Revitalizing an American stone legacy
November 1, 2009
Located in the Stony Creek section of Branford, CT, the Stony Creek Quarry has supplied materials for a broad range of historic architectural projects over the years, perhaps most notably the Statue of Liberty. Two years ago, the quarry received a thorough revitalization with the introduction of new ownership and an upgraded strategy that will take it well into the 21st century.
The quarry was purchased by Douglas Anderson, a member of the building industry in the region, and it operates as Stony Creek Quarry Corporation, which is based in Branford. “Being from the area, I knew about the quarry for a number of years,” Anderson said. “I was told of the opportunity [to purchase the business], and it was explained to me that its potential wasn’t being harnessed. Even though it is a new dynamic of business for us, it is really tied into the construction industry in many ways, so we did our due diligence within the industry, brought aboard the key people and made the decision to purchase the business. We saw a great opportunity to get the name Stony Creek back out there, and we focused on getting the quarry to a position where the architectural community would be confident in specifying Stony Creek Classic granite, knowing that quality stone is there and readily available for the larger projects when they arise. We overcame many misnomers and negativity to get the stone back to the marketplace in a positive light.”
In doing so, Anderson first dedicated the company’s efforts to revamping the quarry for consistent efficient production. “We invested a lot of time and money in getting the stone accessible,” he said. “We opened up an area in excess of 350,000 cubic feet, and are thinking long-term - not just what is good right now- but also planning on how the quarry will integrate back into the surrounding Town landscape as it continues to grow and develop in the future.”
Additionally, Anderson retained the services of key personnel that had been associated with the quarry for decades. This included Richard Atkinson, who has been working in the quarry for 28 years, and serves as quarry foreman.
The new ownership also formed a relationship with Darrell Petit, who is working to connect the quarry to the architectural community and major stone processors worldwide. Petit began working at the site in 1990, and as an international architectural sculptor, he forged relationships with a number of renowned architects - including Cesar Pelli, Kevin Roche and Diana Balmori, among others.
In order to showcase recent developments at the quarry, Petit regularly hosts architectural tours at the site - as often as twice a week. On the day of Stone World’s visit, for example, the quarry hosted a group from Centerbrook Architects and Planners, LLP of Centerbrook, CT. “We want to start the work with architects at the quarry level and then help coordinate with our fabrication partners as the project develops,” he said. “Design should first develop from the source and then proceed through the fabrication process. It is important for architects as well as the stone world to see the consistency of this quarry, and understand the many possibilities of what can be done. We have the ability to take on conventional and unconventional projects alike. Right now, we’re doing the Covenant Point Project in Guilford, Connecticut, using a piece that is 25 feet long by 6 feet wide by 18 inches thick. We accept challenges like that, and we are able to do it.”
The quarry tours may also stimulate architects to use the material in new ways. “Seeing the methods and the material in its raw state can inspire designers to do something they haven’t seen before,” Petit said. “We have one architect who wants to create a cladding system using the drill marked surfaces of the blocks. By working directly with the quarry we want to expose architects to a new perspective and expand their creative possibilities in design.
“We also want to showcase why Stony Creek Classic granite is unique,” Petit continued. “The quarry went through a ‘transitional’ period where architects were specifying ‘Stony Creek Classic granite or equivalent,’ which in fact isn’t possible. It is important that Stony Creek Classic granite is not simply lumped into a generic field of other similar color tone granites. We need to better educate designers to understand that our granite is not simply a color. This is Stony Creek Classic granite. There is a very unique flow structure of the minerals that is characteristic of our granite, and this is something that needs to be continuously conveyed to architects. That’s why the educational tours help; you can’t accurately convey this by only sitting at a table with a 12- by 12-inch sample. If you look at the West Point Battle Monument by McKim Mead and White or the base of the Statue of Liberty by Richard Morris Hunt, these specific characteristics of the life in Stony Creek - the flow structure - are clearly evident. That’s why the stone we are extracting now is called Stony Creek Classic granite.”
In addition to opening up an area of the quarry that contains over 350,000 cubic feet of material, the current recovery rate is 40%, which is higher than usual. “We’ve opened up the quarry and presented benches and levels that set us up for a good five-year run,” Petit said. “We’ve cleaned it up more than I’ve seen in 15 years. The previous strategy was to go after any areas that had good stone without so much regard for the long term. We’re now using the proven Finnish Method of developing wide while quarrying into the depth of the quarry.”
In addition to maximizing the quarry yield, the extraction approach is also geared to meet certain environmental standards. “We have positioned the quarry to operate in an environmentally responsible manner including the use of bio fuels by qualifying Stony Creek Classic granite as a true LEED-certified product starting from the extraction process all the way through to the final fabricated products. Additionally, we are working with the town [of Branford/Stony Creek] for long-range planning and goals,” Petit said. “We quarry with processes that will better prepare the site for how it will ultimately evolve and be reclaimed in the future. In that regard, it’s not a five-year plan, but 25 years and beyond.”
