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The granite mine that failed to strike gold

In 1888, small quarry owner John Dodd was tasked with supplying granite for the construction of the Damon Memorial in the nearby town of Holden, in Massachusetts, USA, about two and a half kilometres from the quarry.

At the time, the Damon Memorial was the biggest ever job for Dodd, whose granite had a distinctive mix of minerals. It was thought that the quarry may even be a potential gold site.

In 1888, an article in a local publication Wade’s Fibre and Fabric indicated that as the granite was being quarried, workers found what they said was a vein of gold-bearing quartz.

“There was yellow-coloured quartz found in many of these quarries that led some to believe gold was to be found,” Chuck Skillings, who has been the curator of the Holden Historical Society for 42 years, told Quarry.

All that glitters …

Skillings said the Damon Memorial “was the town's largest and most architecturally significant building” at the time.

The first floor became the town library and was called the Gale Free Library, named in honour of the donor Samuel C Gale who wanted the materials and labour to be obtained as much as possible from the town itself. The building was named in honour of his wife Susan Damon.

{{quote-A:R-W:275-Q:“Not having a vast knowledge of geology, it appears the rust is the result of iron containing minerals in the granite such as pyrite – which may have sparked the idea of gold.”-WHO:Chuck Skillings}}Skillings said the Damon family was one of the earliest in the town and was instrumental in its public and private development. The Gale Free Library is part of the Damon Memorial that has rust stains on the library walls that glitter like gold. They derive from the granite that originated at Dodd’s quarry.

“Not having a vast knowledge of geology, it appears the rust is the result of iron containing minerals in the granite such as pyrite – which may have sparked the idea of gold,” Skillings said.

In a recent article — “Striking Gold at GFL” by Richard Maurer—  published in the Newsletter of the Friends of the Gale Free Library, Skillings elaborated on this hypothesis:

“From a distance, the arrangement of stones creates a mélange of warm colours: grey, black, milky white, pink and orange.

“The grey is quartz, the black flecks are likely biotite, the white and pink are feldspar, and the large patches of orange are iron oxide —rust. A freshly cut piece of our granite sparkles with iron-containing minerals, possibly pyrite or mica.”

He added the rust also explains why this type of granite was not widely used in buildings. Over time, the large patches of orange would have oxidised into rust, but Dodd’s consultants may have mistaken them for gold.

In the Damon Memorial, architect Stephen Earle and the contractor for the stonework Thomas Hennessey have used this “flaw” to beautiful effect. The stones are rough-cut in irregular shapes and sizes, and arranged in a random-looking pattern. They are set off by reddish-brown sandstone quarried from East Longmeadow, Massachusetts, which is used for the sills, lintels, arches, and other architectural details to create a border for the craggy, mottled blocks from Dodd’s quarry.

Gold was very much on people’s minds in the late 19th century. In 1888, the South Africa gold rush was in the news, and the California gold rush was only a generation in the past.

The History of Worcester County, Massachusetts, published in 1889, records that gold fever had struck many towns near Holden.

Excellent condition

Skillings found that Dodd took out a mortgage on his property in 1888, possibly to finance a gold venture. In 1897 Dodd’s brother-in-law Edward Kendall paid off the mortgage and acquired title to the land.

He explored its potential, but to no avail and the interest in gold was short-lived.

Skillings said the Damon Memorial today is in excellent condition and a two-storey addition was built on the back of the building in 1988.

The building is located within the Holden Center Historical District, as well as being listed on the US National Register of historical buildings.

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