Background: The same geologic attributes responsible for Stafford's rich deposits of iron ore and other metals, also rendered a unique and eventually much desired type of sandstone called "freestone." As a result, a significant stone quarrying industry had evolved as an equitable pursuit in Stafford by the late 1700s. The presence of high-quality sandstone was known at the beginning of the eighteenth century, but it wasn't until the late 1700s that the stone was quarried for large-scale building projects. Stone from nearby Government Island and other Stafford locations was used in both the White House and U.S. Capital. Quarrying stone during the late 18th and early 19th centuries was very labor intensive. Stone cut here would have been cut and shipped with the use of simple machines and animal power. Various workers were needed to extract the cut stone. A Master-Mason, usually a European, would oversee the entire quarrying operation. Skilled workers included stone cutters and stone carvers who extracted and rough-cut the stone into desired sizes. Blacksmiths were constantly needed to make and sharpen the cutting tools, wedges, chisel, trimming hammers, sledge hammers, picks, mattocks, drills and axes. Many marks from these tools remain visible in this quarry today and are pictured below.
How Stone Was Quarried: First, all vegetation was removed from the stone. Once the top was exposed, a vertical stone face was picked away to create a work area. Side channels or trenches about 20 inches wide, barely large enough for a man to squeeze through, were then picked into the wall about 20 feet apart. A rear trench (not currently visible at this site) was used to create a rectangular stone section. Grooves were chiseled along the stone face where wedges were inserted to remove block from the larger stone mass. Once a block of stone was cut, it was hoisted out with a simple derrick and pulley system. It was then placed on a skid and hauled by oxen to a nearby wharf or transported to a nearby work location such as the Daniel Bridge. The piers of which are made of sandstone blocks. While we cannot directly tie this quarry to the 1863 encampments or to the Daniel Bridge, we do know that one encampment fire box, several chimney remains and one hearth used sandstone from nearby quarry sites. The remains of one camp firebox contain multiple large blocks of sandstone, one with a drill mark very similar to the three on the face of this quarry. Drills at that time were three-foot-long iron tools with chisel-like points that hammered into the rock and then twisted and hammered again to drill a hole through the rock. Another above-ground hut site also contains a large piece of sandstone that appears to have functioned as its hearth.
Quarrying tools used in the late 1700s to 1800s
1. Roughing Out Tool
4. Cradle hoist (for lifting stone)
Danger: Please do not climb down to or on quarry surfaces. Thank you!
Artist's conception of late 1700s /early 1800s quarrying operations showing common features of such quarries. Arrows indicate features found in this quarry.
Drill hole used to split rock
Groove used to separate large rock sections.
Triangle-shaped feature possibly related to lifting or splitting the stone. Pick marks show around the triangles.