Although the Bluestone-producing region of Northeastern Pennsylvania and New York State has a deep tradition, there is still opportunity for development and expansion - both in terms of new quarry sites and in the types of products offered. An example of this progression can be seen at Catskill Stone Limited, Inc. of Equinunk, PA, which extracts and cuts Bluestone into a broad range of finished products.

The company is owned by Ken Mirch who was raised working in the Bluestone industry and started his own venture in 1999. Initially, Catskill Stone was involved in block sales, but after a friend told Mirch about the quarry site in Pennsylvania, he began producing blocks and ultimately established a saw mill for fabrication.

The quarry sits on 160 acres in Equinunk, PA, on the New York border about a mile from the Delaware River. Stone extracted at the site includes material sold as part of Catskill Stone's “Victorian Rose” collection, which has tones of violet and purple.

The current quarry site has been in operation for two years, and material is freed by drilling and blasting. The first step is to remove the overburden down to the bedrock. Then 20- to 25-foot-deep holes are drilled, followed by blasting with detonating cord. Drills include a Tamrock Commando 110 and an ECM 590 from Atlas Copco. The Atlas Copco drill is used for line drilling, while the Tamrock drill is used for drilling smaller sections of the quarry.

The “path” for extracting the stone is determined by the natural seams in the material as it sits in the earth. Since the natural seams are relatively far apart, Catskill Stone is able to extract large blocks and thick slabs. Some slabs are up to 9 x 10 feet in size, and slabs can be used for architectural products such as mantles, hearths, pool coping and countertops. They can also be sold in slab form to be cut in the field by the stonemason. Additionally, because the overburden is solid rock and not shale, it can be used for wall stone.

Catskill Stone has supplied material for New York City sidewalk projects as well as for the New York Botanical Gardens, where the Bluestone was specified as 3- x 3-foot natural cleft pieces. Because the project was specified as a butt-joint installation, the stone needed to be fabricated to a 1/16 -inch tolerance, and the Botanical Gardens used a total of 22,000 square feet of stone in all.

In addition to commercial work, the company also supplies stone for large residential projects. In one example, Mirch mentioned a project on Long Island, NY, that specified large columns and window headers ranging from 6 to 16 inches thick, requiring a total of four trailer loads of headers.

Mirch explained that the company has strict control of the quality because it is involved in all components of the process - from stripping to extraction to cutting - and it doesn't sacrifice quality by “pushing” production.

In addition to the active quarry in Pennsylvania, the company also has a site in Long Eddy, NY, not far from the main offices and cutting mill.

Stone fabrication

Catskill Stone's saw mill was developed in 2002, and it features three table saws from Wilson Electric - with circular blades of 4 feet, 5 feet and 11 feet, 6 inches. Although the stone is cut to size on the table saws, Mirch explained that Bluestone fabrication requires a high level of hand work, so the skill of the operator is critical.

Rock facing is a company specialty, and it is one requiring a great deal of talent by the worker. “You need to have a feel for the stone,” he said, adding that radius-cut pieces are another specialty requiring personal craftsmanship.

In fabricating Bluestone products, Catskill Stone's work goes beyond standard floor patterns and stair treads. Marketing Manager Linda Hermann pointed out that the nature of the material extracted at the site allows it to be used for a wide variety of elements, including countertops. For these applications, the stone is honed to a “glass-like” finish. Also in the residential arena, the company has become proficient at producing large rock-faced columns and headers.

Most of the company's work is custom-cut, although there is also an inventory of stair treads and patterns. Offering a range of products gives the company a unique niche with its customers, according to Mirch. “We don't want to sell ordinary Bluestone. We want to sell top notch materials and specialty products - like larger slabs and our rock-face products.”

Overall, Catskill Stone has a total of 10 employees, including the quarry, office and mill. New workers at the company begin by applying a thermal finish to the material, and as they show proficiency, they move up to rock facing or operating the machinery.

Still a relatively young company, Catskill Stone is looking to sell its products nationally though distributors, and Hermann reported that the company has lined up large distributors in the Northeast and as far away as California. “Ultimately, we'd like to have one good distributor in each region of the country,” she said.