Third generation still at work in Vermont’s last active marble quarry

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(Host) When Congress convenes in January, they’ll be surrounded by tons of Vermont marble literally.

The ancient stone is all over the nation’s capital – in the Jefferson Memorial, the Senate office building, parts of the White House and the Pentagon.

VPR’s Susan Keese takes us on a tour of the mountain where it all begins.

(Keese) The Danby tunnel quarry is the largest underground marble quarry in the world.

But you could drive right through Danby and never notice how Quarry Road ends at a square, black opening in Dorset Mountain.

Mike Blair, the quarry superintendent, drives his pickup through the hole.

(Truck sounds)

(Keese) It opens suddenly into a giant, high-ceilinged chamber.

It’s a maze of corridors and enormous white rooms, supported by pillars carved out of the bedrock and eerily lit where people are working.

(Truck backup noises)

(Keese) Blair’s been doing this for 28 years and he’s still impressed.

(Blair) “It’s a place it just gives you an awe feeling, you know.”

(Keese) A road of powdered marble dips and winds through the mountain’s innards

(Blair) We’re going to drive down probably a mile down in here… At the bottom we’re going to be close to 500 feet below the surface.

(Car door slams)

(Blair) “Watch your step.”

(Sound of flywheel)

(Keese) We stop to study a vertical white wall. A diamond wire saw, spinning off a flywheel is slicing through a slab 20 feet high.

The slab will be felled carefully, says Blair, and cut into 20-ton blocks. Then it’ll be trucked to Barre, and made into headstones for the national cemeteries at Arlington and San Diego.

Blair says there’s so much Danby marble in Washington DC that Pennsylvania Avenue should be called Vermont Marble Street.

He says the marble here is 450 million years old.

(Blair) “It’s a belt, you know. It runs all the way to Canada and as far down to Lowell, Massachusetts. It’s just the way when the continents collided how it poured in here.”

(Keese) A hundred years ago Vermont had many quarries. Only Danby’s still active. Blair believes it will be for another 75 to 100 years.

He says it’s one of a few sources left anywhere for white marble suitable for building on a large scale.

(Blair) “There’s not many places where you could take an eight foot block

(Sound of blasting)

say eight feet by six feet by six feet and not have any cracks in it.”

(Keese) The workforce here is much smaller now. But there’s still a sense of pride here, and continuity.

(Blair) “You know we’re into the third generation. We have men here, their grandfathers were here, their fathers were here and now they’re here.”

For Vermont Public Radio, I’m Susan Keese.

(Host) This story was first broadcast in 2005.

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