell whether the men will accept these terms....While the companies declare large dividends, there is no reason why the men should not receive fair pay.
April 3
A blast at Canney's quarry threw good sized fragments over the village, though precautions were taken by means of cord wood and other materials placed above the powder. A stone weighing eleven pounds struck the roof of John Witham's house on Powsil Hill, estimated to be about a thousand feet distant from the quarry.
December 31

Oxen carting stone 1
As the granite business grew into robust commerce both the entrepreneurs and the community had to adjust to new patterns and investments, relinquishing familiar ways.
Presumably at least one hundred horses now between Mount Locust and the Rockport Line, and not one pair of oxen, "so that in these days we do not hear, haw Buck, back Star, gee Lion. He has in days gone by when Stimson and Eames carried on the stone business in Lanesville, the only horse they used was the little trotter which took them from over the road to and from their houses in Rockport."
Gloucester Daily Times, March 1, 1892

Babson Farm Quarry, Halibut Point
Sandy Bay Historical Society photo
Allured by the utility of money on the imagination and on personal advancement, the nineteenth century social fabric moved from an artisan toward a corporate economy. Centralized capital both produced and required vast accomplishments and population densities. It softened nature's harshness but introduced some of its own in the vicissitudes of the competitive marketplace. The century left an appalling narrative of injury and disease among granite workers. Concepts of corporate and social welfare roles slowly emerged mostly through the force of organized labor. Government began taking on a greater mediating influence as the world evolved from the simpler times of the Founding Fathers.

Quarry at Pigeon Cove 1
Industrial-scale quarrying tore open the land. It conflicted with the tranquility not only of traditional life but with the increasingly desirable coastal residences. Pigeon Cove's Village Improvement Society requested residents who were able to "purchase a piece of land for a public park, as woodlands are fast disappearing to the granite industry." 2 In Bay View descendants of the original granite aristocracy successfully sought relief through the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court from the infernal noise of the successor company's surfacing machines. 3

Teaming with ox-drawn carts wore heavily on local roads as the granite moved down toward shipping ports. In 1892 Andrews Street at the head of Lanes Cove was stabilized with paving stones to absorb this traffic. Further uphill conditions on Washington Street continued to deteriorate, drawing comment around town and the wit of the press.
City Treasurer Dolliver was out on his bicycle Tuesday, and he had a good chance to see and realize the bad condition of our street between the Congregational meeting house and the post office, for when riding over that road he was thrown off, but received no injury.... Probably Mr. Dolliver would vote to have the street paved. If any of the members of the city government have any doubts about the need of paving the street they should take a ride over the road on a bicycle. 4
By the end of the year municipal funds had been found to pave this section too.

Further into the uplands a petition was circulated asking the County Commissioners to improve High Street, which bore considerable traffic from the Lanesville quarries. Work got under way in 1898 to widen and redirect the street, aggrieving two substantial abutters, Miss Alla F. Young and Mrs. Georgianna Blaisdell. Their attorney protested that "Miss Young's barn, which answered her every purpose, would have to be moved and considerable expense would be involved. The best portion of her land will be taken by the proposed plan, not enough being left for house lots." Miss Young was compelled to give way to progress, compensated by the construction of a new barn across the new street. William R. Cheves supplied road materials free to the City from his High Street quarry. 5

And so the various sectors attempted to accommodate and mitigate the industry that might bring prosperity and modern improvements to the North Cape.

1. Photographs collected in "Pictures from the Past" by the Lanesville Community Center.
2. Gloucester Daily Times, April 16, 1894.
3. Edith A. Stevens et al. vs. Rockport Granite Company, 1911 and 1914.
4. Gloucester Daily Times, August 8, 1894.
5. Gloucester Daily Times, October 13, 1890; March 3, May 9, and June 25, 1898.

Thursday, April 13, 2017


The Granite Industry, Part 2 of 6
Prior to 1800 granite was available only for the roughest or the most luxurious building purposes in Massachusetts. With little or no shaping required fieldstone contributed to boundary walls, sheep enclosures, and house foundations. Fine granite structures like King's Chapel in Boston (1749) were constructed laboriously, that is, expensively, by splitting boulders with fire and smoothing the surfaces with hammers.
A boulder partially drilled and split for dimension stone1
The invention of drilling and splitting methods popularized granite as a durable building material. Applications grew rapidly through the nineteenth century. Above-ground boulders were the easiest source of stone. Rows of round holes were drilled several inches deep by rotating the square drill between hammer blows. Wedges tapped in between pairs of shims ("plugs and feathers") could split massive stones quickly and cleanly.

