Mines had risky, but steady work

  • Workers in 1920 remove blocks of granite from Perry Bros. quarry. Concord Public Library

Published: 11/4/2020 12:09:30 PM
Modified: 11/4/2020 12:09:20 PM

It was exactly 100 ago here in Concord that our ancestors witnessed some fascinating history. Both the 18th and the 19th Amendments were passed, forever changing the way things had always been. The 19th Amendment of course provided woman the right to vote and was celebrated by our ancestors on the streets of Concord. The 18th Amendment was perhaps celebrated a little less, it created the era of Prohibition.

As these amendments were being discussed on Main Street in the various coffee shops and soon to be dry taverns, there was some other activity at the forefront. The last of the United States troops were returning from Europe after fighting in World War I. Our soldiers were coming home. Trains were arriving in Railroad Square and the last of the young men and women from Europe were once again walking the streets of Concord.

The average lifespan a century ago was just 54 years old and the average student only spent 75 days in the classroom. As people aged and experienced mortality younger, with students attending school less than they do today and with the last of the soldiers returning from World War I there were many people searching for employment.

Our ancestors here in Concord still farmed and attempted to live independent life, but it was a fact that the people living here in Concord worked primarily for the railroad and the granite industry. Thousands of people found steady employment offering benefits and a regular paychecks to provide for their families. Careers with the railroad and the granite quarries involved dangerous jobs that could result in serious injury, or even death. The pay was better and there were many that chose to take the risk involved to enjoy the better benefits.

The year 1920 saw rapid increases in the granite industry at all key quarries across the country, particularly in the northeast. The United States Bureau of Mines confirmed the positive growth and people turned their attention to mine work in great numbers. The United States Bureau of Mines also reported in 1920 that 12,735 men were employed full time and each man averaged 251 working days during the year for an impressive total of 3,199,073 shifts annually. These figures for 1920 compared to 1919 document a 22% increase in mine employment. There was of course the constant threat of injury, 1,392 men were injured in quarries in 1920 while 22 men perished as the result of tragic accidents. My own great-uncle James Spain died as a result of a head injury a century ago, sustained on Rattlesnake Hill.

With over a thousand men working on Rattlesnake Hill a century ago, many of us have descended from ancestors that found their careers as quarrymen. As we walk the same hill that our ancestors walked in 1920, there is now just silence. A silence that provides the inner peace that our ancestors so desperately sought but were never able to find. The majority of the old granite quarries on Rattlesnake Hill are now filled with free-flowing spring water that refreshes thrill seekers to this very day. The place our ancestors expended hard labor is now simply a place to enjoy nature and solitude, a place to walk hand in hand with those that have come before us.

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