“The last player standing” – Swenson Granite’s Concord quarry shuttered after 140-year-history

Tim Wickland moves a giant hunk of granite in 1987.

Tim Wickland moves a giant hunk of granite in 1987. KEN WILLIAMS / File photo

Walter Carlson, left, and David Swenson hand splint granite in 1979.

Walter Carlson, left, and David Swenson hand splint granite in 1979. KEN WILLIAMS

Work continues at the Swenson Granite Works quarry in Concord on Tuesday, Sept. 20, 2016. The 133-year-old family-owned company has been sold to Polycor, a Quebec City company. (ELIZABETH FRANTZ / Monitor staff)

Work continues at the Swenson Granite Works quarry in Concord on Tuesday, Sept. 20, 2016. The 133-year-old family-owned company has been sold to Polycor, a Quebec City company. (ELIZABETH FRANTZ / Monitor staff) Elizabeth Frantz

Work continues at the Swenson Granite Works quarry in Concord on Tuesday, Sept. 20, 2016. The 133-year-old family-owned company has been sold to Polycor, a Quebec City company. (ELIZABETH FRANTZ / Monitor staff)

Work continues at the Swenson Granite Works quarry in Concord on Tuesday, Sept. 20, 2016. The 133-year-old family-owned company has been sold to Polycor, a Quebec City company. (ELIZABETH FRANTZ / Monitor staff) Elizabeth Frantz

In a 2018 photo, an overview of the deep 250-foot quarry area at Swenson Granite. It is time-consuming and expensive to move things and people into and out of a 250-foot hole. The difficulty isn’t just in hauling up 20-ton blocks of stone after they have been cut.

In a 2018 photo, an overview of the deep 250-foot quarry area at Swenson Granite. It is time-consuming and expensive to move things and people into and out of a 250-foot hole. The difficulty isn’t just in hauling up 20-ton blocks of stone after they have been cut. GEOFF FORESTER / Monitor file photo

Pieces of granite to be turned into crushed stone are seen at Swenson Granite Works in Concord on Tuesday, Sept. 20, 2016. The 133-year-old family-owned company has been sold to Polycor, a Quebec City company. (ELIZABETH FRANTZ / Monitor staff)

Pieces of granite to be turned into crushed stone are seen at Swenson Granite Works in Concord on Tuesday, Sept. 20, 2016. The 133-year-old family-owned company has been sold to Polycor, a Quebec City company. (ELIZABETH FRANTZ / Monitor staff) Elizabeth Frantz

Chairman of the board and great-grandson of the company founder, Kurt Swenson talks about operations at Swenson Granite Works from the quarry ridge in Concord on Tuesday, Sept. 20, 2016. The 133-year-old family-owned company has been sold to Polycor, a Quebec City company. (ELIZABETH FRANTZ / Monitor staff)

Chairman of the board and great-grandson of the company founder, Kurt Swenson talks about operations at Swenson Granite Works from the quarry ridge in Concord on Tuesday, Sept. 20, 2016. The 133-year-old family-owned company has been sold to Polycor, a Quebec City company. (ELIZABETH FRANTZ / Monitor staff) Elizabeth Frantz

Swenson workers pose for a photo in the late 19th century.

Swenson workers pose for a photo in the late 19th century. COURTESY—Crosscurrents of Change

An undated file photo of Swenson Granite quarry.

An undated file photo of Swenson Granite quarry. —Monitor file 

From 2018, an overview of the deep 250-foot quarry area at Swenson Granite. It is time-consuming and expensive to move things and people into and out of a 250-foot hole. The difficulty isn’t just in hauling up 20-ton blocks of stone after they have been cut.

From 2018, an overview of the deep 250-foot quarry area at Swenson Granite. It is time-consuming and expensive to move things and people into and out of a 250-foot hole. The difficulty isn’t just in hauling up 20-ton blocks of stone after they have been cut. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor file

Former chairman of the board and great-grandson of the company founder, Kurt Swenson talks about operations at Swenson Granite Works from the quarry ridge in Concord on Tuesday, Sept. 20, 2016. The 133-year-old family-owned company has been sold to Polycor, a Quebec City company. (ELIZABETH FRANTZ / Monitor staff)

Former chairman of the board and great-grandson of the company founder, Kurt Swenson talks about operations at Swenson Granite Works from the quarry ridge in Concord on Tuesday, Sept. 20, 2016. The 133-year-old family-owned company has been sold to Polycor, a Quebec City company. (ELIZABETH FRANTZ / Monitor staff) GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor file

Swenson Granite quarry seen from Mountain Road in Concord on Monday, July 8, 2024.

