Stonework

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Barre, cried one Vermont newspaper in 1893, was “The Busy Hustling Chicago of New England,” and the town itself cheerfully claimed to be the “Granite Center of the World.” Not of the world, perhaps, but certainly of the United States: in the years following the Civil War, the national enthusiasm for statues, public memorials, mausoleums, ornate tombstones, and obelisks created a tremendous market for the millions of tons of fine granite buried in the hills above the town, and by 1910 Barre was shipping $2,500,000 in quarried granite all over the world. At its height, the industry included seventy individual quarries, one hundred finishing sheds (where the rough stone was shaped into finished blocks and where statuary and other ornamental work was produced), and employed some five thousand men drawn from England, Scotland, Wales, Italy, Austria, Switzerland, Spain, Sweden, Finland, Denmark, and Poland. Today that polyglot industry has all but vanished; there are now only five quarries left, employing a little over two hundred men. Yet we can still catch a hint of those busier times, thanks to the work of an intrepid jeweler by the name of Oramel J. Dodge. Dodge, whose sideline was photography, spent years hauling his view camera up the hill to photograph the quarries in every season and the stoneworkers in all lines of their trade. Recently, more than two hundred of his glass plates have come to light, a selection of which appear on these and the following pages. “Gone. … all gone,” an old quarry worker said when looking over the photographs. “Time takes care of all.” That may be. But the record remains.