Saturday, April 12, 2014

A Maine Gazetteer: the granite quarries of Clark Island

Maine granite was king for a long time. There’s Vinalhaven granite in the Washington Monument, the Brooklyn Bridge, the eight pink granite columns in the Cathedral Church of St. John the Divine, not to mention all the ordinary granite pavers from other mines lining the streets of Northeast cities. Maine granite was of good quality, but most importantly it was cheap. The quarries were largely on islands and transport by water was efficient and easy. Maine led the nation in production in 1901, but by the 1920s there was little business left, not because the resource was exhausted but because Portland cement and concrete and steel and asphalt were cheaper. Pre-formed, pre-poured, viscous: these are better business words than heavy, hard, obdurate.


The main customers of quarries these days are kids jumping off their sheared walls. It's one of those quaint things that make Maine special, or is it? Clark Island in Spruce Head holds a former quarry - deserted, peaceful, gone to nature. There are quiet trails, lovely ocean views, those deep blue-green quarry waters, a generous inn at the edge of the causeway. Imagine it in the 19th century, however: the rough barracks for the workers, the hard work and poverty and exploitation, the explosions, the steam drilling, the hammering, the pollution. Stone is an obstinate thing to handle. Life on Clark must have been a little less than idyllic.

Excerpted from Saving Maine: A Personal Gazetteer
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