The use of stone as a building material was not resorted to, except to a trifling extent, in this country until long after the need of such a solid substance was felt. The early settler contented himself with the log cabin, the corduroy road, and the wooden bridge, and loose stone enough for foundation purposes could readily be gathered from the surface of the earth. Even after the desirability of more handsome and durable building material for public edifices in the colonial cities than wood became apparent, the ample resources which nature had afforded in this country were overlooked, and brick and stone were imported by the Dutch and English settlers from the Old World. Thus we find the colonists of the New Netherlands putting yellow brick on their list of non-dutiable imports in 1648; and such buildings in Boston as are described as being "fairly set forth with brick, tile, slate, and stone," were thus provided only with foreign products. Isolated instances of quarrying stone are known to have occurred in the last century; but they are rare.
The edifice known as "King's Chapel," Boston, erected in 1752, is the first one on record as being built from American stone; this was granite, brought from Braintree, Mass.
Granite is a rock particularly abundant in New England, though also found in lesser quantities elsewhere in this country. The first granite quarries that were extensively developed were those at Quincy, Mass., and work began at that point early in the present century. The fame of the stone became widespread, and it was sent to distant markets--even to New Orleans. The old Merchants' Exchange in New York (afterward used as a custom house) the Astor House in that city, and the Custom House in New Orleans, all nearly or quite fifty years old, were constructed of Quincy granite, as were many other fine buildings along the Atlantic coast. In later years, not only isolated public edifices, but also whole blocks of stores, have been constructed of this material. It was from the Quincy quarries that the first railroad in this country was built; this was a horse-railroad, three miles long, extending to Neponset River, built in 1827.
Other points in Massachusetts have been famed for their excellent granite. After Maine was set off as a distinct State, Fox Island acquired repute for its granite, and built up an extensive traffic therein. Westerly, R.I., has also been engaged in quarrying this valuable rock for many years, most of its choicer specimens having been wrought for monumental purposes. Statues and other elaborate monumental designs are now extensively made therefrom. Smaller pieces and a coarser quality of the stone are here and elsewhere along the coast obtained in large quantities for the construction of massive breakwaters to protect harbors. Another point famous for its granite is Staten Island, New York. This stone weighs 180 pounds to the cubic foot, while the Quincy granite weighs but 165. The Staten Island product is used not only for building purposes, but is also especially esteemed for paving after both the Russ and Belgian patents. New York and other cities derive large supplies from this source. The granite of Weehawken, N.J., is of the same character, and greatly in demand. Port Deposit, Md., and Richmond, Va, are also centers of granite production.
Near Abbeville, S.C., and in Georgia, granite is found quite like that of Quincy. Much southern granite, however, decomposes readily, and is almost as soft as clay. This variety of stone is found in great abundance in the Rocky Mountains; but, except to a slight extent in California, it is not yet quarried there.
Granite, having little grain, can be cut into blocks of almost any size and shape. Specimens as much as eighty feet long have been taken out and transported great distances. The quarrying is done by drilling a series of small holes, six inches or more deep and almost the same distance apart, inserting steel wedges along the whole line and then tapping each gently with a hammer in succession, in order that the strain may be evenly distributed.
A building material that came into use earlier than granite is known as freestone or sandstone; although its first employment does not date back further than the erection of King's Chapel, Boston, already referred to as the earliest well-known occasion where granite was used in building. Altogether the most famous American sandstone quarries are those at Portland, on the Connecticut River, opposite Middletown. These were worked before the Revolution; and their product has been shipped to many distant points in the country. The long rows of "brownstone fronts" in New York city are mostly of Portland stone, though in many cases the walls are chiefly of brick covered with thin layers of the stone. The old red sandstone of the Connecticut valley is distinguished in geology for the discovery of gigantic fossil footprints of birds, first noticed in the Portland quarries in 1802. Some of these footprints measured ten to sixteen inches, and they were from four to six feet apart. The sandstone of Belleville, N.J., has also extensive use and reputation. Trinity Church in New York city and the Boston Atheneum are built of the product of these quarries; St. Lawrence County, New York, is noted also for a fine bed of sandstone. At Potsdam it is exposed to a depth of seventy feet.
There are places though, in New England, New York, and Eastern Pennsylvania, where a depth of three hundred feet has been reached. The Potsdam sandstone is often split to the thinness of an inch. It hardens by exposure, and is often used for smelting furnace hearth-stones. Shawangunk Mountain, in Ulster County, yields a sandstone of inferior quality, which has been unsuccessfully tried for paving; as it wears very unevenly. From Ulster, Greene, and Albany Counties sandstone slabs for sidewalks are extensively quarried for city use; the principal outlets of these sections being Kingston, Saugerties, Coxsackie, Bristol, and New Baltimore, on the Hudson. In this region quantities amounting to millions of square feet are taken out in large sheets, which are often sawed into the sizes desired. The vicinity of Medina, in Western New York, yields a sandstone extensively used in that section for paving and curbing, and a little for building. A rather poor quality of this stone has been found along the Potomac, and some of it was used in the erection of the old Capitol building at Washington. Ohio yields a sandstone that is of a light gray color; Berea, Amherst, Vermilion, and Massillon are the chief points of production.