Despite the impressive role it has played in our nation’s history, the classic granite of Stony Creek, Connecticut is virtually indescribable, but I won’t let that stop me. Long termed “pink,” that adjective doesn’t do it justice and lumps it together with other, less appealing varieties that go by that name. It reminds me of the mottled fur of a cheetah cub, the muted, brownish “pink feldspar” is flecked with black biotite, and gray and cream quartz. There is nothing quite like it. You can tell it immediately from pink granite from other localities. It has more character, flow structure, and a subtle intriguing complexity. It is not a feminine pink, but not quite masculine either. Darrell Petit of Stony Creek Quarry Corporation calls its look “highly eroticized.” I better stop there. You have to see it.
We have used it for a number of projects, most recently as stair treads, wall caps and as ornamental pieces on buildings at Quinnipiac University. This fall I organized a field trip of my colleagues from Centerbrook to the last Stony Creek quarry in operation. There once were as many as 15 such enterprises in tiny little Stony Creek, a section of Branford better known today for its upscale residents than for hardy quarrymen. Around 1900 there were some 1,800 workers in town extracting large blocks (routinely 20 tons, but sometimes much more) from the ground, a veritable United Nations of immigrants: Italians, Irish, Swedes, Finns, English, Spaniards, Germans, Scots, among others.
Back then the granite was both mined and finished on site (today the large blocks are sent elsewhere to be processed). The final destinations of the pinkish stuff, first uncovered in 1858, are legendary: the Statue of Liberty, the Lincoln Memorial, the Brooklyn Bridge, Grant’s Tomb, and the West Point Monument to Civil War dead that was dedicated in 1897. This last was a supersized job, requiring a 20-foot-square and 50-foot long single piece weighing 75,000 pounds. It took two flat train cars travelling at 10 mph to get it to the Hudson, and even at that it fell off on the way.
The nation’s earliest commercial quarries were developed in Connecticut. The state was loaded with them at one point. Virtually every town had one, if not a slew of them – certainly the bergs that bordered the Sound or navigable rivers. World War I hurt the industry by commandeering both men and black powder. And then along came concrete. Today, many of the old quarries have been reclaimed by the second growth woodlands, like the one on Selden Island in Lyme. One in Portland is part of a golf course, a water hazard, naturally. Another has been transformed into a park complete with waterslide.
Darrell Petit, one of about six people who work at the Stony Creek Quarry, gave me and about 15 fellow Centerbrookians the grand tour. The company actually leases the land from the town and has to abide by an agreement that, for example, limits them to quarrying only as far as sea level. There is stone aplenty for centuries to come, Darrell assured us. The granite was formed about 600 million years ago in the oven of mother earth. Stony Creek is a dimensional quarry, meaning it can extract 25-ton blocks whole, which measure approximately ten feet by six feet by four feet.
Darrell also stressed that virtually nothing is wasted in the quarrying process. While 40 percent of the granite ends up being sold as large “dimensional” pieces, the other 60 percent is either fashioned into smaller, custom architectural products or crushed into the most appealing looking processed stone of various sizes. Some may be used as riprap along shorelines. Now I will know where to go when a client is looking for a driveway or garden stone of a different hue. Wouldn’t that be a distinctive touch?