Round-hole plug and feathers1
In a variation of this technique slots were made by a cape chisel and the splitting accomplished by flat wedges.
Boulder drilled for splitting by flat wedges, Halibut Point
Martin Ray photo
Cape chisel1
Boulder fields and exposed ledges close to the shoreline made commercial granite works possible on Cape Ann from an early stage in the industry. In 1823 Nehemiah Knowlton cut 500 tons of stone near Pigeon Cove. Quarrying operations proliferated along the coast over the next few decades. Building stone was shipped as far away as San Francisco in 1852 and paving blocks to New Orleans in 1857. About this time the first steam engines for blasting and pumping appeared, making below-ground quarrying practical.2
Splitting high-quality stone from a deep quarry3
Incremental advances in technology proceeded on many fronts to enable commercial quarrying and the teams of men who worked there. Gunpowder was adapted to the purpose of loosening massive blocks for further cutting into dimension stone. Blasting caps first with fuses, then by electrical detonation, introduced a more reliable way to fire the charge. Increasingly powerful pumps kept up with water infiltration as the quarries went hundreds of feet down into the highest quality deposits of granite.
Hand-powered derrick, Halibut Point
Sandy Bay Historical Society photo
The celebration of nationhood in the Bunker Hill Monument proposal gave occasion to ingenious developments in hoisting machinery by Solomon Willard in the 1820s. His inventions and advances in derrick design formed the basis for apparatus used throughout the century in the largest quarries as well as the small-scale 'motions' operated by independents. The 'mast' and 'boom' terminology suggests that rigging concepts derived from maritime experience which was plentiful on Cape Ann.

Steam-powered derricks provided the muscle and reach for a broad variety of quarry jobs in addition to hoisting granite blocks, moving workers, equipment and buckets of debris around the site. Underneath a web of stabilizing cables radiating from the guy plate at the top of the mast the boom rotated in a full circle. Industry historian Paul Wood notes that in Barre Vermont "derrick sticks" made of Douglas fir up to four feet in diameter and up to a hundred and fifteen feet long were brought in from Oregon and Washington on three forty-foot flatcars.4
Powered derrick rotating on bull wheel, using chain and stone dogs
Blood Ledge Quarry, Lanesville, 1917
Sandy Bay Historical Society photo
The Rockport Granite Company introduced the first steam drill to Cape Ann in 1883 to revolutionize quarrying operations. Pneumatic drills began replacing them by the end of the century. Compressed air could be transmitted more conveniently and safely through pipes and hoses, and it could be easily subdivided for use by many tools and machines. The energy came from coal-fired turbines in a central power house.
Guy boom derricks at the Babson Farm Quarry, Halibut Point c. 1909
Charles Cleaves photo, Sandy Bay Historical Society
The disposal of undesirable stone challenges the efficiency and economy of quarry operators. Ideally it can be processed and sold as rip-rap or crushed rock. It may have to be put aside in inconvenient piles or transferred by rail lines within the site.
Blondin, Bay View quarry
Richard Lewis postcard collection, Annisquam Historical Society
Grout could also be removed by a blondin, an aerial cableway that carried a suspended grout box for dumping at a distant grout pile. The tower and cable device was named for French daredevil Charles Blondin who crossed Niagara Falls Gorge by tightrope in 1859.
Surfacing machine, Pigeon Cove quarry
Underwood stereograph, Cape Ann Museum
Even-grained stone lent itself, in skilled hands and operations, to useful quarry manufactures. Shaping and finishing tools that may have been developed for rendering softer stones into useful or beautiful purposes, required advances in metallurgy, design and technique for granite applications. The bush hammer patented in 1828 incorporated removable blades or fixed points on each side of the head to achieve flat surfacing by repeated blows—the greater the number of cuts the finer the dressing of the stone. Eventually the principle was extended to pneumatic surfacing machines attached to the end of a sliding horizontal bar or mounted on a trolley.
Advances in electrical engineering brought the granite industry into the modern era with lighter, more versatile tools and equipment. Power could be obtained more favorably from public utilities and dispersed to motors large and small throughout the facility. Machines for fine work came into play. Electric lighting improved visibility within the sheds, under overcast skies, and on short winter days.
Carved and polished capital of column for Winters National Bank, Dayton Ohio
Rockport Granite Company photo c. 1920
Sandy Bay Historical Society
The cumulative effect of technology was to multiply the productive capacity of granite producers and artisans at all levels, with desirable potentials to individual workers, corporations and the broad economy. Technology also added to troubling aspects of 'progress,' tradeoffs of life in modern society that we will consider in the next essay.
1. Photos from the website Stone Structures of Northeastern United States.
2. Lemuel Gott, History of Rockport, 1888.
3. Photo from James J. Tobin, "Granite Street Construction," The Granite Paving Block Manufacturers Association of the United States, 1925, courtesy of Baker Library Historical Collections, Harvard University.
4. Paul Wood, "Tools and Machinery of the Granite Industry, Parts I-IV," The Chronicle of the Early American Industries Association, 2006-7.

