A four-hour bus ride on a gray drizzling New England morning may not sound like anyone’s idea of fun, but last week’s trip to Danby, VT, was very much just that.
The excursion, an annual event superbly hosted and organized by Artistic Tile, took a group of designers and architects, as well as an editor and myself, up to the southern part of Vermont, where we had the opportunity to visit an undergound marble quarry that was opened in 1785 and whose stone has found its way into everything from the Lincoln Memorial to several U.S. federal and state buildings, including the U.S. Senate building.
Although on the ride up, Artistic Tile president Joshua Levinson gave us an entertaining and educational presentation on calcium carbon stones (marble, travertine, limestone, onyx and serpentine), the history and methods of quarrying, the major quarries here in the United States—Indiana, Chicago, Georgia, Alabama, Texas, South Dakota, Colorado—and the world—Spain, Italy, Spain, Turkey (which has the largest reserve of marble), India, China and Brazil—and so much more, it did not quite prepare me for the experience of actually being on site.
Our tour began at an entrance that has been used for more than 100 years and wound its way through immense corridors carved out of solid Danby marble. The air was cool and damp, and except for the areas where work was being done, the light was dim. Nevertheless, even in the semi-darkness, the gray telltale veins that scaled walls and flowed onto ceilings were a magnificent sight and made one feel small.
The ground was wet, muddying rubber galoshes, work boots, sneakers and the odd unfortunate waterproof suede boot. Of course, we were advised to wear appropriate shoes, but some of us have the attention span of a fly. (Note to self: must read email much more carefully.)
Modern-day quarrying is done with heavy, sophisticated machinery, easing the process of extracting the marble and moving large blocks. Tests have also been developed to determine how deep one should drill or if drilling should stop to prevent a collapse of a quarry/mountain. In addition, thanks to advances in technology, cuts made into the walls are straight and precise. I can’t imagine doing this by hand, with the crude implements of the past or even with explosives, which can damage the stone and create a lot of waste. To keep track of the marble that’s extracted, each block is marked to indicate where it originated.
Our quarry visit concluded with a tour of an area (also underground) where slabs are cut, stored and finished. Danby marble is denser than white Carrara marble, making it more suitable for use as a kitchen countertop—which is what I kept seeing as I walked through the rows and rows of slabs. The variety in pattern and coloration was quite remarkable—but then again, nature is wondrous like that.
After a hearty meal at Equinox Resort & Spa, which is more than 200-years-old, we boarded the bus to head back to New Jersey/New York. On our return trip, we were treated to a showing of Breaking Away, a 1979 film which features scenes filmed at the Empire Quarry, an abandoned limestone quarry in Bloomington, IN (you can see it a minute into the video). If you haven’t already done so, the film is worth seeing.
I’ve since corresponded with some of my fellow travelers, all of whom were similarly impressed and amazed by the trip. Just thinking about how the technology for extraction has come such a long way leaves me a little breathless. Equally breathtaking is the fact that such beauty exists naturally and that it exists in such abundance. Yet even as the supply at Danby seems vast and far-reaching, I can’t help feeling that it’s still a resource that should be cherished, respected and used wisely.E-mail
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