Re-emerging U.S. Stone Industry: Celebrating 25 years of stone production
When Michael Morey established Champlain Stone, Ltd. in Upstate New York in January of 1982, the company was essentially a one-man operation, as Morey would extract stone by hand and haul it to the marketplace for sale. Today, the company employs over 175 people and supplies six distinct varieties of stone to markets throughout the U.S. and abroad.
“I started in hotel and restaurant management, and I had an offer to sell stone,” Morey explained. “I researched the stone industry and visited the Building Stone Institute, which was in New York at the time. I took the principles of hospitality to the stone business, because in the end, you’re still in the people business.”
Company history and growthThe original operation was financed by Morey’s brother, Mark, who loaned him $5 a day, a vehicle and some basic tools. Also during the first year, Larry Ritchie purchased a 50% interest in the business and became Morey’s longtime friend and mentor.
Initially, the company leased a quarry for South Bay quartzite® near Lake Champlain, which was used for the company’s first major project, the Stratton Mountain Ski Center in Vermont. South Bay quartzite is characterized by a warm tan color, with accents of white, blue, amber and brown.
In 1990, the company introduced Great Meadow limestone®, meeting the demand for stone that provides an aged look for restoration, as well as a “fresh-split” look for new construction. A year later, it opened a quarry for American graniteTM, a brown material which also features an aged appearance as well as a fresh hand-split look.
Today, the company produces four varieties of granite: American, Corinthian, Van Tassell® and Summit™, along with South Bay quartzite and Great Meadow limestone. Van Tassell, a granite with tones of buff, pink, blue/green and brown, was introduced in 2002, while Summit, a dense, dark blue-gray granite, featuring highlights of sage green, white and russet orange, was introduced in 2003.
Champlain Stone also recently expanded the Fort Ann location to include a facility for producing custom sawn and thin veneer products. This plant is run by Michael Morey’s son, Christian, who joined the company full time in 2003.
Quarrying and splittingDuring the quarrying process, stone is extracted from the topmost layers of the site by setting charges. Holes are drilled in the ledge, where explosive charges are placed and detonated. This way, stone is “bumped” away from the natural ledge rather than blown into small pieces. “We don’t blast often; only a few times a year,” Morey said, adding that the blasting is done by a subcontractor so they don’t have to keep explosives on the site.
The hand splitting of stone is done in the timeless, but labor-intensive, method of using a hammer and chisel. A sprinkler system is in place at the splitting bays to keep fugitive dust levels down and provide a cooler environment for the workers. Once material is split to specifications, it is loaded into containers and moved to the packaging area. Products that are split by hand include “mosaic” (irregularly shaped) veneer, flagging and wall stone.
Moreover, the Fort Ann quarry site rises in elevation by 400 feet from the road. “When you consider that the benches of stone are 30 feet high, and you divide 400 by 30, that’s a lot of benches,” Morey said.
The company also strives to be environmentally conscious. “We want to work in harmony with the mountains,” Morey said, adding that the quarry sites are well camouflaged from any nearby roadways. “We’re our own best neighbor.”
Custom sawingIn January of 2005, Champlain Stone built a new plant at the Fort Ann quarry location for sawn products, including thin veneer as well as architectural work. The company currently offers thin veneer in its American, Corinthian and Van Tassell granites as well as South Bay quartzite. These veneer products weigh 15 pounds or less per square foot, and they do not require a bearing shelf. Products include thin sawn “flats,” which are sold by the square foot, as well as thin sawn corner pieces, which are sold by the lineal foot. Due to the skill required to produce these pieces, some of the workers in the plant specialize in corner work. Additionally, hand select thin veneer is a split product, offering two usable faces.
In addition to a series of smaller saws, the plant features a large-scale Predator saw from Park Industries, which can be equipped with blades up to 60 inches in diameter. It also has a 10-ton Zinter overhead crane, which can maneuver pallets of stone around the space.