A history of the Town of Redstone and Its Granite Quarries

By Steve Swenson and Rick Russack

Derricks in Quarry, c. 2014. Photo: Joe Viger

Derricks in Quarry, c. 2014. Photo: Joe Viger

The granite quarries on Rattlesnake Mountain in Redstone, NH, (part of the town of Conway) together with substantial remains of buildings and machinery dating back to the late 1800’s constitute one of the most interesting industrial archaeological sites in New Hampshire. Visiting the area is like taking a step back in time. Portions of one tall wooden derrick mast remain standing in the Green Quarry (as of Fall, 2014), barely supported by old guy wires dangling in the trees. Numerous coils of wire cable, resembling spilled spaghetti, lie rusting on the ground.

Cable overlooking Green Quarry.  Photo: Joe Viger

Cable overlooking Green Quarry. Photo: Joe Viger

Many other derrick booms and masts lie rotting where they fell when operations ceased in the late 1940’s. Large lathes used to turn and polish granite columns, are rusting away among the trees that are reclaiming the area. Shells of some original buildings remain.

Valve on piece of machinery near Green Quarry.  Photo: Joe Viger

Valve on piece of machinery near Green Quarry. Photo: Joe Viger

Standing exposed to the elements, two large rusting coal-fired boilers along with two giant dual steam engine- air compressors are fast becoming obscured by vegetation. The building that once housed them is gone as well as the presumably decorative boiler fronts. Hopefully the latter are safe and not among many remnants stolen for scrap metal.

These boilers generated steam to run the dual steam engine-air compressors that once supplied air at high-pressure for pneumatic tools and machinery in the quarries and stone sheds. Portions of the piping used to distribute the compressed air and industrial water can still be found on the ground. Some sections of railroad track remain. Gravity railroads, or tramways, transported heavy granite blocks from the quarries to the once-busy stone yard and sheds at the base of the mountain for processing. At one time, over three hundred men worked in the quarries, yard and finishing sheds.

Wooden Stone Shed. Photo Courtesy Steve Swenson

Wooden Stone Shed. Photo Courtesy Steve Swenson

Old photos show these buildings, including the main stone shed, a huge wooden building over 400 feet long, which was destroyed by fire in 1930. The Maine Central Railroad brought in raw materials and supplies and finished products were shipped by rail. Old maps show the extensive rail system that once serviced the site.

Like all quarry sites, there is a great deal of waste granite in massive dumps. Partially processed granite blocks are scattered around the site. Typically much of the discarded stone was rejected because of “bad breaks”, seams and other irregularities. High up on the hill, not far from where they were quarried, remains a stack of pink granite saw blocks weighing twenty-five to thirty tons each. Nearby, a block of roughed-out granite, obviously intended to become a column, lies next to a still-bearing apple tree (as of Fall 2014).

Green Pilaster in Woods Photo: Joe Viger

Green Pilaster in Woods
Photo: Joe Viger

Beside the path that was formerly the main Maine Central spur into the quarry (currently known as the “pillar to pond trail”) lies a rejected polished green granite pilaster about twenty feet long.. It is flat on one side, designed to stand against a building rather than to stand free. These, and many other relics, are lasting monuments to what once was a thriving business and village; both succumbed to changing technology and changing economics.


Pilasters from approximately 1990. One of these is now at the Intervale Post Office.  Photo: Steve Swenson Collection

Pilasters from approximately 1990. One of these is now at the Intervale Post Office. Photo: Steve Swenson Collection

As recently as 1990 there was a second eighteen-foot polished column lying near the pilaster that remains.. The property owner at the time (Schiavi Construction Co.) had the former column cut in half and used as two decorative columns in front of the Intervale, NH post office.

Although most of the buildings have collapsed, with the help of old maps, photographs and remnants of foundations as well as interviewing local senior citizens, the story of a once-thriving village and renowned granite facility can be reconstructed. In 1871, the Portland and Ogdensburg Railroad laid track at the base of Rattlesnake Mountain, through the area now known as Redstone. Within a few miles, this line joined with the Boston and Maine RR’s White Mountain Division in North Conway. At this time, the major activities in the area were farming and logging, not quarrying. In the late 1870’s the railroad needed granite for bridge abutments and culverts. Large pink granite boulders at the base of Rattlesnake Mountain provided the stone the railroad needed. These boulders also supplied foundation stones for buildings in the area. The stone was uniform in composition, split easily along the “grain” and its proximity to the existing railroad line made it easy to transport.

