HALLOWELL 250th: Saving an icon is good for Hallowell


as published in the Kennebec Journal on April 28, 2012

BY AL HAGUE

It sometimes is called a derrick. We have been in the habit of calling it a crane. The dictionary indicates no distinction between terms.

Hallowell, known as the Granite City, was the home of multiple quarries, most of which contained several cranes, the principle tool to remove granite blocks as they were harvested from the quarry floors.

Additionally, at granite processing yards, these large wooden structures with their 25- to 50-foot booms, armed with cables and winches, moved the granite product as it was cut and processed. The tons of finished granite blocks were loaded onto rail cars or onto ships in the Kennebec River for shipment to points along the east coast of the United States and as far away as Chicago, Ill.

A photo dated March 20, 1914, of the Hallowell Granite Sheds, formerly located on Winthrop Street adjacent to the Hallowell Railroad Station, shows three cranes used to move granite products around the yard of the city plant and then onto railcars for shipment. Other cranes were located at the Kennebec River dockage for loading the granite product on ships for transportation down the river.

The old quarry crane that I write about was a surprise “find” when Key Bank purchased the land for a parking lot adjacent to their operations center on Edison Drive in Augusta. The parcel extended up into the woods behind the center and contained the remains of a small granite quarry, since identified as the Hussy Quarry, which in history was owned by John Perazzi and Settimo Masciadri. In the quarry was a wooden crane toppled over and resting on top of granite blocks, thus avoiding a measure of rot and deterioration otherwise occurring had it been in soil or water.

The year was 1985. Key Bank, together with the writer of this article, recognized the historical significance of this artifact. Key provided funding for the required restoration and reassembly.

This majestic 35-foot tall crane mast with a boom the same length together with guy-cables, winches and other attachments was erected in a small pond next to the bridge pathway leading from the work center to the parking lot. There it sat for the next 20 years — until 2006.

During a process of consolidation, Key Bank vacated this site and leased the building to the state of Maine. At this time, it was realized that this one remaining crane, which almost surely came from one of the Hallowell quarries or processing yards, should belong to, and be exhibited in, the Granite City.

Knowledgeable persons with the history of the quarrying industry in Maine have indicated that dozens, if not hundreds, of wooden quarry cranes in Maine’s 75 to 80 quarries have disintegrated and are essentially nonexistent.

In a letter to the city of Hallowell date June 3, 2003, Earle G. Shettleworth, director of the Maine Historic Preservation Commission, wrote, “The discovery of the crane so close to Granite Hill in Hallowell suggests strongly that the artifact is linked to the Hallowell Granite Company, which quarried the hill in the late 19th and 20th centuries. The granite industry drove the city’s economy for almost a century, and although the long-lasting stone is found in buildings from the Maine State House to monuments throughout the country, the local industry has crumbled into obscurity.

“The wooden crane is only one of a few such apparatuses that remain. As such, it would be fitting for it to be displayed at our Waterfront Park in Hallowell, where it can serve as a proud symbol of an important aspect of the city’s past.”

The antique crane was gifted to the city of Hallowell in 2006 and much credit and appreciation goes to Key Bank and its local officials. Required maintenance was completed and the crane is now stored at the city’s public garage. The consensus seems to be that the artifact should be profiled and displayed at our Waterfront Park location. The source of funding for the second phase of work at the park remains in question.

Hallowell is fortunate to have the opportunity to recognize, identify and display this historic evidence of significant commercial importance of Hallowell’s past. It would provide visual and educational experience for the present and future residents of the area.

Let’s hope that public interest and support will provide the emphasis to accomplish this worthwhile project.