Thursday, April 6, 2017


The Granite Industry, Part 1 of 6
By exposing a window into the rocky crust of the earth, the actions of ocean, glaciers, and industry have made Halibut Point fascinating to geologists and casual visitors alike. Who can resist the sense of titanic forces composing the ground we stand on?

The Babson Farm Quarry, Halibut Point
For all this to be possible requires an immense story over a span of time that we can enumerate but not comprehend. In similar terms we regard the longevity of stone itself.

On Cape Ann, if it's stone, it's granite. The granite solidified deep in the earth's crust from melted minerals. It was gradually brought to the surface over hundreds of millions of years by a combination of (1) the erosion away of miles-thick stone crust above it, and (2) the drifting, collision, and subduction of entire continents over the same molten core from which the granite, as well as other igneous stones, was forged. The field of geology endeavors to explain why various types of stone exist and why granite predominates here almost exclusively. *

Sheets of granite along the Halibut Point shoreline
Man's utilization of granite on Cape Ann began with the accessible boulders sitting above ground, relatively easy to split and move for local building purposes. Commercial potential expanded with the improvement of tools in the nineteenth century, with the exploitation of exposed ledges, and with the capability to ship bulky cargos over water. These conditions existed at many places along the shoreline. Natural sheeting and jointing made work easier but over-exposure to sunlight, frost, and wave forces could compromise the strength of the stone.

Halibut Point ledges drilled to produce dimension stone
When flat, durable paving stones began to replace rounded cobblestones on city streets in the 1840s, Cape Ann was in a good position to meet the market. Small-scale operators cut blocks from ledges, divided them into paving units, and carted them to protected shipping points.

Natural jointing, supplemented by drilling at the quarry
Cape Ann granite formed under tremendous heat and pressure miles below the earth's surface. Relatively recently it experienced glaciations with the crush of two thousand feet of ice. As these weights were relieved by erosion and climate change the compressed stone expanded upward, cleaving into horizontal layers. Tectonic movements like continental drift and earthquakes added further joints along lines of vertical shearing.
Quarrymen developed the ability to drill and blast downward in quest of larger pieces of useful stone. The natural fractures facilitated removal of material for certain dimensions and purposes. But to obtain massive blocks of high quality granite they usually had to excavate at least twenty or thirty feet in depth.

At its best granite features straight, consistent grain desirable for strength and workability. Cape Ann granite's relatively high quartz content and large crystal size - the result of a long, slow cooling of the magma deep in the earth - impart great resistance to compression and abrasion, the forces of street traffic. These qualities make it less ideal for monument carvers who prefer fine-grained stone. And Cape Ann granite is not economical for the sawing and hydraulic splitting operations of today's mass-produced, softer curbstone. Granite deposits may be chemically similar but vary in their structure because circumstances gave them greater or lesser time to form crystals.

A felsic dike revealed in the quarry wall
Silica, the predominant element, unites with oxygen, aluminum, potassium and sodium to form quartz, feldspars and mica minerals that characterize granite. Many factors relating to source material, reactivity and temperature govern these processes. Calcium and metals such as iron and magnesium prevalent at the earth's core with higher melting points, define the composition of other igneous rocks. If added in to granitic magma they create 'hybridizations' or 'impurities' that make mineralogy interesting. 

Exotic elements may intrude either while the rock is still plastic (warm) or through a fracture in solidified stone. A noticeable example exists on the western wall of the Babson Farm Quarry, where a dark gray band contrasts with its surrounds. Both are felsic granite, meaning feldspar-based, with traces of other minerals accounting for color differences. The intrusion of the thin zone of secondary magma into the already-cooled granite meant that it crystallized fairly quickly, resulting in its finer-grained texture.

