The history of granite quarrying on Cape Ann could not have been written without the help of the Cape's unique geology. Perched on a granite ledge, Cape Ann is littered with large granite boulders that define the coastline and pop up throughout the interior.
The Museum's Granite Quarrying Collection contains samples of local granite, tools, equipment, personal effects, documents, photographs, paintings and sculpture, all of which help to illustrate the unique history of this industry on Cape Ann.
Granite Quarrying in the 19th Century
Civil War veteran General Benjamin Butler had one of the earliest quarrying operations located in the Bay View section of Gloucester. This colorful local personality later went on to purchase the first yacht to win The America's Cup.
In the early years, quarried granite blocks were hauled by oxen to nearby Lane's Cove where they were loaded onto sailing vessels for delivery by water to major cities in the Northeast. Later, inclined railways took the place of animals.
By the end of the 19th century, the granite quarrying industry had become well established, joining fishing as a mainstay of Cape Ann's economy. The granite industry drew workers from Finland, Sweden and Ireland, adding to Cape Ann's rich cultural mix—and produced some real characters to boot.
The Decline of the Industry
All but one of the Cape Ann, Massachusetts granite quarries are silent and water-filled, the only sound the distant cry of a seagull planing in the blue overhead or of a small, wild bird flitting over the surface of the still, green depths. Many of the bigger quarry pits, about fifteen of them, are more than 100 feet deep with water.
It has been just 50 years since the last quarryman picked up his toolbox from the ledge and walked home after the final whistle sounded.
These opening paragraphs in Barbara Erkkila's book Hammers on Stone (published 1987, now out of print) mark the end of an important chapter in Cape Ann's history.
Although there has been no major quarrying on Cape Ann since the 1930s, there are lasting reminders of its existence. In addition to the water filled pits there are the paving blocks, building stones, curbings and memorial carvings which are abundant on Cape Ann.
In 2004, the Museum created a sculpture garden which is most likely the last project of any size to use Cape Ann granite. An interior wall, at seating height, was added to an existing courtyard in front of the Museum. The granite was quarried from a small pit (called a motion) near the Rockport-Gloucester line.