This Place in History: Millstone Hill Part 2

Vermont Historical Society

BARRE, Vt.

To view Part 1 of this series, click here.

At ‘This Place in History‘ we’re back in Barre, Vt. at the Barre Town Forest with Executive Director of the Vermont Historical Society Steve Perkins.

“There’s so much to see here on Millstone Hill, which is kind of the historic center of all of the quarrying that went went on here in Barre. So, we’re gonna go meet back up with Scott McLaughlin, the Executive Director of the Vermont Granite Museum, and he’s going to give us more of an insight as to what you’re gonna see here,” explained Perkins.

“This is a great example of an early quarry. It’s a deep quarry. They’ve burrowed down to get to quality stone; the stuff on the top isn’t necessarily always the best because it’s been beaten up for 100,000 years through glaciation. At some point, they decided to abandon this one for a better quality source of material,” said McLaughlin.

“They would drill a hole; initially, that was done using a bit and a sledge hammer. It’s a two-person operation, spaced out at equal distances. Then, you’d slide in what’s called a feather and wedge. Inside, between the two, you would drive in a steel wedge and someone would simply tap that. You do it in every single hole all the way across the block. And you have to be patient with this process. You have to just allow the stress to sort of start a crack between each of the holes and then it’ll work its way across the block, and you’ll just split really nicely thanks to Barre Gray’s nice fine grain to it,” added McLaughlin.

“Now when I think of quarrying, of course, my mind goes to cartoons and explosions. So, you’re saying for many years of quarrying, it involved no explosions?” asked Perkins.

“Correct. It wouldn’t be till the end of the 19th Century that they start using dynamite and black powder. And today, none of that is being used. All of the quarry operations use diamond wire,” answered McLaughlin.

“Quarries like this, this one 700 feet in depth, it’s just too difficult to pull the material from that depth without risk of injury to any of the men and women that might be in the bottom. There’s also just the travel time of getting that block out and put onto a rail car or truck. The other issue is that with these deep quarries, the pressure of all the material around it, made it really difficult to take out the block without having a crack.”

“Today, quarries are drive-in. They’re terracing, working their way through the hill, and it allows them to have fewer people working in the quarry, no really overhead possibility of something falling down onto them. It’s much faster in terms of the process of extraction and getting it out of the quarry itself to the manufacturing facilities,” said McLaughlin.

At ‘This Place in History’!

For more from our ‘This Place in History’ series, click here.

To view a map of Vermont’s roadside historic site markers, click here.

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