View looking out from Quarry out towards Redstone

View looking out from Quarry out towards Redstone

In 1880, George Wagg, Roadmaster of the Maine Central Railroad, brought the availability and quality of the granite to the attention of Payson Tucker, President of the Maine Central RR, as well as J.H. Emery of North Jay, Maine. In 1886, the North Jay Granite Company bought land on Rattlesnake Mountain, which became known as the Redstone Quarry. By 1887, The Maine and New Hampshire Granite Company was formed, with Wagg as President, and with quarries in Jay, as well as Redstone. From 1887 to 1895, the company bought additional land on Rattlesnake Mountain and expanded the quarries. A cutting yard was established at the base of the mountain and a railroad spur connected to the nearby Maine Central line. The first stone shipped in 1886 , was for paving stones in New York City, and granite for the building of the Union Station in Portland, Maine. The Maine Central built it’s station in Redstone in 1888. (The information is this paragraph has been taken, with permission, from the Environmental Impact Statement for the proposed Conway Bypass, prepared by Victoria Bunker, Inc. in 1995.) Historical railroad information was also provided by Ben English of Jackson, NH.

The stone in North Jay was a fine-grained, light grey granite similar to that in Concord, NH and Barre, VT. The quarries in Redstone produced two different colors of granite: red and green. Therefore, the Maine and New Hampshire Granite Co was able to offer three distinct colors of stone; grey from North Jay, plus red and green from Redstone. The two quarries at Redstone lie within a few hundred yards of each other and their geological proximity is considered a fairly rare occurrence. Earlier maps and photos of the pink quarry indicate quarrying began there, further toward the southeast, and gradually moved northwest, closer to the green quarry. The first rail line access into the quarries was a spur off the Maine Central track from the South East by the current entrance to Redstone Estates opposite Crest Chevrolet. Much of this former roadbed is a multi use trail for hikers, Mt. bikers and snowmobiler in season. George Wagg served as president of the company until his death in 1892. His son succeeded him and served as President until the company was sold in 1895.

Workers at Quarry. Photo Courtesy Steve Swenson

Workers at Quarry. Photo Courtesy Steve Swenson

In the late 19th century, granite was an important building stone and was also used for paving blocks in the streets of major cities in the North East. In the early 1900’s millions of paving stones were shipped annually from Redsone. Granite was also popular for memorials because of it durability as an igneous rock containing quartz compared to marble or limestone. The availability of three distinctly different colors of stone from one company was a definite competitive advantage to the Maine and New Hampshire Granite Co. By the early 20th Century, Redstone was an established and thriving village with the more permanent workers living in company owned houses while the more transient workers lived in the company boarding house. Many commuted daily from the surrounding villages. They came from North Conway and East Conway by horse and wagon, those with wagons giving rides to those who did not have their own transportation. During peak production periods, reportedly as many as 350 men were employed. There were quarrymen, cutters, polishers, engineers, carpenters, blacksmiths, and skilled carvers. Depending on the demand for labor, the aforementioned workers would often move among New England granite facilities, such as Concord, NH, Barre, VT and numerous quarry towns along the Maine coast. The latter had the economic advantage of transporting their product by boat rather than rail. Following the introduction of pneumatic tools (early 1900’s) fewer workmen were required in the quarries and stone sheds..

Quarry Workers. Photo courtesy Steve Swenson

Quarry Workers. Photo courtesy Steve Swenson

Each morning, following a five-minute warning whistle, the 7:00 a.m. whistle blew and the men were expected to be on site, with tools in hand ready to start work. There were no coffee breaks or personal visits allowed during working hours. The men in the yard and stone sheds often walked back to the boarding house for lunch and were back on the job by 1:00 p.m. while men working up in the quarries carried their own lunch. Depending on the workload, sometimes drilling, cutting and polishing operations called for more than one eight-hour shift. In the early days, according to the literature, a driller could earn $1.75 a day while a first-class stonecutter earned $2.00 a day. Some “old timers” (Babe Pennett and Henry Gagnon) who worked in the quarry as teenagers, recalled in 1922 a tool boy earned $11.00 a week while a stone carver with special skills could earn $9.00 and up for a days work.

