Edith with her children, Doris and Wally Paton at Bald Hill Quarry, 1929 – ©Paton Family
Many of the photos taken of my Dad as a kid have a back drop that includes Quarry equipment or the family surrounded by giant pieces of granite. He spent the better part of his childhood on a granite quarry in Wells, Maine called the Bald Hill Quarry. In a small house on land owned by Swenson’s Granite, he and his sister Doris and his parents George and Edith Paton lived. They moved there in 1929, when my Grandpa George got a job there. It was the height of the Great Depression and people often took to the road in search of a job.
There is no doubt that the years living on the Quarry were formative ones . Food was scarce and there was little money for anything other than the bare necessities. But here on these 40 acres of land that surrounded their little quarry home there was great bounty.
They planted a huge garden, gathered wild nuts and fruit, raised chickens and goats, fished and hunted deer, grouse and rabbit. They heated their small house with two wood stoves from wood cut from the surrounding forest. In addition to his many chores, my Dad worked throughout his childhood here, getting up at 3:00 in the morning to walk over a mile to milk the neighbors’ cows before getting the school bus and in the summer he worked on a local lobster boat.
Wally Paton heading out for a day of fishing, Wells, Maine – ©Paton family
Lately, I’d been thinking a lot about the place where my Dad grew up, so one night I googled “Bald Hill Granite Quarry” to see if there was any historical information. The last time I had visited the Quarry, which was many years ago, it was dormant and looked like it had been that way for quite some time.
“The Bald Hill Quarry has been closed for decades but the farmhouse still stands, surrounded by fields overgrown with weeds and wildflowers. Giant pieces of abandoned granite litter the fields as a reminder of what once was. I imagine my dad growing up here on these acres of fertile soil, playing in the dirt with his toy hoe, exploring the miles of wilderness that surround the Quarry. It is here I am sure that his love and appreciation for the land evolved.” – Excerpt from Journey Home – How a Simple Act of Kindness Led to the Creation of a Living Legacy.
To my surprise I discovered a website. The Bald Hill Quarry had re-opened under new management, and was now called Millennium Granite. Pictures on the website showed some of its former glory – days when the train tracks led down to the quarry, days when hundreds of quarries thrived in New England. I wrote to the new owner, Richard Bois, to tell him my Dad’s story and share a few of the historical photos I thought he might enjoy seeing of his Quarry during its heyday. I wasn’t really expecting to hear anything back.
But I did.
Bald Hill Quarry – 1929 – © Paton family
Coincidentally, Mr. Bois had also grown up in these parts and felt a strong connection to this land. He too had roamed these fields of abandoned granite as a kid and that was what inspired him to buy it. Mr. Bois hadn’t really intended to re-open the Quarry, at least not at first. The price of the Quarry was “right” he said and it included acres of land. He figured on selling off parcels as building lots someday – that is , until he got a phone call from a guy by the name of Mr. Aiello.
In the year 2000, Aby J. Rosen, the new owner of the Seagram Building at 375 Park Avenue in New York City, embarked on an extensive maintenance and renovation project. Part of that project included $1 million to replace 110 of the pink granite slabs that make up the famous Plaza. Sal Aiello, the contractor hired for the project soon embarked on his own mission – to find the exact same granite used in the original building project. He drove to New Hampshire to Swenson’s Granite Quarry only to find that the quarry had been closed for years. So he started calling around to various other quarries and by chance found himself in a conversation with the new owner of the Bald Hill Quarry, Richard Bois. A partnership evolved and the quest to find the granite that was used in the original building of the Seagram plaza began. Mr. Bois knew that the pink granite at the Seagram Building had come from his Quarry – they just had to find the exact spot.
And so they did. Bald Hill Quarry was in business once again.
Eighteen years later, Millennium Granite is a thriving business as I discovered during a recent visit to reconnect with my dad’s childhood home.
This past July, my brother, George Paton, my cousin, Bruce Garfield, Bruce’s daughter, Kim Henry, my husband Richard, my Grandson Matthew and I met at the Bald Hill Quarry. We came equipped with cameras and old pictures to share. Unlike my visit years ago when we only found abandoned fields littered with boulders, on this visit we had to make an appointment to tour this now busy site. Mr. Bois and his office assistant, Sue Penney graciously spent several hours with us showing us around and sharing interesting stories.
Richard Bois (far right) leads the group around the Quarry, Bruce Garfield, Bonnie Paton Moon, Kim Henry and George Paton – July 2018
We too were on a mission of sorts. From the historic family photos we hoped to find some of the landmarks of my dad’s early years here. The old farmhouse where he grew up is gone now, but we determined after much detective work that Mr. Bois’ office was the sight of the former house. We wanted to find the dirt road in the picture of my dad and the family arriving at the Quarry in 1929, and we concluded it was the dirt path that remained in front of Mr. Bois’ office.
George & Edith with children, Doris and Wally Paton arriving at the Bald Hill Quarry – 1929 – ©Paton family
We determined this to be the dirt path passing by the former homestead – 2018
Then, we happened upon an old piece of equipment that had obviously laid dormant in a field for decades. We decided that it could have been used by my Grandfather George to pump the water out of the Quarry. That was his job – to keep the water out of the hole so drilling could continue.
“He had a job where he made, I think, about $12 a week running the pumps, because the water would come into his excavation. His hole, where they were actively working, was over 100 feet deep, so the water would get in there, and in order to keep working they’d have to pump it out. So he had a – you wouldn’t say a good job – but it was a reasonably good job for those days.” – Wally Paton quote from Journey Home – How a Simple Act of Kindness Led to the Creation of a Living Legacy.
Abandoned equipment from a by-gone era at the former Bald Hill Quarry, 2018 (photo by George Paton)
We were as excited about our discoveries that July day as Mr. Aiello must have been when he heard Richard Bois on the other end of the phone back in 2000 saying “you dialed the person who owns that Quarry now.”
In a New York Times article, dated July 18, 2016 about the Seagram Building, Mr. Aiello talks about his quest to find the original granite for the plaza.
“’I was on a mission,’ he said. ‘I love the Seagram Building. It will always be in my heart.’ He explained that his father, a mason who had immigrated from Sicily, helped set the kitchen tiles at the Four Seasons.” – the restaurant that once occupied the Seagram Building. Likewise, our mission was accomplished with a great sense of pride and satisfaction and the new Millennium Quarry will always be in our hearts as well, thanks to Richard Bois.
Sharing old photos at Millennium Granite with Sue Penney (far right) are Bonnie Paton Moon, Kim Henry, Bruce Garfield and George Paton
Kim (Garfield) Henry, Bruce Garfield, George Paton, Bonnie Paton Moon, Richard and Matthew Moon at Millennium Granite – 2018
Wally Paton at the Bald Hill Quarry – 1934- © Paton Family