In a 1920s brochure the Rockport Granite Company described its product as The King of Rocks resembling in composition "the Egyptian granite of which the ancient obelisks and sarcophagi were built. It is strong beyond all possible requirements..." The company offered various shades of gray; 'sea green' especially beautiful in polished finish; and 'Moose A Bec Red' from its quarry in Jonesport, Maine. It also supplied rusty shades stained by dissolved iron running through joints in the stone. "Unlike most seam face granites, the color runs deep into the stone and it can therefore be used for headers, sills, steps, etc. as well as for ashlar surfaces."
The Luxor Obelisk, Paris 2016
Ancient Egyptian rulers desiring the most impressive and permanent monuments directed obelisks of granite weighing up to 120 tons. Three millennia later the inscriptions are still legible. How they were able to quarry, transport, carve and erect these enormous monoliths stupefies modern minds. But aiming at immortality, they chose the best material. 

* Dr. Martin E. Ross provides useful explanations and field guides in Cape Ann, Its Physical and Environmental Geology, 2015.

For another glimpse of the geologic complexities of Cape Ann see online:
THE CAPE ANN PLUTONIC SUITE: A FIELD TRIP FOR PETROLOGY CLASSES,by John B. Brady, Smith College, and John T. Cheney, Amherst College

Thursday, March 30, 2017


At our niece's wedding in Lincoln, Nebraska Kay and I discovered that the nearby Platte River valley is the epicenter of the sandhill crane migration. At the very moment of our visit over 400,000 of the birds were congregated to rest and refuel on their way north. Enabling us to enjoy this wildlife spectacle took a full family effort. My sister from New York had a chance conversation with an ornithologist to put the cranes on our map; my brother from Missouri opened up a special sighting opportunity through The Crane Trust; and my son from Indiana lent us his car for the two-hour pre-dawn drive to the cranes' staging area.

Sandhill cranes on the Platte River
The cranes rely on the shallow braided channels of the river for safe nighttime roosting and foraging opportunities for waste grain in adjacent corn fields. During their stop in Nebraska they gain 10-20 percent of their body weight to complete the flight from southern wintering grounds to their breeding territories in Canada, Alaska and Siberia. Their necessities that used to be met on a broad 200-mile floodplain are now carefully nurtured by conservation agencies in a 60-mile stretch of the Platte River that forms an hourglass neck in the vast range of the cranes.
Sandhill crane migration on the Central Flyway
The State of Nebraska and the Audubon Society work creatively at public education and habitat renewal to help people and cranes coexist within the pressures of urbanization and large scale agriculture. The Crane Trust dedicates its mission to extending favorable conditions for the birds and giving people the opportunity to appreciate them at fairly close range.

Areas protected by The Crane Trust on the Platte River
The morning after the wedding Kay and I were guided through half-moon darkness to a Crane Trust observation blind alongside the river. We could hear tentative murmurings at first, then a melodious gabbling that swelled as the light grayed into a surrounding chorus suggestive of gigantic spring peepers. Fantastic colors enriched the sky. The birds voiced their considerations for the new day in tumultuous discussions and tender trills, gradually taking to the air.

Cranes on sandbar sanctuaries before sunrise

First light

Flocking to the corn fields at dawn

Early mist

Sunrise, Platte River


Wednesday, March 29, 2017


At a family wedding in Lincoln, Nebraska we visited this tribute to presidential grace and dignity. The bronze statue (1912) is the first rendering of Abraham Lincoln created by Daniel Chester French. Later he was commissioned to sculpt the marble portrait in the Lincoln Memorial  of Washington, D. C.

The Rockport Granite Company supplied the finished stone for the Nebraska monument, seagreen granite from Blood Ledge Quarry. If you magnify the image you can see that it is inscribed with the entire Gettysburg Address. Altogether this homage to character in high office is good tonic today.

Photograph from the files of the Rockport Granite Company,
Sandy Bay Historical Society

Thursday, March 16, 2017

Thursday, March 9, 2017

Thursday, March 2, 2017

Point of View

Perfectly ordinary stuff asks back, "What lives?"
Russet sheaths play the genius,
warming the immersion of straw into metallic water,
sheltering next season's life in their expiration.
Ripples and reflections animate a photograph;
or is it you and I who live into the picture?

