The Westerly Granite Industry


Babcock-Smith House Museum
124 Granite Street
Westerly, RI   02891
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Columbia Granite Company--History

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      Elia Monti came to the United States from Italy in 1890 and worked in Quincy MA for about 10 years (Brayley 1913). Three children were born in Massachusetts, John, Mary, and Americo E; the sons would later join him in the granite business.  In 1897 Elia was naturalized.  He subsequently moved to Westerly, RI in 1900 where he was listed as a stone cutter (1905 Rhode Island Census).  In the 1910 US Census his occupation is “boss” working at a “stone shed” and living at 124 Tower Street surrounded by many neighbors who were also in the granite industry.
      Columbia Granite Works advertised in The Reporter (Chicago, IL), a publication “devoted to granite and marble interests”, for the first time in April 1904.  That ad stated that they were the successors to Jos Duca & Co.  The ad further informs readers that Columbia Granite did “monumental work executed in white, pink and blue Westerly” with “carving and lettering a specialty”, used pneumatic tools, and offered reasonable prices.  Jos Duca & Co had advertised in the Reporter since June 1900 offering “statuary carving busts and ideal figures” and their own quarry for the “best blue in Westerly”.  Perhaps, Elia Monti worked for Jos Duca & Co before he took over the business and named it Columbia Granite Works.
      Columbia Granite’s work force more than doubled between 1905 to 1910 according to Rhode Island factory inspections and then generally stayed above 10 workers until the 1930s (see graph below.).  No women or boys or girls under 16 were reported to be employees.  No data for the 1940s or 50s are currently available.  John L Monti, the oldest son, joined the business sometime before 1913 (Brayley 1913).  He would leave to serve in the ambulance corps in World War I before returning to the company around July 1919 (GMB v29 n7 p44).   Americo E and the youngest son, Louis P who had been born in Westerly, also joined the business (Norwich Bulletin December 6, 1922).  Richard “Dick” Comolli learned and developed his stone cutting skills during the six years he worked for the company at Old Hopkinton Road.  Joseph Gervasini Sr carved statues at the Old Hopkinton Road shed, as well working for Joseph Coduri Granite Company.


Graph: Number of employees at Columbia Granite Works reported by RI annual factory inspection reports (values for 1930-7 average April and October worker numbers).


      Elia Monti owed taxes on Personal Estate, reflecting his growing business activities, starting in 1906 (Westerly Tax Book, Oct 1906) even prior to acquiring Real Estate in 1908.  "The Columbia Granite Co have shipped many fine monuments this spring and have others under the hammer which call for a high grade of carving.  Their ad shows what they are in readiness to do in the way of monumental work." wrote The Reporter in June 1906 (v39 n6 p13).  A 1909 story in Granite, Marble & Bronze, another trade publication, stated that Elia Monti had been in business in Westerly for 10 years (GMB 1909 v19 n8 p44). It reported that he had worked in a shed across the street from the building at the southeast corner of Oak and Spruce Street that he acquired in 1908 from the Westerly Granite Works.  Likely they occupied the shed across Spruce Street, which is shown doubling in size from the 1907 Sanborn Insurance Map to the 1912 map, at which time they had moved across the street to a large shed.  The 1907 map shows Westerly Granite Company in the building Columbia Granite would buy (see 1907 and 1912 maps).  Across Oak Street were several sheds occupied by A. Farrell & Sons, so it is also possible they could have shared that space (see 1912 Oak and Spruce map).
      Once they were working from the shed at the southeast corner of Oak and Spruce Streets, Columbia Granite Works was well equipped.  They had a “compressor, surface cutter, polishing wheel and traveling crane” and were soon to have a new polishing wheel if business was good, reported Granite, Marble and Bronze (1909 v19 n8 p44).  In January 1910, they are reported to “have lately installed a 35 horse-power electric motor, a polishing wheel, and an additional compressor.  At the present time, they are running one gang of men.” (GMB 1910 v20 n1 p36).  Elia Monti’s success was indicated by his election to the Westerly Board of Trade in 1910 along with Andrew Farrell, Joseph Coduri, and others (Norwich Bulletin May 4 1910).
      "The Columbia Granite Co have been favored with many orders for good work and they have made it their aim to give their customers all that their order have called for." (The Reporter, December 1906).  They stopped advertising in The Reporter in 1906 and switched their advertisements to Granite, Marble & Bronze in the 1910s and 20s. In 1910 they advertised “Artistic monuments. Let us figure your carving. We make a specialty of this class of work and guarantee the workmanship”. “We are especially equipped to manufacture carved monumental work. Our cutters are artists. Our prices warrant your submitting a design to us.”  They did all kinds of cemetery work (Brayley 1913).
      “Nine of the bush hammers stolen from the granite sheds of Joseph Fraser and Elia Monti have been recovered by Chief of Police Brown. Six were found by a boy named Codwin in the baseball park and three were found in the bushes in Granite street.”  (Norwich Bulletin Jan 25, 1915).  Tools were essential to the granite workmen, so their theft or their loss in the 1922 fire were noted in local newspapers.
      John L Monti was elected to the Westerly Board of Trade in 1920 (Norwich Bulletin April 8, 1920 p7).  The Board of Trade also voted at that meeting to support adoption of daylight savings time, which didn’t get adopted by the town that year or the next (Norwich Bulletin April 25, 1921 p2).   In May 1922, Elia Monti along with Orlando R Smith, Joseph Coduri and Joseph Fraser visited Barre Vt for an inspection tour (Norwich Bulletin May 27, 1922).  Joseph Coduri had been responsible for introducing the use of pneumatic tools in Barre thirty years before in 1892 so this aspect was highlighted in the news report.  Not discussed in the news story was whether they discussed the labor unrest with their hosts in Barre, but that might have been a part of the trip as the Westerly-Bradford workers had suspended activities April 1, 1922 (Norwich Bulletin Aug 11, 1922 p2).  Columbia Granite Works and Smalley Pink and Red Co. reached an agreement detailed in the Barre Daily on Aug 9, 1922.  1922 was to end with a devastating fire at the shed on Oak and Spruce Streets.
      Business directories from the 1930s and 1940s list the company’s address as Old Hopkinton Rd, now the main site of the business. The assessed value for the Quarry and the buildings on Old Hopkinton Rd and Spruce Street remained fairly stable from the 1920s onward, with small increases in the 1950s. Elia, John L, and Americo are all listed as working in the quarry business in the 1930 census.  But, in 1940 Elia Monti is 74 and listed as retired, while John L and Americo Monti are now listed as the proprietors of a granite company.  Elia Monti died in 1943 from skin cancer and pulmonary silicosis from his many years of working in the stone trades. The Company ceased to be taxed in 1959 and the properties were sold.

 

 

 

 

 

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