By 1889, each day the company was shipping six to nine freight car loads of finished product. Paving blocks for city streets were shipped all over the U S with New York City calling for he most. In fact New York City requested some over sized paving stones known as “New York supers”. At one time, as many as 1,700,000 paving stones were shipped annually from Redstone. Eventually (early 1900’s) the Maine Central Railroad built a new main spur in from the North which divided into lines directly into the main stone shed with separate tracks to handle coal, lumber and supplies as well as a spur under the “crusher” where smaller granite scraps (“grout”) was crushed and typically used as ballast for railroad beds. .

Largest Block from Quarry with "Dogs" attached on top.

Largest Block from Quarry with “Dogs” attached on top.

Both the green and pink quarries lie several hundred feet up slope from the cutting and finishing area. Most large pieces of stone were moved down by either derrick or the tramway systems. One old photograph shows a 66-ton block resting on a rail sled, known as a “go devil”. with a proud proud quarrymen standing by. This photo shows a massive set of “dogs” and chain hanging from the top front end of the block. So-called “dogs” are simply large tongs used to lift heavy blocks of stone. At first, the granite blocks were moved down to the finishing sheds by wagons, pulled by horse or ox teams. Later, inclined rail lines, or tramways, were built to move the large blocks from the quarries down the hill. A single winch-operated track ran to the green quarry. Double tracks ran up to the base of “the wall” which required counter-weighted loads controlled by a single winch known as the “crab”. The “crab” was a critical breaking device which on rare occasion was unable to control a descending load which would crash at the bottom. In the early days of Redstone horse and/or ox teams and wagons moved smaller loads on more level ground. Another old photo shows smaller derricks, cranked by hand, or a “bull wheel” powered by a team of horses, were used to move blocks of granite in the stone yard. These derricks also moved granite to and from the lathes and polishing machines. Existing maps show that there were as many as ten derricks, with engine houses, placed around the quarries and stone yard. Each had a coal stove for heat in winter. There were at least two blacksmith shops; one near the pink quarry, and the other in the large stone shed. In addition, there were numerous storage sheds, horse barns, garages and warehouses. Initially, most of the machines were steam powered, which required coal-fired boilers. Many machines were later converted to electric power. Water was essential for blacksmiths, the polishers and for cooling various cutting machines. It came from a local pond or the water which had to be continuously pumped from the green quarry.

Ruins of Blacksmith Forge. Photo Courtesy Steve Swenson

Ruins of Blacksmith Forge. Photo Courtesy Steve Swenson

Maintenance of tools, machinery and buildings was an on-going challenge due to the heavy loads and resistant material. Before the advent of hardened steel and carbide tipped drills, most tools had to be sharpened and tempered daily by a blacksmith.

Rough Turned Column on Lathe, c. 1900. Photo courtesy of Dan Noel Collection

Rough Turned Column on Lathe, c. 1900. Photo courtesy of Dan Noel Collection

Lathes were used to rough-turn and polish granite columns (some as long as 22 feet). A very large lathe, with a faceplate more than five feet in diameter, was used for the final polishing process. This lathe, and the building that housed it, remain today (Fall 2014) surrounded by the encroaching forest. The building is one of the best preserved because of its function. Most of the roof was open, allowing large granite columns to be lowered and removed by a derrick from above. Sections of the single railroad track to the green quarry remain near the building and the massive iron hardware once attached to the top of the derrick’s mast.

Matrone's Derrick. Ca. 1920.  Photo Courtesy Steve Swenson Collection

Matrone’s Derrick. Ca. 1920. Photo Courtesy Steve Swenson Collection

This assemblage of hardware shows 10 guywire attachments which would indicate that this derrick, known as “Matrone’s derrick”, was the largest one at Redstone. Portions of the wooden boom and mast lie rotting on the ground with hardware still attached. This was a particularly important derrick as it serviced both pink and green quarry rail lines as well as the stone yard and lathes. The wooden booms and masts, some as tall as 90 feet, were typically made from Douglas Fir shipped from the Pacific North West on articulated railroad flat cars.

In the early 1920’s, primitive band saws, known as “gang saws,” were installed which speeded up the initial cutting of the large granite saw blocks. Workers in the gang saw mill wore cotton in their ears due to the noise caused by the multiple crude steel blades. These blades, mounted in a crib, moved back and forth over the granite blocks. They were cooled by water and steel shot was added as an abrasive. The gang saw greatly increased the speed of the initial cuts. As technology improved, hardened steel, and improved abrasives were adopted. Water-cooled, circular Carborundum saws were installed in the “carbo shop.” and allowed for more rapid cutting of smaller dimension stone.

