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Land of Golden Opportunity

Readers of Stone have been told of the wondrous natural resources of mineral wealth which only await development all over Vermont, and … the golden opportunities which await the capitalist who will apply his means to the development of these resources. Conspicuous among the towns thus favoured stands … Barre, that phenomenal wonder among New England towns as regards its growth during the past two decades.
Editor, Stone Illustrated, 1892, Vol V, p. 11

{{image2-a:r-w:300}}This year Geology Talk has chronicled the growth of the granite industry of Barre, Vermont. In the 1890s, demand for Barre granite soared. The stone had been used in the famous Vermont State House, large amounts of grout (waste rock) from quarrying had been used for paving stone, and the beautiful granite was recognised as a premier stone for monuments and mausoleums. It was its use in monuments and mausoleums that caused demand for Barre granite to rise.

Meeting the ever increasing demand required investors.  During much of the 1880s and 1890s large parts of the country were struggling with a depressed economy and double digit unemployment.  Nevertheless, Barre prospered as capitalists lined up to invest in Barre granite. In 1881 the population of Barre was just over 2000, and the real estate was valued at $USD712,439. By 1892 the population had surpassed 9000, and the real estate was valued at almost $USD3.5 million. This phenomenal growth was due almost entirely to development of the granite quarries and finishing sheds.

Barre became the land of golden opportunity. The unrelenting demand for skilled artisans with knowledge of quarrying or working stone could not be met locally. Furthermore, there was unrest across most of Europe. These combined factors resulted in a wave of immigrants from Scotland, Italy, Sweden, England, Norway, Spain and Canada. Each nationality made its contribution to the monumental stone industry.

{{image3-a:r-w:300}}Most immigrants sailed to America on packet ships, in the steerage area below decks. Conditions varied from ship to ship, but steerage could be unbelievably bad. Normally steerage was crowded, dark and damp, and limited sanitation and stormy seas often combined to make it dirty and foul-smelling. Rats, insects and disease were common problems. On at least one ship line, one steerage passenger in 10 died during the transatlantic voyage.

Scottish immigration, which had begun in the 1840s, was well under way by the 1880s. Most Scottish immigrants to Barre were from Aberdeen, a region where artisans had been working granite as far back as the early 11th century. It was said that, like with the old country, the Scots in Barre worked harder, received higher wages and spent more money, but they were no happier. By 1890 Scottish immigrants made up 20 per cent of Barre’s population.

In the mid-1880s many highly skilled Italian designers, sculptors and carvers began to immigrate to Barre from the famous marble centre of Carrara. Many of the artisans had studied sculpture in Italian arts academies and could trace their ancestry back to the medieval times of Michelangelo. By 1910 about 14 per cent of Barre’s population was Italian, and Barre had become the home of Vermont’s largest Italian population.

Immigrants of other nationalities soon followed. The immigrants brought with them a myriad of stone carving styles that, when applied to the high quality of Barre granite, propelled the rock into the national spotlight.

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