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Telling the story of 200 years  of White Mountain History

                          Redstone Granite
                                   Quarries

               The Town of Redstone and Its  Granite Quarries

                        By Steve Swenson and Rick Russack 


         (Links to two photo albums are at the bottom of this page. 
       One includes photos while Redstone was in operation and the   
                   second  includes photos of the site today.  
                      There are approximately 100 photos.
   There is also a link to an illustrated explanation of 19th century  
                               stone splitting techniques.)

The granite quarries on Rattlesnake Mountain in Redstone, NH, (part of the town of Conway) together with substantial remains of buildings and machinery dating back to the late 1800’s constitute one of the most interesting industrial archeological sites in New Hampshire. Visiting the area is like taking a step back in time. Portions of two tall wooden derrick masts remain standing in the Green Quarry, barely supported by old guy wires dangling in the trees,  while coils of wire cable lie rusting on the ground. Many other derrick booms and masts lie rotting on the ground where they fell when operations ceased in the late 1940’s. Large lathes used to turn and polish granite columns, are rusting away among the trees that are reclaiming the area. Shells of some original buildings remain.

 

Standing exposed to the elements, two large rusting coal-fired boilers along with two giant air compressors are fast becoming obscured by vegetation. The building that once housed them is gone. These boilers generated steam to run air compressors that once supplied air at high-pressure for pneumatic tools and machinery in the quarries and stone sheds.  Portions of the piping used to distribute the compressed air can still be found on the ground.  Some sections of railroad track remain. Gravity railroads, or tramways, transported heavy granite blocks from the quarries to the once-busy stone yard and sheds at the base of the mountain for processing. At one time, over three hundred men worked in the quarries, yard and finishing sheds. Old photos show these buildings, including the main stone shed, a huge wooden building over 300 feet long, which was destroyed by fire in 1930. The Maine Central Railroad brought in raw materials and supplies and finished product was shipped by rail. Old maps show the extensive rail system that once serviced the site.


    1948 Map Showing Both Quarries and Buildings in Stone Yard 
                              Click here for enlarged view

Like all quarry sites, there is a great deal of waste granite in massive dumps. Partially processed granite blocks are scattered around the site.  Why they were abandoned is not known.  High up on the hill, not far from where they were quarried, remains a stack of pink granite saw blocks  weighing twenty-five to thirty tons each. Nearby, a block of roughed-out granite, obviously intended to be a round column, lies next to a still-bearing apple tree. Beside the path that was formerly the main Maine Central spur into the quarry lies a rejected polished green granite pilaster about twenty feet long.. It’s flat on one side, designed to stand against a building. These, and many other relics, are lasting monuments to what once was a thriving business and village; both succumbed to changing technology and changing economics.  (As recently as 1990 there was a second eighteen-foot polished column lying near the pilaster that remains.. This one was taken to the Rock of Ages quarry in Barre, Vt and cut in half. The two sections now stand as decorative columns in front of the Intervale, NH post office.)

 

Although most of the buildings have collapsed, with the help of old maps, old photographs, studying remnants of foundations and listening to memories of local senior citizens, the story of a once-thriving village and renowned granite facility can be reconstructed. In 1871, the Portland and Ogdensburg Railroad laid track at the base of Rattlesnake Mountain, through the area now known as Redstone. Within a few miles, this line joined with the Boston and Maine RR in North Conway.  At this time, the major activities in the area were farming and logging, not quarrying.  In the late 1870’s the railroad needed granite for bridge abutments. Large granite boulders at the base of Rattlesnake Mountain provided the stone the railroad needed. These boulders also supplied foundation stones for buildings in the area. The stone was uniform in composition, split easily along the “grain” and its proximity to the existing railroad line made it easy to transport.


In 1880, George Wagg, Roadmaster of the Maine Central Railroad, brought the quality of the granite to the attention of Payson Tucker, President of the Maine Central and J.H. Emery of North Jay, Maine.  In 1886, the North Jay Granite Company bought land on Rattlesnake Mountain, which became known as the Redstone Quarry.  By 1887, The Maine and New Hampshire Granite Company was formed, with Wagg as President, and with quarries in Jay, as well as Redstone. From 1887 to 1895, the company bought additional land on Rattlesnake Mountain and expanded the quarries. A cutting yard was established at the base of the mountain and a railroad spur connected to the nearby Maine Central line.The first stone shipped in 1886 , was  for paving stones in New York City,  and granite for the building of the Union Station in Portland, Maine.  The Maine Central built it's station in Redstone in 1888. (The information is this paragraph has been taken, with permission, from the Environmental Impact Statement for the proposed Conway Bypass, prepared by Victoria Bunker, Inc. in 1995.)