Though heavily vandalized, most of the three-storied carpenter shop building still stands (Fall 2014) near where the gangsaw mill and stone shed once were. Several carpenters were kept busy building and maintaining structures as well as crating finished products to protect edges and surfaces during shipment by rail.

Redstone endured its share of accidents and tragedies, including the deaths of men who were in the wrong place at the wrong time or who were careless for a moment. On June 27, 1918 The Reporter, of North Conway, reported the death of Fred Philbrook. Philbrook, who was reportedly hard of hearing, was accidentally run over by a railroad work car, presumably a “dago”. Harry Mason, who began work in the quarries in 1913 at age 17 recalled, “lots of cuts and bruises” as well as arms and legs being crushed by falling slabs of granite. {Conway granite is heavy; it weighs approximately 165 lbs. a cubic foot} Many workers suffered from silicosis, referred to at the time as “stone cutter’s consumption,” a serious lung condition attributed to inhaling stone dust and fine metal particles from the drills. Prior to the 1930’s, when a ventilating system was installed in the re-built metal stone shed, little attention was paid to protecting workers from the hazard of inhaling stone dust. Many workers did not live much beyond 45 years of age.

Block built for George Washington Masonic Temple, Alexandria, VA. Photo Courtesy Steve Swenson Collection

Block built for George Washington Masonic Temple, Alexandria, VA. Photo Courtesy Steve Swenson Collection

Granite from Redstone and North Jay, ME, was used in most of the early Maine Central and Boston & Maine railroad stations. Most have been demolished due to the decline of the railroads but some, such as the one in Laconia, NH, survive. Redstone granite was used in many buildings in Portland, Boston, New York, and Washington, D.C. and as far away as Denver, CO and Havana, Cuba. The Hatch Memorial Shell, in Boston, is of Conway green. Grant’s Tomb in New York, the National Archives building in Washington among many other buildings contained Redstone granite. The George Washington Memorial Masonic Temple built on Sutter’s Hill in Alexandria, V.A. was made mostly of Conway pink and green granite.

George Washington Masonic Temple, Alexandria, VA

George Washington Masonic Temple, Alexandria, VA

Supplying granite for this seven-story building was the largest job ever undertaken at Redstone. Reportedly the quantity of rail freight generated by the construction led to the expansion of the local freight yard to one of the largest RR yards on the East coast. The job included twenty-four polished green interior columns, each 22 feet long and weighing 18 tons each with large pink columns at the entrance as well as close to a mile of steps. The job, with numerous over-runs, was finally dedicated in 1932 with the last minute arrival of a substitute cornerstone carved during six days while en-route by rail from Redstone (see photo to the right). This job was a financial boon and should have given the company a solid bank balance for the on-coming depression. Apparently management became careless during this lengthy and lucrative contract which led to temporary bankruptcy. Redstone definitely felt the economic effects of the depression, however there were some long-term government contracts which allowed production to continue, although on a reduced scale.

Italian Stonecarver, John Delamonte, c.1930, Redstone.  Photo Courtesy Steve Swenson Collection

Italian Stonecarver, John Delamonte, c.1930, Redstone. Photo Courtesy Steve Swenson Collection

In addition to producing paving blocks, dimension stone and various size columns, the company also turned out carved statues as well as pediments for columns and other decorative pieces. A number of skilled Italian stone carvers worked at Redstone, typically on a temporary basis for a particular job. The most recent map of the village of Redstone (dated 1948) show a number of company homes then occupied by families with Italian names. Granite blocks from other quarries in Maine, particularly North Jay, were shipped to Redstone for final fabrication and carving. Scraps of non-Redstone granite can be found in the former stone shed dump. (The dump is usually the last stop on a walking tour of the area and for the local school children, it has become known as “the gift shop.”)

The company survived the Depression years of the 1930’s and continued until the beginning of WW II, when limestone and concrete aggregate began to replace granite for building purposes at a much lower cost. By the early 1940’s much of the quality granite in Redstone had been removed and the company was no longer competitive with other suppliers. By this time, the owners of the Redstone Properties (John Swenson Granite Co., of Concord, NH. and H.E. Fletcher & Sons of Chelmsford, MA) each had their own sources of granite and more modern facilities.

Village of Redstone in 1922. Green Quarry is visible behind the houses. Photo Courtesy of Robert J. Girouard Collection

Village of Redstone in 1922. Green Quarry is visible behind the houses. Photo Courtesy of Robert J. Girouard Collection

Once World War II began, there were new national priorities and Redstone converted to defense work as did most other granite operations. For a brief period forges were installed in the stone shed for the production of metal castings. The large metal stone shed was sold and moved to a General Electric war plant in Lynn, MA. Local women worked in the large boarding house dining hall, assembling metal fittings for wire nets which were woven in the Swenson Granite Co. sheds in Concord, NH.