New equipment in the quarry includes drilling rigs from Perfora of Italy, supplied through Driller’s Choice of Marietta, GA, and Newport, RI. Models at work in the site include the “Rock Buggy” and the “Tempest,” and the company is now planning on adding a Perfora “Speedcut” diamond wire saw.
But in addition to utilizing modern equipment, extraction at the Stony Creek Quarry relies on traditional methods such as manually splitting using wedges, which reduces the amount of blasting needed. With the techniques currently in place, the only blasting required is the “primary shot.”
A total of four workers are in the quarry, with the possibility of adding more as dictated by demand. “Most of the people involved have been doing this for years,” Atkinson said. “We haven’t had much turnover. The new equipment is relatively simple to implement. The quarry layout comes with experience, but operating the new machinery isn’t too difficult.”
The quarry currently runs one shift, and it operates year round. “Other than heavy snow, the cold doesn’t really affect us,” Atkinson said. “We’re on the coast, so it is relatively mild.”
When bringing in new employees, Atkinson prefers to train new workers from scratch. “There are a lot of people who can run a loader, but it is different in a quarry,” he said. “We’re better off with someone who is green.” Of note, Atkinson was responsible for training one of the first female operators in the dimensional quarrying world, Stacy Mancini, who has been working in the Stony Creek Quarry for several years.
Current production stands at 4,000 cubic feet per month, but that can be expanded if needed. “In the area we are working, we can easily ramp up to 5,000 or 6,000 cubic feet per month with our current structure,” Petit said. A keyway to the next section of the quarry to be explored has already been opened, and extraction there will begin in mid-2010 adding to the already 350,000-plus cubic feet of material that is currently accessible.
The quarry is capable of producing gangsaw-sized blocks measuring 6.5 x 10.5 feet in size. Among the worldwide processors of these blocks, Nikolas Bagnara S.p.A. Ag of Italy is currently producing fabricated products and finished slabs of Stony Creek Classic granite for the European marketplace. Stony Creek provides blocks to the major Canadian fabricators including A. Lacroix et Fils Granit Ltee., Polycor Inc. and Granicor Inc., which are serving the North American and International marketplace as well. Block processors and fabricators in the U.S. include Granites of America of Esmond, RI, North Carolina Granite Co. of Mt. Airy, NC, and Structural Stone, LLC of North Kingstown, RI, which is the fabrication facility formerly operated by New England Stone, LLC.
“Stony Creek Classic granite is one of those granites that has been used for over a century, giving it historic importance and proven quality,” said Angela Conte of Structural Stone. “We see the demand for Stony Creek on numerous ‘match existing’ projects as well as landscape applications and new building work. Structural Stone is fortunate to be the closest, high-capacity fabrication plant to the quarry and provides LEED Certification for Stony Creek projects ranging from Maine to Washington, DC.”
Additionally O&G Industries, based in Torrington, CT, with five showrooms throughout Connecticut is showcasing and fabricating Stony Creek Classic granite locally and has just completed a large fabrication and installation for the Quinnipiac University York Hill Campus Dormitories, designed by Centerbrook Architects and Planners, LLP. “It is important for the re-emergence of this quarry to be associated with the people and companies in the industry who respect and understand the stone and will carry the brand and tradition forward,” Petit said.
In addition to blocks, Stony Creek Quarry Corp. is also creating veneer stone from the quarry by-products, which are split using a “Stone Mason” hydraulic splitter from Cee-Jay Tool Co., Inc. “At first, it was palletized for the local market, but has now expanded beyond this and is being specified further afield including as cobble pavers in Battery Park in New York,” Petit said. “This is all part of the concept of ‘no waste’ the new ownership has taken, by taking advantage of all the stone generated from the quarrying activities and using it in new and creative ways.”
Current projects include work for the 34th Street Partnership, which is a coalition responsible for the revitalization of a large section of midtown Manhattan. “We have Stony Creek granite on nearly every corner of our 31-block Business Improvement District, including Herald and Greeley Squares,” said Matthew Coogan, Assistant Project Manager for the 34th Street Partnership/Bryant Park Corp. “And we look forward to continuing to use Stony Creek granite in the future.”
Other ongoing projects include the restoration at Jackie Robinson Park in New York City; Voorhees Hall at the New York City College of Technology, being completed by Der Scutt Architect; and continuing work at Battery Park City. It is has also produced 5,000 cubic feet of stone for the Northwest Corner Building at Columbia University in New York City, which is designed by world-renowned Spanish architect Rafael Moneo with Davis Brody Bond Aedas, LLP of New York City as executive architect. “It is exciting to see Stony Creek Classic granite in places that will have a permanent impact,” Petit said.