Vermont’s world-famous granite quarries

600' quarry wall

Enough granite for 4500 years

Travelers to New England would do well to visit Vermont’s Rock of Ages quarry near Barre. Spend a few hours to learn everything, literally from the ground up. This is a vast operation, from cutting the stone out of the quarry walls, to forming, polishing and finally etching it, with a result of lasting use and beauty.

Take The Tour:

Go to the Visitor Center to buy tickets for the bus tour. If you miss one, fear not, they run frequently and the center is filled with displays, not only of history but also samples of the stone carvers’ art. A short movie is shown continually, and the gift shop is stocked with items made from granite and marble.

The bus climbs the hill past tall piles of broken granite, called grout piles. This comes from the Scottish word for scraps of granite. This quarry was started by a Scot. He was followed by his countrymen as one of the early groups of immigrants who came to work at the Barre pits, along with Italian, Irish, Polish and others. Many of the artisans and cutters working there today are descended from the original families.

Driver and Guide

Tour bus driver and guide

You will feel as if you are ascending the rim of a volcano-up, up, up, until you reach the viewing area; not for the queasy, but a strong wire fence protects you from the gaping 600 foot deep hole. Rock hard, light gray walls reveal the thousands of drilling holes and cuts that have been made over the 125 years since this quarry was opened.

Sections of the yard:

While returning to the Visitors’ Center, your guide will relate the history of Rock of Ages’ quarries. One, located in North Carolina, is the source for their pink granite. Others produce different colors. Rock of Ages’ website tells all: company history, granite facts, and their products.

The “block pile” is an area where the huge many-ton blocks are stashed waiting to be used. They are numbered to keep like-patterned granite together for monuments needing more than one piece.

discarded rolls

Two old pressrolls to be replaced

Another section holds “pressroll” blanks – These are long, rectangular blocks to be shaped into huge rollers. Two rolls are assembled much like an old-fashioned washer. Wood pulp is wrung through them, squeezing out the water and resulting in paper. Each roller weighs several hundred tons.

Finished slabs of granite, both polished and rough are stored nearer to the factory, waiting to be fashioned into monuments, cabinet tops, and smooth plates for manufacturing everything from jet engine parts to NASA needs.

Getting There:

Rock of Ages Quarry is in Graniteville, VT, just below South Barre off US-14. It sits in the triangle made my I-91 and I-89. From both Burlington, VT and White River Junction, the Visitor Center is about 50 miles and a one-hour drive. The driver, Texx, loaded my walker on the bus, then offered me a strong hand that could hide a football and hauled me on board; all with a cheerful smile.

A related tourist destination is Hope Cemetery in Barre, where the visitor will wonder at the magnificent results of the stone carvers’ art. To be continued.

Related links:Which granites have high radon emissions?

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