Milford Historical Society celebrating the pink granite quarries
In the early 1970s, when the architect designing an addition to the Boston Public Library looked for a material that would match the magnificence of the original 1895 façade, he went back to the original source.
Some 30 years after it was shut down, one of Milford’s granite quarries was reopened to provide the same soft-pink stone used in the original structure in Copley Square.
The addition to the historic building in 1972 was the last significant activity for the Milford quarries, an industry that drew immigrants to the town for nearly 100 years, and whose structures and monuments remain visible today.
On Saturday, the town’s Historical Commission will conduct a walking and driving tour of the sites. The tour will include Haskell’s Quarry, which is visible from Route 85 near the Quarry Place shopping center, and short hikes through wooded areas to visit Fletcher’s Quarry, off Cedar Street, and Clere’s Quarry, on town-owned land near the Milford Upper Charles Trail.
“Milford pink’’ was quarried in several locations in town. It was prized for its color — pale pink, with black flecks of mica — and uniform quality, according to Anne Lamontagne, a local historian who will lead Saturday’s outing; it will start at 1:30 p.m., with participants meeting at Fino Field.
Its discovery in 1870 fueled an industry that anchored the Milford economy until about 1940. By 1900, more than 1,000 men were working in the town’s seven major quarries, second only to the shoe and boot industry, according to Lamontagne, who serves as secretary of the town commission.
The carving and stone work remain a source of local pride. “They could have chosen any stone to build the Boston Public Library,” Lamontagne said.
The tour should take about two hours, and is not meant for children due to safety concerns. The quarry holes, now filled with water, are 60 to 120 feet deep, she said.
Lamontagne said people are curious about the quarries, particularly residents who moved to the area after they shut down and are not familiar with their role in shaping the town’s history.
Many of the Italian, Irish, and Swedish immigrants drawn by jobs in the quarries settled here, and their descendants remain. Lamontagne noted that her grandfather helped to build the bell tower at St. Mary of the Assumption Catholic Church, and also the Irish Round Tower in the church cemetery.
Milford pink is a hard stone and takes a good polish, she said. It was prized as a material for monuments, and was used in several notable structures in addition to the Boston Public Library, among them the First Division Monument in Washington, D.C., which was built to honor the veterans of World War I; and the original Pennsylvania Station in New York City.
The Milford quarries also produced a pale gray granite with black speckles.
Around Milford, granite from the quarries can also be seen in Memorial Hall, Stacy Middle School, and the arched entrance of Sacred Heart Cemetery. In rough or unpolished form, it provided foundations for most turn-of-the-century homes and street curbing in town. After it was quarried, the stone was shaped in “cutting sheds,” then shipped around the country by rail.
“It was quite the trade,” said Selectman Dino DeBartolomeis, who grew up in town after his parents emigrated from Italy in the late 1940s and settled in Milford. In the late 1800s, he said, Milford drew experienced Italian stone cutters for the work. “Milford granite was all over the place,” he said.
By the start of World War II, granite as a building material had been replaced by less expensive alternatives, and the industry started to fizzle. The quarries were used last around 1980, when the Louisa Lake dam needed repair, Lamontagne said.
Now, in the quiet of the Milford Town Forest, the old industry is visible only in the huge piles of granite and the water-filled holes left behind. Some of the quarries are used by local teens as swimming holes, although it isn’t allowed, and police patrol occasionally.
The quarries are dangerous places, said DeBartolomeis. There have been several drownings over the years, and in May 2007 a 16-year-old boy from Framingham was killed when he struck his head on a rock ledge, according to news accounts.
For one Milford-based company, which has become nationally known for school construction and historic renovation work, the quarries were a starting point. Consigli Construction was founded in 1905 by Peter Consigli, a stone mason. His company purchased the cut stone and used it in construction projects, said his great-grandson, Matthew Consigli, now a vice president.
In 2005, to honor the 100th anniversary of the company’s founding, Consigli Construction dismantled a closed school building that had been constructed in 1896 with the granite, and moved it to Sumner Street for its headquarters. The massive granite blocks were numbered in sets as they were removed from the school site, which was making way for a development, and reset block by block in their new location, Consigli said.
This month, the company found another reminder of its legacy. Consigli Construction is working on a renovation project at Boston’s South Station , which also was built with Milford pink. Although Consigli has its roots in the granite, the material is no longer widely used.
“It’s hard to come by,” Consigli said. “It’s not available in the quantities it once was.”