I’m not sure where the expression “stony silence” comes from, but it clearly has nothing to do with the people harvesting building stone from Connecticut’s quarries. At the Stony Creek Granite Quarry in Branford and the Portland Brownstone Quarry in its namesake town, rarely have I met people so enthused about their work. They recite the geology of their product as if it were a personal genealogy. The structures built of their stone are spoken of like distant relatives. They see themselves in a lineage of architectural craftsmanship stretching back centuries.
Portland’s quarry, which produces a rich, chocolaty toned sandstone, is probably the oldest active quarry site in the nation. Work began in the 1690s, and at the height of the stone’s popularity in the late 19th century it was the most common building material for row house residences in Manhattan, Brooklyn, Philadelphia, and Boston. Stony Creek granite, a luminous pink stone laced with black highlights, was most famously used in the Statue of Liberty’s base, and is also found in such grand buildings as Boston’s South Station and Chicago’s Newberry Library.
Portland’s quarry overlooks large historic pits now filled with emerald water beneath dramatic 100 foot cliffs. The twin metal truss humps of the Arrigoni Bridge over the Connecticut River frame the horizon. The Stony Creek site is surrounded with rugged, permanently preserved forestland and abandoned quarries.
Standing in the quarry pits below towering sheer walls and surrounded by 25 ton stone blocks is humbling. I’d never have thought a hole in the ground could be so intriguing, but they are radiant with light bouncing off exposed rock sparkling with color. I’m awed that such rough material is shaped into the many forms buildings demand. In far flung places people inhabit this bedrock, the very stuff of the planet on which we walk with little thought.