The stone in North Jay was fine-grained, light grey granite similar to that in Concord, NH and Barre, VT. The quarries in Redstone produced two different colors of granite: red and green. Therefore, the  Maine and New Hampshire Granite Co was able to offer three distinct colors of stone; grey from North Jay,  plus red and green from Redstone.  The two quarries at Redstone lie within a few hundred yards of each other and their geological proximity is considered a fairly rare occurrence. Earlier maps and photos of the pink quarry indicate quarrying began there, further toward the southeast, and gradually moved northwest, closer to the green quarry.   The first rail line, or tramway, ran to the pink quarry. George Wagg served as president of the company until his death in 1892. His son succeeded him and served as President until the company was sold in 1895.

 

In the late 19th century, granite was an important building stone and it was also used for paving blocks, in the streets of major cities in the North East. Granite was also popular for memorials because of it durability compared to marble or limestone. The availability of three distinctly different colors of stone from one company was a definite competitive advantage to the Maine and New Hampshire Granite Co.  By the early 20th Century, Redstone was an established and thriving village with workers living in company owned houses or the company boarding house. Many commuted daily from the surrounding villages. They came from North Conway and East Conway by horse and wagon, those with wagons giving rides to those who did not have their own transportation. In Center Conway, two men provided transportation to the quarries.   During peak production periods, reportedly as many as 350 men were employed. There were quarrymen, cutters, polishers, engineers, carpenters, blacksmiths, and skilled carvers.  Following the introduction of pneumatic tools (about 1904) fewer men were required in the quarries.



     Map Showing Redstone in 1922, Drawn From Memory in  the  
        1960s by Babe Pinnette     Click here for enlarged view

Each morning, following a five-minute warning whistle,  the 7:00 a.m. whistle blew and the men were expected to be on site, with tools in hand ready to start work. There were no coffee breaks or personal visits allowed during working hours. The men in the yard and stone sheds often walked back to the boarding house for lunch and were back on the job by 1:00 while men working up in the quarries carried their own lunch. Depending on the workload, sometimes drilling, cutting and polishing operations called for more than one eight-hour shift. In the early days, according to the literature, a driller could earn $1.75 a day while a first-class stonecutter earned $2.00 a day.  Some “old timers” (Babe Pennett and Henry Gagnon) who worked in the quarry as teenagers, recalled that in 1922 a tool boy earned $11.00 a week while a stone carver with special skills could earn $9.00 and up for a days work.  
 

 By 1889, each day the company was shipping six to nine freight car loads of finished product. Paving blocks for city streets were shipped all over the US, New York City using the most. At one time, as many as 1,700,000 paving stones were shipped annually from Redstone. Eventually the Maine Central Railroad built two lines directly into the stone sheds with four spurs to handle coal, lumber and supplies. One line entered the site from the east side and another entered the site from the west side.  One spur ran under the “crusher” where granite scraps (“grout”) was crushed and typically used as ballast for railroad track.

 

Both the green and pink quarries lie several hundred feet up slope from the cutting and finishing area.  Most large pieces of stone were moved down by either derrick or the tramway systems. One old photograph shows a 66-ton block resting on a rail sled, known as a “go devil” or “crab”. The proud quarrymen stand by and a massive set of “dogs” and chain hangs from the top of the block.  So-called “dogs” are simply large tongs used to lift heavy blocks of stone. At first, the granite blocks were moved down to the finishing sheds by wagons, pulled by horse or ox teams. Later, inclined rail lines, or tramways, were built to move the large blocks from the quarries down the hill. A single winch-operated track ran to the green quarry. Double, counter-weighted tracks ran to the pink quarry.  Horse or ox teams and wagons moved smaller loads on level ground. Another old photo shows smaller derricks, cranked by hand, or a “bull wheel” powered by a team of horses, were used to move blocks of granite in the stone yard. These derricks also moved granite to and from the lathes and polishing machines. Existing maps show that there were as many as ten derricks, with engine houses, placed around the quarries and stone yard. Each had a coal stove for heat in winter. There were two blacksmith shops; one near the pink quarry, and the other in the large stone shed.  In addition, there were numerous storage sheds, horse barns, garages and warehouses. Initially, most of the machines were steam powered, which required coal-fired boilers.   Many machines were later converted to electric power. Water was essential for blacksmiths, the polishers and for cooling various cutting machines. It came from a local pond or the water which had to be continuously pumped from the green quarry.