Swenson Granite quarry seen from Mountain Road in Concord on Monday, July 8, 2024. GEOFF FORESTER Monitor staff

By MICHAELA TOWFIGHI

Monitor staff

Published: 07-08-2024 5:49 PM

In a recent drive up Rattlesnake Hill, Kurt Swenson found the quarry he once owned eerily quiet.

Gone were the employees who sliced blocks of stone from walls a hundred-plus feet down from the edge, a job he first had as a teenager. Silent was the machinery that was so loud the neighbors complained. 

Eight years have passed since Swenson sold his family’s business to Canadian investors in 2016. His trip up to the quarry last month was spurred by the news that the company’s newest owners – Birch Hill Equity Partners – had quietly closed the Concord site and laid off employees. 

The move marked the end of the last locally-owned operation in the Granite State. The massive showroom of stone products on North Main Street remains open, but it sells granite cut from someplace else.

The Concord gray slabs from Swenson Granite's quarries became the building blocks of downtown landmarks – the State House, Concord Public Library, New Hampshire Savings Bank – after John Swenson started the business in 1883.  

In the late 1800s, granite was sent from Concord to Washington D.C. to construct the Library of Congress. Pieces of the Washington Monument are built with Concord gray, too. 

For area stone masons, though, the closure was more symbolic than significant to business. With inflation, especially post-pandemic, the cost of materials has skyrocketed and Swenson’s granite was no exception even though it was local.

Most recently, the main output from the quarry on Concord’s Rattlesnake Hill was curbing – especially given the fact that granite provides a sturdier and greener alternative to concrete.

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For Chris Collins, owner of Warner Stone, the granite slabs they use to build walkways and patios already came from Swenson’s other quarry in Barre, Vermont. 

Much of the retail store on North State Street is stocked with slabs from out of state. But the legacy of Swenson’s in Concord can be defined by the tenure of its employees up in the quarry, who were quietly laid off.  

“I feel bad for the guys that work at the actual quarry that are local guys. I think they’ve had some employees there that have been there 20 to 3o years,” said Collins, who has been in the business for over a decade. “That’s what I feel is going to have the biggest impact to the community is those workers." 

The granite business remained in the Swenson family until 2016. As a young man, Kurt Swenson traded a law career for his great-grandfathers legacy. After 133 years in the family, a younger Swenson did not want to step up and take the helm. The decision was made to sell to private owners in Canada. 

“There comes a time where you say, ‘how long am I going to do this and how do we exit,’” Swenson said at a New Hampshire Historical Society talk last month. “I was curious as a family owner, you wonder what the family is going to do to and 100 percent in favor.”

While the quiet quarry was good news for neighbors, he joked – gone would be the days of blasting from the hilltop as continued to drill hundreds of feet down – it marked the end of an era for the Concord business. 

“My philosophy always was that the most important assets of any company are the employees,” said Swenson. 

The company’s legacy spanned an hour-long talk by Swenson at the New Hampshire Historical Society in early June. He announced that the new ownership had quietly shuttered the quarry and laid off employees effective June 6. 

Still, that was news to Matt MacDougall, a stone mason out of Andover. 

While MacDougall doesn’t source his stone from Swenson – instead opting for Back Bay Stone in Henniker – he worries that the closing will impact already high costs. 

“A quarry closing is never good because the price of stone in New Hampshire is crazy considering it’s the Granite State,” he said. “There are smaller quarries around, guys just digging in their backyards and stuff but that's never a good thing.”

Eight years have passed since Swenson sold the business, but he hypothesizes that costs are what drove the new owner to shutter the Concord quarry, he said. 

“They are not getting the returns they want and they really don’t have an exit, the public markets are tough these days," he said. “Who wants to buy a granite company?”

Instead, they’ll continue to truck in granite from Vermont and Maine for now. 

“What I’m afraid of is that they’re going to do that same thing in the other quarries that they own in the area,” he said. "I don’t know if they will or not but basically they're the last player standing.”