The Westerly Granite Industry


Babcock-Smith House Museum
124 Granite Street
Westerly, RI   02891
401-596-5704
babcocksmithhouse@gmail.com

Smith Granite Company:  First Giant on Quarry Hill

In about 1837, the Providence and Stonington Railroad was completed through Westerly, leading to rapid growth and a great building boom along both sides of the Pawcatuck River.  It was this boom that attracted Orlando Smith (1814-1859), a stonemason from Ledyard, Connecticut, to come to Mechanic Street in Pawcatuck in 1839 to continue to build stone steps and foundations from the plentiful granite boulders. Later he discovered a promising outcropping of high quality granite that was easy to quarry on the old Babcock farm on Rhodes Hill (now the top of Granite Street).  In 1846, he purchased the Babcock farm from Oliver D. Wells.

Orlando Smith married Emeline Gallup of Ledyard. They wanted to move into the old Babcock house, but, after thirty years as a tenant farm, the house needed lots of work. Using granite from the property, her father Isaac Gallup rebuilt the foundation in the north wing (now the caretaker’s apartment) and made other improvements.

 

Smith moved his masonry operation to the top of the hill adjacent to the granite outcropping and worked with his friend William A. Burdick.  Smith’s expertise was in building foundations and setting curbing, while Burdick’s expertise was in architectural monuments.  Gradually, the business began to concentrate more and more on formal monuments.

Orlando Smith died in 1859, at the age of only 45, leaving his wife with four small children, ages 2, 4, 6, and 8, to raise, a farm to manage, and a business to run.  She needed help.  Burdick was the natural choice to be the manager of the granite business, freeing Emeline from the day-to-day responsibilities. William A. Pendleton was appointed by the bank to oversee its interests.

Concerned about having a school for children of the nearby granite workers, Emeline Smith deeded a plot of land to the town of Westerly to be used for a school – Quarry Hill District #2. Presently the Rite-Aid Drugstore is on the site of the old Quarry Hill School.

After the death in 1886 of Emeline Gallup Smith, the business was incorporated as the Smith Granite Company under the able leadership of Isaac G. Smith as president and Orlando R. Smith as treasurer.  These were prosperous times for the Smith Granite Company which became a force both locally and nationally. A company store was established and operated for 39 years as a service and convenience to its employees.  Monuments were shipped to 32 states across the country as well as being used locally.  The company produced 69 of the monuments at Gettysburg; 38 at Chickamauga; 8 at Antietam and 1 at Vicksburg.  Many well-respected names from the Victorian Age began to appear in the order books – Jay Gould, financier and railroad magnate; George Babcock, inventor and manufacturer; and Joshua Lippincott, publisher, to name a few.
Since the visiting customers were often overnight guests at the Babcock-Smith House, the Smith home needed to reflect an air of prosperity and in 1884 the house underwent a Victorian renovation.  The front hall was extended outward to where it is now and the lovely colonial doorway was moved forward.  The stained-glass windows, currently part of the Carriage House at the Museum, were added on either side of the foyer. Further additions included a second-floor balcony and a porch that wrapped from the front around to the south side of the house.  The outhouse had plaster walls and mahogany woodwork and even had a stove for comfort during the winter months. 
With high-society clients accustomed to the very best and with a product that defined excellence, the Smith Granite Company also found it desirable to upgrade its facilities in order to make a favorable impression on perspective customers.  Isaac Smith convinced the company to erect a new cutting shed in 1885 so that the facilities looked up-to-date and reflected modern and efficient processes. Unfortunately, Isaac’s health failed and he died in 1888.  The loss of his contribution to the business was tremendous, probably never entirely overcome.
Orlando R. Smith became president and continued to administer the business.  During the late 1890’s he became alarmed at the serious drop in the sale of monuments and by his own failing health, which was unknown to those around him.  He made an agreement with David Newall of the Joseph Newall Granite Company of Niantic to merge as the Smith and Newall Granite Company.  Serious financial problems arose and, before they could be settled, Orlando R. Smith died in 1898.  A drawn-out lawsuit followed and  litigation ended in an award of heavy monetary damages to Newall, leaving Smith with very little operating capital and, consequently,  the Smith operation was down for many months.
By 1922 Orlando R. Smith, Jr. (1877-1932) had become president and the rest of the third generation had all graduated from college and joined the business.  The two older brothers, Orlando and Franklin, ran the office; Isaac, Sr. gradually took over design and planning and general superintendence of granite cutting; Edward was in charge of all quarrying and heavy equipment.  For the first time granite rough stock was offered and sold to the trade.  Previously the company had cut and finished almost all granite produced.
In 1924, following the death of James G. Batterson, Jr., Smith Granite Company bought all assets of the adjoining New England Granite Works. This consolidation simplified some complex boundaries in several quarries, secured the two-mile private railroad over the “long bridge” to the New Haven main line, and meant that all granite production on the hill was being run by one company, but it involved a considerable financial outlay.  The volume of business expanded through several years as planned, but then came the Great Depression. Twelve lean years followed.  It became evident that people could live without the exceptional monuments that had earned the Smith Granite Company such a stellar reputation for the past 75 years.  The 1938 hurricane delivered a particular destructive blow.  The blacksmith shop blew down; windows blew out of the big shed on Granite Street, and the crane barn blew down. Most critical was the loss of electrical power.  There was no power to run the pumps in the quarry.  No air compressors.  No cranes. Because water could not be pumped to the boiler, even steam cranes could not be used.  All operations had to be curtailed, many employees laid off, and all belts tightened
Before there could be any significant recovery from the effects of the depression and the hurricane, World War II was thrust upon the local industry.  It was hard for a non-essential business to obtain steel, coal, power, tires and many other items.  To lighten the load, Isaac G. Smith, Sr. left the company in 1942 to work at Pratt and Whitney at East Hartford.  Production of any kind of granite work fell to a very low level.  Eventually the war was over, but before a quick recovery could be made, the bank foreclosed on all the Smith assets on August 16, 1945.  The company was reorganized as Smith Granite Works with Edward W. Smith as President. Eventually the machinery was sold, the derricks taken down, the buildings eliminated and the land sold for a shopping center and housing.  In 1955, the once great granite company went out of business.

 

© 2012 Babcock-Smith House Museum