Digging into the history of Vt. granite quarries - WCAX.COM Local Vermont News, Weather and Sports-

Digging into the history of Vt. granite quarries

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BARRE, Vt. -

It's a piece of Vermont's past that still amazes today.

"Just wow," said Michelle Stallworth of East Lyme, Conn. "I can't even believe anything like this exists anywhere."

Stallworth's reaction should come as no surprise-- some of Vermont's quarries are more than 600-feet deep and have been used for centuries.

"The quarries date back to the 1780s in Barre," Todd Paton said.

Paton has been with Rock of Ages for 28 years. He tells us the process of getting granite out of the quarries has evolved.

"First it was all by animal power. They would use lock and tackle systems. And they would use oxen and horses and teams to lift the rock out," Paton said.

But now the process is different; quarriers start their day by being lowered in a bucket. Blocks of granite are cut and eventually moved out of the quarry. One way the workers get the stone out is to use a drill rod up to 30-feet long. It's a process that takes a while. They make the cuts one at a time. After that, explosives are used to loosen it up. Other times, wire saws are used.

"It turns basically like a band saw you have in your home, but on a much larger scale. And they use that to cut the stone," Paton explained.

Once the blocks are cut, they have to be removed. Crews turn to a type of crane called a derrick.

"Once a large block of granite is lifted from the quarry it's taken by a diesel wheel-loader that looks like a giant forklift, and it will be taken to a storage area," Paton said.

It's then used to make items that require strong stone.

"In Barre, the very first commercial purpose for the stone were the grinding wheels for mills," Paton said.

But after the Civil War, demands slowly changed.

"Typically Barre stone, because of its high quality, is used primarily for memorials and statuary," Paton said.

Some classic examples include the Youth Triumphant Statue and the Italian-American Monument, both in Barre. But there's another familiar sight.

"The Statehouse is completely made of Barre granite," Paton noted.

The amount of granite that comes from the quarries is astonishing. Each year, about 1.5-million-cubic feet of granite are taken from the quarries; that's enough stone to cover eight football field in 40 inches of granite! With a weight of 250 million lbs., it would take 30 million gallons of water or 1.7 million people to match it.

The massive quarries left lasting impressions on visitors like Stallworth.

"Seeing a 600-foot granite quarry and seeing the machinery and the men and getting an idea of where the stuff comes from," she said.

Memories she won't soon forget.

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