History Notes is a biweekly entry in the Sun Rise that features a passage from the Johnston Historical Society. This week’s story comes from March 2015.
Quarrying granite was an ongoing business on Pine Hill in the Graniteville section of Johnston.
On the hill, there were fairly good-sized masses of granite. Over the years, pits were created from all the rock that was removed in bulk. In addition, surface quarrying took place (that is, stone was removed from small outcroppings of the granite).
Not a lot is known about the industry in the town, but rock was being removed from a Pine Hill quarry at least from the early 19th century. Quarrying on the hill ran well into the 20th century, although it is not known if the quarries ran continuously.
It is documented that the columns at both ends of the famous Arcade in Providence were sculpted at the quarry on Bare Rock Ledge (also referred to as “Bear Rock Ledge”) on Pine Hill. Providence architects Russell Warren and James Bucklin created plans in 1826 for the Arcade, an enclosed shopping mall to be erected in Downtown Providence.
For the design, they chose the fashionable Greek Revival style. The plans included two grand entrances which resembled temple fronts, one on Westminster Street and one on Weybosset Street. The 12 large columns (a 13th was broken in transport; part of the column marks a grave in the North Burial Ground in Providence), said to be the biggest in the country at the time, were hauled from Johnston to Providence by 12 pairs of oxen (although sources differ on the number of teams – anywhere from eight to 18). One can only imagine the difficulty of hauling these columns from atop Pine Hill down dirt roads for the eight-mile trip to Downtown Providence.
Joseph Olney, owner of the quarry, was the Johnston man who contracted for the project with Cyrus Butler of Providence, the person who conceived the idea of the Arcade. The columns were 22 feet in length and each had a capital and a pedestal, bringing the total length of each to 24 feet.
The crew of workers at the quarry had to remove 12 blocks of granite from the ledge, drilling holes along seams, driving iron wedges into the holes until fissures opened and the stone faces spit from the ledge. The rough blocks then had to be shaped on-site into the smooth shafts which tapered from 3 feet wide at the bottom to 30 inches at the top.
The finished columns weighed approximately 12 tons each. Olney used custom-built wagons to carry the columns and did the moving in the winter to avoid getting bogged down in mud. Benjamin, the son of Deacon James Olney, was in charge of driving the team of 24 oxen.
Joseph plotted out a route which would avoid bridges over the Woonasquatucket River. The columns were moved down Greenville Avenue to Manton, then down Killingly Street to Hartford Avenue and on into Olneyville Square. The last leg was moving down Westminster Street onto Weybosset Street, after crossing the one bridge they had to navigate, where Hartford Avenue crosses the river.
A 1919 Providence newspaper article stated that no other building in Providence ever used stone columns because of the huge expense of producing the Arcade columns. Other builders used columns made of wood.
A later owner of at least one of the quarries on the hill was Emor J. Angell, whose family ran a stone-cutting plant on the hill. In 1843, Emor became apprenticed for a year with his half-brother, Elijah Angell (the same Elijah our house is named after), to learn the craft of stone-cutting. It seems that Elijah was running the family quarry at that time. After a year with his brother, Emor worked for various other quarryman, including Nathaniel Sweet and Daniel Sweet.
It is assumed that their quarries were in Johnston, but they may have been in nearby Smithfield. Quarrying was a seasonal occupation then, and Emor cut timber in the off months. After working for Daniel Sweet for seven years, Emor brought him out and ran the business from 1854 to 1875. He was quite successful and usually employed 20 hands or more.
He supplied many cities with stone, including New York and Baltimore. Emor began operations at Bare Rock Ledge on Pine Hill in 1861. As the business could now carry on year-round, in the winter of 1867-68, over 6,000 feet of curbstone was taken from this ledge alone.
There were other men in the quarrying and stone-cutting business on the hill. William Carey later took over Emor Angell’s quarry. Hubert Angell was one of the members of the latter’s family that ran their stone-cutting operation. The Luther family also owned a Pine Hill quarry in the mid-to-late 19th century.
Also working in the Graniteville quarries was Albert A. Lippitt, who quarried, cut and sold the rock from here for over 60 years, until around 1930. His father, Benomi Lippitt, and his grandfather, Benjamin Lippitt, quarried and sold Graniteville rock before him. It is said that they were working the quarries here long before the Arcade columns wrestled from the ground.
If you walk around Pine Hill today, you can still see evidence of the quarrying industry. In many places one can find granite outcroppings which have been worked for the precious rock. In and around shallow depressions on the hill, there are pieces of discarded rock with rows of drilled holes that tell us that the stone workers were here many years ago.
One large quarry is still in place near the intersection of Route 44 and Route 295. Also on the hill, of Pine Hill Avenue, is a smaller, water-filled pit. Lastly, if you look around in Graniteville, you can see the Pine Hill granite on the older properties, where it was used at foundation rock, fence posts and steps. The quarries may have closed, but their output is readily evident.