Vintage Views: The stone that was the foundation of a city

For the Monitor
Published: 11/27/2021 1:00:51 PM
Modified: 11/27/2021 1:00:12 PM

On this cool fall day, I walk the Rattlesnake Hill, reminiscing about the past. The hill that has provided for generations of quarrymen is now long silent. It is during this journey that I gaze upon dozens of boulders strewn haphazardly across the hillside, the resting place for each and every boulder since the time of the glaciers moved and melted upon the granite state. There are large boulders and small boulders, smooth while some not quite. Each and every boulder I view tells a story, they are New Hampshire granite boulders and they still have a story to tell.

When the earliest settlers arrived here in our little town, they set about building shelter, securing food and cutting down many trees in the abundant forest that surrounded them. The wood was used as a source of heat during the cold winter while more wood was used to build those early shelters. Easily accessible and with a seemingly endless supply the early shelters were constructed as crude log homes. The town evolved and people started to prosper, with stability and some wealth they felt the need to improve upon there living conditions and built better quality homes with wood from the forests. As they traveled about our Concord forest, they noticed many boulders scattered across the area, outcroppings, ledges and just plenty of stones.

The earliest New England settlers to our north and south sought long lasting material to enhance and build their homes, churches and schools. The very first stones quarried by our New England settlers were clay slates, but only in a small way. The slate was perfect for gravestones and doorsills but it lacked the substance to build the structures desired. The settlers’ considered the many granite boulders located across the town, especially on Rattlesnake Hill in Concord. The boulders were harvested and broken into workable pieces with hammers so that buildings could be constructed. Granite foundations under timber framed homes provided many years of stability. Our ancestors quickly realized this supply of stone for building offered resources that needed to be harvested to build.

The very first quarries for building stone were opened at Chelmsford, Mass. It was in Chelmsford that the granite boulders were cut into building blocks and used to build the old Boston court house in the year 1810. Two years later in 1812 the granite boulders were utilized in Concord and quarrying started with the labor of convicts from the New Hampshire State Prison. The convicts did such a fine job with their efforts with the granite boulders and below surface granite ledges that the state was impressed. The convicts continued to process above the ground granite boulders and surface stone to make granite construction blocks to build the old New Hampshire State Prison in 1812. In the year 1816 the processed granite boulders were utilized once again to build the New Hampshire State House in Concord.

It was several years later the popularity of granite as a building source became even more popular, used extensively in Boston to construct buildings. The use continued to increase and granite quarries were opened in Quincy to meet the growing demand. The neighbors to the north in Concord continued to increase their production while observing the successful granite quarries to the south. The stone procured from surface boulders in Concord continued to be harvested, processed and sold to customer in need of quality stone to build. The new post offices in Concord and Manchester as well as the Congressional Library in Washington, D.C., were all built with Rattlesnake Hill granite boulders that were cut into building blocks. As the popularity continued the demand only intensified and the excavations began on Rattlesnake Hill, the granite industry continued to grow with over a thousand quarrymen working Rattlesnake Hill at times. Building blocks, curbing, gravestones and foundations were made from Concord granite and the business thrived with dozens of granite companies on the hill. With the rift and grain of Concord granite the rock was especially well developed enabling large blocks to be split to line with great eases.

The glacial drift across our little town delivered the many scattered granite boulders to Rattlesnake Hill. In particular the southern slope of Rattlesnake Hill boasted a most uncommon amount of granite boulders due to the glacial ice. To this very day I walk the forest of my ancestors and witness the many undisturbed boulders in the forest.

The scattered granite boulders on Rattlesnake Hill still tell a story, a story of motivation, determination and success. Without the evident boulders scattered on our hill our forefathers would not have been led into the forest to harvest them for building.

As I walk under the setting sun this cold November day, I continue to count the large granite boulders and smaller stones. The granite that was never harvested by the quarrymen representing dreams of profits not realized a century ago. You can almost hear the long silent voices of the quarrymen whispering between the trees now covering Rattlesnake Hill.

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