Becket’s Hudson-Chester granite quarry honored in an exhibit at Becket Arts CenterMany residents of Becket and the surrounding Hilltowns stopped by Becket Arts Center recently to learn about and honor their historic quarry as part of the “Earth Art” exhibit. While local artists presented stoneware, ceramics and metals, The Becket Land Trust presented its work-in-progress on preserving the Hudson-Chester Quarry.
“This exhibit is about how we are creating an open-air museum at the Becket Land Trust’s Historic Quarry and Forest,” said Dorothy Napp Schindel, curator of the exhibit and coordinator of its historic interpretation.
Tucked between Becket’s forests and hills, the old granite quarry sits like a sunken vessel, a living museum with rusted artifacts left behind when the Hudson-Chester Granite Company suddenly folded in 1947.
“When it was abandoned it was as if the men just walked away for lunch and never came back,” said Schindel. “And that’s what makes it a wonderful museum,” she added, as there are trucks, drills, and derricks (booms to hoist granite) throughout the site. Apparently mismanagement and lack of money for necessary improvements led to the abandonment.
Fifty-two years later in 1999 the quarry resurfaced when Labrie Stone Products wanted to purchase the land to crush stone for pavement. Concerned residents approached Becket Land Trust, the local organization for environmental preservation.
“People were most concerned with the volume of truck traffic,” said Ken Smith, president of the trust, “because the stone company was anticipated to haul 10 loaded trucks per hour.” About 300 people paid part of $250,000 to purchase the quarry and begin the large-scale project of a museum both with descriptive nature trails and indoor exhibits explaining the quarry methods and local history.
“So much of the development of Becket and the history of Becket is tied to the quarry,” said Schindel. “Quarrying was a major industry here, and so many of the old families of Becket were quarry families.”
The Hudson-Chester Quarry was the largest of several in the area beginning in 1860, extracting granite and shipping it by railroad for polishing to nearby Chester and also Hudson, N.Y. Gravestones and monuments were the main products. Eve Cholmar heads the oral history section and has interviewed members of the community whose families are closely involved with the quarry.
“Esther Moulthrop and Iva Barstow are sisters and their father was a foreman at the Hudson-Chester quarry,” she said about one family. “They gave us so much wonderful information, both about the quarry itself and about life in Becket at those times in the twenties, thirties.”
Meanwhile the trust has outlined the trails through the site, employing the volunteer group AmeriCorps for one and beginning to carve out others. Recently some members started putting up signs of trails and explanations for a “Self-Guided” hike, learning about the tools dotting the trails.
Schindel, a trained museum curator, emphasized the research was only beginning with many unanswered questions. A majority of workers came from Finland, for instance, with lives that might be recorded, and more can be unearthed about the company. Local families have donated pictures, a favorite one showing hikers in Victorian dress in the 1890s. Shindel said the exhibit went over well with area families, sparking an interest in their town and preserving its stories.
“It’s opened up a whole new world of interest in their own community,” she said.
The exhibit closed last week; Schindel plans to take it on tour to libraries and other places while the research continues and people hike through spruced up trails.
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