America’s Oldest Marble Quarry
Written by THOMAS COOPER
This sidebar is a supplement to The Sculptor vs. The Robots
If Fred Brownstein were to dig down in his backyard, he would likely strike marble in very short order; numerous veins of marble run down the western side of the Vermont’s Green Mountains, where he and I both live. In fact, the country’s first marble quarry opened in my hometown of Dorset, in 1785, followed by dozens more on the surrounding mountainsides.
Today, only one marble mine remains active in the Dorset area: the Danby Quarry. Located on the eastern slope of Dorset Mountain, and reaching one-and-a-half miles underground, this operation is the largest underground marble quarry in the world. In cavernous rooms deep inside the mountain, blocks weighing 25 tons are cut out of gleaming white walls. The quarry, now owned by an Italian company from Carrara, Italy, contains an entire underground factory that can mill slabs to customers’ specifications, then prepare them for shipment throughout the world. The quarry’s miners excavate some 200,000 cubic feet of marble every year, and company officials see no end to their burrowing into Dorset mountain.
Danby marble might not be as suited as Carrara marble to the figurative sculpture that Brownstein practices, but its crystalline structure makes it highly desirable for architectural purposes—everything from columns and facades to floors and countertops. Blocks from these quarries have made their way into the New York Public Library, the Jefferson Memorial, Harvard Medical School, the U.S. Senate Building, Arlington National Amphitheater, the Supreme Court, and the United Nations building. The quarries had names such as Deaf Joe, Blue Ledge, Folsom, Scotchman’s, and Gettysburg. This last got its name from the many marble blocks from this quarry that became gravestones in the cemetery that marks that eponymous battle in the Civil War.
When I was young and the threat of nuclear attack from the Soviet Union spurred protection measures such as duck-and-cover and fallout shelters, residents in my town were directed, in the event of an attack, to hightail it to the Danby quarry, which could shelter up to 7,000 people (where to park their cars was an unresolved issue). In 1963, civil defense authorities furnished the quarry with 35,000 pounds of survival crackers and 1,400 7.5-pound metal containers of water, meant to sustain the refugees for 2 weeks. The marble bunker would provide total protection from fallout, a quarry administrator told a reporter, with no need for heat or air-conditioning, as the quarry remained a steady 47 degrees.