Granite is considered a "rock of ages" because not only is it among the oldest rocks in existence, but it's said to last forever — as cemetery memorials show.
A visit to the aptly named Rock of Ages Company in Graniteville, south of Barre, Vermont, bears this out. This granite quarrying and finishing
company was founded in 1885; granite had been quarried in the area since the 1820s. The arrival of the railway later in the century provided a way for this stone to get to markets elsewhere in any quantity. Granite is not only hard and durable, but very heavy — a one-foot cube weighs over 170 pounds.
The company was originally named BM&V after its founders, George B. Milne, James Boutwell, and Harvey Varnum. In 1914, BM&V hired an advertising company to rename the company and increase its visibility. The name "Rock of Ages" was chosen after the religious hymn of the same name. From then on, all Barre granite from the BM&V quarries was marketed as "Rock of Ages," gaining name-brand recognition for the granite. The name proved so successful that it was adopted by the company when it incorporated later that year.
Rock of Ages soon became a combination of several companies that continued to expand, acquiring local companies and quarries in New Hampshire, Georgia and Quebec, Canada. Its quarries produce the highest combined volume of dimensional granite in North America. Rock of Ages now owns and operates over 40 quarries and is the largest supplier of granite memorials (tombstones) in the country. It also supplies cut stone to building construction projects all over the World. Since 1984, it has been owned by Swenson Granite, a family-run company that has run quarries in New Hampshire for over 100 years.
Granite was originally quarried using primitive techniques which implemented hand saws and explosive charges to blast away the "benches" of the quarry. Modern techniques have evolved to include diamond-tipped wire saws and water jets.
The Rock of Ages Company employs about 230 people at its Graniteville location where it maintains the "E. L. Smith Quarry" considered the world's largest "deep hole" granite quarry, which mines Devonian Barre Granite. We were not able to see the actual quarry, site of a location shot in the 2009 Star Trek film. However, we were able to see the VERY large manufacturing facility to watch granite products being produced, nearly all of which were memorial headstones.
At nearby Hope Cemetery in Barre, VT, the memorials stand as a tribute to the many stone cutters and artisans interred there. The cemetery is referred to as a "museum of granite sculpture." The front entrance of the unlocked cemetery is manned by two unnamed granite sentries.
Hope Cemetery was established in 1895. Originally, it contained 53 acres. Since then, it has expanded to a total of 65 acres. Edward P. Adams, a nationally known landscape architect, created the original plan for the cemetery. There are over 10,000 monuments made of Barre Gray granite. The master artisans of Barre, many Italians who immigrated in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, worked the Barre Gray granite blocks into memorial designs.
Silicosis, a respiratory disease caused by granite dust, was common among these artisans and sculptors who were breathing it in every day, which led to an abnormally high death rate. Many sculptors designed their own tombstones to showcase their skill. It is estimated that 75% of the tombstones in Hope Cemetery were designed by those interred there. Ornate stone carvings include a soccer ball, bi-plane, and a half-size replica of a race car (#61) in memory of local driver Joey Laquerre, Jr, who died in a 1991 snowmobile mishap.
The monument of Elia Corti was hand carved from a single piece of granite by his brother. The seated life size figure appears to be contemplating for an eternity; the detail work in the clothing are quite amazing.The tomb of William and Gwendolyn Halvosa is shaped like a bed with the couple shown in pajamas and holding hands, their tombs stretched out before them. Carver Louis Brusa's grave features a sculpture called "The Dying Man" that shows Brusa being held by his wife as he succumbed to silicosis in 1937. Ventilation equipment added to stone carving buildings in the mid-1930s eliminated the hazard.
Other memorials are in geometric shapes and forms of nature, while others are more 'traditional.'
Hope Cemetery is a popular roadside destination that can be toured free of charge at your own pace with many more interesting, unusual and VERY unique memorials.