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Granite Industry collection

Historical note

In 1846, Orlando Smith, a stonemason, was searching for stone material and discovered a granite outcrop near the present intersection of Granite and Tower streets in Westerly, Rhode Island. This became the site of the Smith Quarry, the first in the area, with many more opening over the next 20 years. During the industry's early years, Westerly quarries produced basic items such as curbing, paving stones, and blocks for building foundations.

The granite industry in Westerly began to boom in the 1860's, due to the high quality of local granite, a social trend toward ornate gravestones, and demand for monuments to commemorate the Civil War. It was necessary to have tradespeople of advanced skill to perform the fine cutting and carving required for these monuments. This led to the growth of the local industry as granite cutters, designers, sculptors, and draftsmen moved to Westerly from Europe and other granite areas in the United States. Demand grew even more with a rule established in 1887 by the Gettysburg Battlefield Memorial Association that only granite and bronze could be used in war memorials.

Westerly granite was utilized in numerous monuments all over the United States. Some of the most famous are the Soldiers' National Monument in Gettysburg, for which Westerly granite was used in the base of the monument. Westerly granite is used in more monuments at Gettysburg than any other source of granite, with the exception of the Quincy, Massachusetts company of Frederick & Field. The central monument in the Antietam National Cemetery, a large statue of a soldier, is another example of Westerly granite.

After 1910, the granite industry experienced a decline in business, for several reasons. As time went on, war memorial orders decreased, social customs changed and gravestones became less detailed, concrete became more prevalent in construction, and competition increased from other granite quarries such as those in Barre, Vermont.

In 1866, George Ledward purchased a quarry in Westerly, operating it for several years before signing an agreement in 1869 to sell the land to his friend James Goodwin Batterson, with a final sale date of 1874. Batterson was a Connecticut businessman who owned quarries in Rhode Island, Connecticut, and New Hampshire. His business was headquartered in Hartford, Connecticut and operated under the name New England Granite Works. By 1885 the granite industry had grown so much that the first union was formed, the Granite Cutters' National Union. A second union, the Quarry Workers' International Union, was established in Barre, Vermont in 1903.