At ‘This Place in History’ we visited Dorset, Vermont on a soggy day with Executive Director of the Vermont Historical Society Steve Perkins.
“This is a beautiful spot in one of Vermont’s most beautiful towns. This is a really cool, old quarry. You can see it driving by on Route 30. It has so much history. We’re going to meet with the curator of the Dorset Historical Society Jon Mathewson,” said Perkins.
When asked if the Dorset Quarry is truly the oldest in the United States, Mathewson responded, “That’s my understanding, yes. From 1785 on, it was quarrying marble. At first it was for small things like tombstones and architectural fragments, door frames and things like that. Then starting in 1839, once the contract came through for the Erie Customs House in Erie, New York, they started shipping out larger blocks over to Troy, down the Erie Canal or down the Hudson River to New York City.”
“It was a big employer. There were about 30 quarries in operation at the height of quarrying in Dorset. Dorset was of course originally a farming community, but there were as many farming as quarrying at one point; 400 farming and 400 quarrying.”
“There are some houses locally made from Dorset Marble, but then it was shipped all over. The Erie Customs House came from this hole in the ground. This hole in the ground produced the D.A.R. building in Washington D.C., a building at the Harvard Medical School and the New York Public Library, but not the lions. The lions came up from Tennessee, pink Tennessee marble. Other quarries in the area went to other purposes of significance, including the Montreal Museum of Art in Montreal,” said Mathewson.
“All of the quarries in Dorset are closed now and they have been for some time. There was an effort to revive some in the 1960s, but it never came to fruition. The closest quarry in operation is now in Danby. It’s a huge tunnel into the same mountain as behind us. You used some of their product this morning, well I hope you did. Toothpaste! If you brushed your teeth, you used Calcium Carbonate, which is Dorset marble, Vermont marble. Also, the whitener that makes paper glossy in magazines, that’s also Calcium Carbonate from marble,” explained Mathewson.
“It is pouring out, but busloads of people are coming. It’s amazing. The quarry was in operation from 1785 to about 1874. It closed for a few years, opened up again in 1901 and then closed again in 1901. So about 100 years of operation. When they abandoned the quarry, they had hit the water level and weren’t pumping it out anymore. So it filled with water. By 1922, people are swimming here in the quarry.”
To learn more about quarrying in Dorset, Matthewson recommends, “Go to the historical society in beautiful downtown Dorset at the Bley House Museum. If you want to plan your visit before you come, go to our website, go to the Dorset History Go tab on the home page and you’ll find a bunch of interactive maps of historic sites in Dorset.”
At ‘This Place in History”
For a map of Vermont’s roadside historic markers, click here.
To view more of our ‘This Place in History’ series, click here.