 

 Maintenance of tools, machinery and buildings was an on-going challenge due to the   heavy loads and resistant material. Before the advent of hardened steel and carbide tipped drills, many tools had to be sharpened and tempered by the blacksmiths each day.

 

Lathes were used to rough-turn and polish granite columns (some as long as 22 feet).  A very large lathe, with a faceplate more than five feet in diameter, was used for the final polishing process. This lathe, and the building that housed it, remain today, surrounded by the forest. The building is one of the best preserved on the site. Most of the roof was open, allowing large granite columns to be lowered and removed by a derrick from above. Sections of the single railroad track to the green quarry remain near the building and the massive iron hardware once attached to the derrick rusts nearby. Portions of the wooden boom and mast lie rotting on the ground with hardware still attached.  This was a particularly important derrick as it serviced both pink and green quarry rail lines as well as the stone yard and lathes.  The wooden booms and masts, some as tall as 120 feet, were of Douglas Fir brought from the Pacific North West on articulated  railroad flat cars. 

 

In the early 1920’s, primitive band saws, known as “gang saws,” were installed to speed up the initial cutting of the large granite saw blocks. Workers in the gang saw building wore cotton in their ears due to the loud noise caused by the multiple crude steel blades. These blades, mounted in a crib, moved back and forth over the granite blocks. They were cooled by water and steel shot was added as an abrasive. The gang saw greatly increased the speed of the initial cuts.  Eventually, as technology improved, hardened steel, and improved abrasives were adopted. Water-cooled, circular Carborundum saws were installed in the “carbo shop.” and allowed for more rapid cutting of smaller dimension stone.     

 

Though heavily vandalized, most of the three-storied carpenter shop building still stands near where the stone shed once was. Several carpenters were kept busy.  They built and maintained structures and crated finished products to protect edges and surfaces during shipment by rail.  

 

Redstone endured its share of accidents and tragedies, including the deaths of men who were in the wrong place at the wrong time or who were careless for a moment.  On June 27, 1918 The Reporter, of North Conway, reported the death of Fred Philbrook.  Philbrook, who was reportedly hard of hearing, was accidentally run over by a railroad work car.  Harry Mason, who began work in the quarries in 1913 at age 17 recalled, “lots of cuts and bruises” as well as arms and legs being crushed by a falling slabs of granite. {Conway granite is heavy; it weighs approximately 165 lbs. a cubic foot}  Many workers suffered from silicosis, referred to at the time as “stone cutter’s consumption,” a serious lung condition attributed to inhaling stone dust and fine metal particles from the drills. Prior to the 1930’s, when a ventilating system was installed in the re-built metal stone shed,, little attention was paid to protecting workers from the hazard of inhaling stone dust. Many workers did not live much beyond 45 years of age.

  

Granite from Redstone and N. Jay was used in most of the early Maine Central and Boston & Maine  railroad stations. Most have been demolished due to the decline of the B&M but some, such as the one in Laconia, survive. Redstone granite was used in many buildings in Portland, Boston, New York, and Washington, D.C. and as far away as Denver, CO and Havana, Cuba.  The Hatch Memorial Shell, in Boston, is of Conway green.  Grant’s Tomb in New York, the National Archives building in Washington, and the George Washington Memorial Masonic Temple in Alexandria, V.A. were built mostly of Conway pink granite. Supplying granite for the Masonic Temple was the largest job ever undertaken by Redstone. It included twenty-four polished columns, each 22 feet long and each weighing 18 tons. The six-year job, completed in 1929, was a financial boon to the company. It should have given them a solid bank balance for the on-coming depression but apparently it did not. Evidently, during this lengthy and lucrative contract, management became careless and the business went into temporary bankruptcy. Redstone definitely felt the economic effects of the depression, however there were some long-term government contracts which allowed production to continue, although on a reduced scale.