Looking again from a spacious point of view
I'm steadied by a prosaic title to the scene.
The straw burns more brightly on the water than the air.
A light wind shimmies mosaics in the mirror
teasing the crescendo of symmetry
while a minute passes in the winter wait of the cattails. 

The artless panorama extending to the horizon
composes a vignette for my notice.
It refers to itself in a revelation of light,
and I shift my point of view.
A deep blue dissolves the spirals of straw-beams
fired cordially into the realm of certitude.

Thursday, February 23, 2017

Phebe Gott's Quilt

People on the Land at Halibut Point, Part 4

October 27, 1908

My dear Lizzie, 

            You have married into a family with roots. I want to welcome you with this quilt. It shows how we have lived on this spot over 200 years. 

            My grandfather Joshua Gott is the thread running through this quilt. He told us stories by the fireplace all winter. He told us his grandfather Samuel built this house from the ship timbers that brought him here from Wenham in 1702. 

            In those early days there were hardly any other settlers near here. Samuel and his wife Margaret already had two children when they arrived. They bought some adjacent lots for Margaret's brother William Andrews. One of Margaret's sisters married Joshua Norwood at the Garrison House. You can see their three houses in the First Panel of the quilt, homesteading the land all the way from Halibut Point to Pigeon Cove. 

            In the Second Panel you notice that the Gott family depended on sheep. Samuel was a weaver. He and his sons made sheep enclosures from the stones they cleared out of the fields . The house had a lean-to kitchen. Samuel acquired other property for some of his fourteen children. Eventually just his son Joseph's branch lived here, but they had to share it with Captain Norwood who raised fifteen children in his half of the house. 

            That's how my grandfather Joshua grew up. Just as he turned twenty-one the Revolution broke out. He joined George Washington's Army for the defense of Boston and New York. Then he shipped out on the privateer Stark. There they are in the Third Panel, chasing a British prize at sea. When he came back from the War the United States were independent but Sandy Bay was still part of Gloucester. 

            Grandfather Joshua lived in this house with his wife Deborah, whom I never knew. He lived to be ninety-two. He took care of the orchards that you see in the Fourth Panel. In my childhood only two of his seven children were still alive, my father Joshua Jr. and Aunt Lucy. Grandfather Joshua always had time for us and his many friends. Perhaps he loved the sea more than the land. He sold the Fatting Pasture to David Babson in the 1820s. 

            Aunt Lucy must have had his grit. She married three times. Grandfather gave her second husband Job Dennen lifetime rights to take stone from ten acres of land out by the shoreline. You can see Job splitting a ledge in the Fifth Panel. My husband and I sold that land to him fifty years ago. Later on Ezra Eames tried to make a go of quarrying there. The Rockport Granite Company is working the Babson Farm pretty hard, but they never did get that piece of land from Ezra Eames's daughter Sarah Weatherell, who owns it now. 

            Back in 1835 my father Joshua was the first clerk and director of the Pigeon Cove Harbor Company. They built the breakwater and wharf that you see in the Sixth Panel. People called him Captain, like they did his father. Our land wasn't big enough to make much of a farm any more. He had a surveyor make up a plan with lots for each of his children, and the common pasture for all of us down on the shore between Sarah Weatherell's land and the Phillips' Ocean View Estate coming at us from Andrews Point. 

            My husband Charles McLellan and I inherited the lot with this house on it. We had to make a few property adjustments with my brother and sisters. We're the ones who wanted to keep the family going here, even though the surname has changed through my marriage to Charles. Everyone still calls it the Gott House. The Seventh Panel shows it bracketed by the estates at Ocean View and the quarry derricks on Babson Farm. 

            Charles is gone now too. Most of our children have gone footloose, which I understand. My brother and sisters and I gave up the pasture. We have a neighbor on the lot that Susan sold. Change is coming on the others. The electric railway goes by on Granite Street, and automobiles. People are on the move in the Eighth Panel. 

            Lizzie, it seems you and Kenneth are going to make a home here together. This is the oldest gambrel-roofed house on Cape Ann. I've jostled with it for seventy-three years. This picture in the Ninth Panel is the way I feel about it. Just like us it needs plenty of caring. I'm pleased you feel that way too. With you and Kenneth it is in good hands. 

            This is the best way I could tell my story. You will have it with the quilt over you every night. You will be blessed as I have been blessed in this old house, even as the world swirls around. 

Phebe Gott McLellan

I have invented the Quilt and Phebe's Letter to convey how she might have felt about these facts and trends of family history.