Pillars at Criminal Courts Building.  Courtesy Steve Swenson Collection

Pillars at Criminal Courts Building. Courtesy Steve Swenson Collection

Reportedly, the last time granite was quarried in Redstone was in 1948 for an addition to the Criminal Courts building in New York City. The architect specified Conway green to match the stone in the original building. Crews worked round the clock and the Swenson and Fletcher granite companies, the joint owners of the Redstone Properties at the time, shipped the granite to Concord and Chelmsford for fabrication. Soon thereafter, the entire Redstone property and village were sold at auction. Residents of the company houses were given first option to purchase their homes and many did so. Most of the machinery and RR track were sold. The rest of the machinery was apparently not attractive for sale and/or too heavy to remove for scrap. Unfortunately many smaller artifacts have been stolen for scrap metal between 2008 and 2013 when the state of NH owned the property but failed to provide protection for the remaining artifacts. As of 2013 the town of Conway reached an agreement with the state of NH allowing the town of Conway to assume responsibility for the protection and enhancement of the property with the cost supported by local private funds.

Redstone Quarry Company Store and Boarding House. The Store is now Redstone Graphics, across from the Quarry Monument at the entrance to Redstone on Route 302. The Boarding House was torn down a few years ago. Photo courtesy Dan Noel Collection

Redstone Quarry Company Store and Boarding House. The Store is now Redstone Graphics, across from the Quarry Monument at the entrance to Redstone on Route 302. The Boarding House was torn down a few years ago.
Photo courtesy Dan Noel Collection

Redstone was, and still is, a village within the town of Conway, NH, and the “old timers” want it remembered that way. It was originally a company town built by the Maine and New Hampshire Granite Co. In its prime, it had a boarding house, a school (K-8), a church, a poolroom, a dance hall and stage over the company store, a railroad station and twenty houses for the permanent employees along Mountain, Greenstone, Redstone and Church streets. (Many of these have been enlarged and modernized by current residents, some of whom have vivid recollections of the old days and family members who worked in the quarries and stone sheds.) Redstone had its own post office with its own zip code (which was later reassigned to Yield House Industries). The old boarding house, once referred to as “the Big Ship”, housed transient workers who often moved among the various granite concerns in Maine, New Hampshire and Vermont, depending upon the demand for labor. The second boarding house, built when the “Big Ship” burned, (circa 1909) became a popular hotel 1950-1970 and eventually a liability leading to demolition in 2012.

In 1975, the US Energy Research and Development Administration undertook a geothermal drilling project. The object was to explore the possibilities of geothermal heat from the natural decay of several radioactive minerals in the local granite. They drilled to a depth of 3002 feet but results were disappointing and further exploration was discontinued.

In the early 1990’s John Schiavi, local contractor, purchased a portion of the Redstone Properties. The Nature Conservancy and the State of New Hampshire now own the entire property.

Monument at the entrance to Redstone. Courtesy Steve Swenson Collection.

Monument at the entrance to Redstone. Courtesy Steve Swenson Collection.

As of the Fall of 2014, through the sustained efforts of the Redstone Commemorative Committee and the support of the town of Conway, local funds were raised to finance the placement and engraving of several historical granite markers. Thanks goes to Storyland in Glen and to Coleman and sons in Conway for the donation of the green and pink granite. Engraving was completed on site for a nominal fee by Arthur’s Memorials of Redstone. The large green and pink stones weigh roughly 4&1/2 and 7&1/2 tons respectfully. The green polished slab is engraved with significant timeline dates and depicts a quarry derrick. The pink block is engraved with a brief history of Redstone and a carving depicting the original large wooden stoneshed. And much to the joy of the local “old timers” there is a stone engraved with WELCOME to REDSTONE VILLAGE

About the author

Steve Swenson lives in North Conway and is a great grand son of John Swenson who founded the Swenson Granite Co. in Concord, NH in 1883, about the same time quarrying began in Redstone. In his younger days, Steve worked in the quarry for the family business which was once part owner of Redstone. Today, together with Rock of Ages, it is one of the largest suppliers of granite in the US. Steve has researched the company, has led numerous tours of Redstone and collected many photographs and pieces of ephemera, some of which accompany this article.