 

In addition to producing paving blocks, dimension stone and various size columns, the company also turned out carved statues as well as pediments for columns and other decorative pieces. A number of skilled Italian stone carvers worked at Redstone, typically on a temporary basis for a particular job. The most recent map of the village of Redstone (dated 1948) show a number of company homes then occupied by families with Italian names.  Granite blocks from other quarries in Maine were shipped to Redstone for final fabrication and carving. Scraps of non-Redstone granite can be found in the former stone shed dump. (The dump is usually the last stop on a walking tour of the area and for the local schoolchildren, it has become known as “the gift shop.”)  

 

The company survived the Depression years of the 1930’s and continued until the beginning of WW II, when limestone and concrete aggregate began to replace granite for building purposes and at a much lower cost. However, due to its durability, granite, although not from Redstone, is still used for steps, sills, lintels, and roadside curbing.  By the early 1940’s much of the quality granite in Redstone had been removed and the company was no longer competitive with other suppliers. By this time, the owners of the Redstone Properties (John Swenson Granite Co., of Concord, NH. and H.E. Fletcher & Sons of Chelmsford, MA) each had their own, more modern facility.

 Once World War II began, there were new national priorities and Redstone converted to defense work. For a brief period, forges were installed in the stone sheds for the production of metal castings. The large metal stone shed was sold and moved to a General Electric war plant in Lynn, MA.   Local women worked in the large boarding house dining hall, assembling metal fittings for wire nets which were woven in the Swenson Granite Co. sheds in Concord, NH.   

 

Reportedly, the last time granite was quarried in Redstone was in 1948 for an addition to the Criminal Courts building in New York City.  The architect specified Conway green to match the stone in original building. Crews worked round the clock and the Swenson and Fletcher granite companies, the joint owners of the Redstone Properties at the time, shipped the granite to Concord and Chelmsford for fabrication. Soon thereafter, the entire Redstone property and village was sold at auction.. Residents of the company houses were given first option to purchase their homes and many did. Why so much of the machinery remains at the site is not known.  Reportedly, some artifacts, including the fronts from the coal-fired boilers, and machinery are in a museum in Maine. 

 

Redstone was, and still is, a village within the town of Conway, NH, and the “old timers” want it remembered that way. It was originally a company town built by the Maine and New Hampshire Granite Co. In its prime, it had a boarding house, a school (K-8), a church, a poolroom, a dance hall and stage over the company store, a railroad station and twenty houses for the permanent employees along Mountain, Greenstone, Redstone and Church streets. (Many of these have been enlarged and modernized by current residents, some of whom have vivid recollections of the old days and family members who worked in the quarries and stone sheds.)  Redstone had its own post office with its own zip code (which, to the disgust of residents, was later reassigned to Yield House Industries). The old boarding house, once referred to as “the Big Ship”, housed transient workers who often moved among the various granite concerns in Maine, New Hampshire and Vermont, depending upon the demand for labor. The remaining boarding house, built when the “Big Ship” burned, still stands, in disrepair, on the south side of Route 302 opposite Mountain. Street.   

 

In 1975, the US Energy Research and Development Administration undertook a geothermal drilling project. The object was to explore the possibilities of geothermal heat from the natural decay of several radioactive minerals in the local granite. They drilled to a depth of 3002 feet but results were disappointing and further exploration was discontinued. 

 

In the early 1990’s John Schiavi, local contractor, purchased a portion of the Redstone Properties. The Nature Conservancy and the State of New Hampshire now own the entire property.


Photos of Redstone 1884-1948 

Photos of Redstone Today

Click here for an explanation of 19th Century Stone Splitting 

{Steve Swenson lives in North Conway and is a great grand son of John Swenson who founded the Swenson Granite Co. in Concord, NH in 1883, about the same time quarrying began in Redstone. In his younger days, Steve worked in the quarry for the family business which was once part owner of Redstone. Today, together with Rock of Ages, it is one of the largest suppliers of granite in the US. Steve has researched the company, has led numerous tours of Redstone and collected many photographs and pieces of ephemera, some of which accompany this article.}

 

Editor’s Note:  Business records of the Maine and New Hampshire Granite Co.are in the Maine Historical Society, in Portland..     Additional input is solicited from visitors to this website. Email Steve Swenson 

 

Further Reading:  Much of the information in this article is taken from files in the Henney History Room of the Conway Public Library.  The files have several newspaper articles and recollections written by Redstone residents.

 

Janet Hounsell’s Conway, New Hampshire, 1765-1997: Including Its Villages: Center Conway, Conway Village, East Conway, Intervale, Kearsarge, North Conway, Redstone has a good chapter on Redstone.

   

                                                                       

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