Story of a stone: Museum features Maine’s underground and the tools used to dig it up

MOUNT DESERT — We take for granite the rock below our feet, set along paths in the park and on countertops, but Steven Haynes is working to increase our awareness and appreciation.

As the founder and curator of the Maine Granite Industry Museum, Haynes knows more about Maine rocks and the granite industry than one would think possible.

His passion was sparked at 11 years old by local clockmaker and rock enthusiast Theodore Spank. He showed the young Haynes how to collect and label rocks as well as the quarries from which they came. Spank also taught Haynes how to talk with the old stone workers and garner their invaluable information.

“I’ve met all the old timers in gems and minerals,” said Haynes. “They’ve all influenced my love for it.”

As he traveled throughout the state, learning about the history of quarrying and which rocks were prevalent where, the people he spoke with asked if he would tell their stories. Many offered their equipment and photos for educating others.

“Donations [of tools] have just been rolling in,” said Haynes. “I have been picked steward of all these ancient tools from the coast of Maine.”

Of the collection, a hammer from 1886 is one of the oldest items, but there are many others from the 19th century.

“We have a huge amount of information,” he said. “I’ve got boxes and boxes … of catalogs from the 1800s.”

For the last 20 years, he had been showcasing the history of the granite industry and quarrying tools in a small room in his father’s shop on Beech Hill Cross Road off Route 102. A few years ago, Haynes’ father died and left him well over 5,000 square feet to spread his collection out for visitors.

“It’s a work in progress,” said Haynes. “I’ve given myself a five-year plan.”

In 2005 the museum officially became a nonprofit and currently has seven board members. The operating budget comes mainly from donations. Haynes estimates the cost of running the museum is about $7,000 a year. A recent grant from the Davis Family Foundation is going towards shelving for archival storage. Another grant from the Maine Community Foundation in 2017 allowed the museum to purchase a new stone cutting saw and materials to support education programs.

The Maine Granite Industry Museum is listed on as number three for museums to visit on Mount Desert Island.

Haynes has a natural following. In addition to those visiting the national park and surrounding island, Haynes hosts Rhodes Scholars from throughout the country several times a year. One of them donated many of her grandfather’s historic items to the collection after meeting Haynes.

“I’m continually, everyday, meeting special people who have a love for the industry or just want to learn,” he said.

The first thing a visitor sees on the museum grounds is a historical piece that took two years to restore. Between the museum sign and the front door stands a stiff-legged derrick used in quarries during the early 1900s. Anchored by two three-ton, five-foot tall slabs of granite sitting underground, the derrick symbolizes one of the primary ways of moving the sliced stones.

“It was one of the most important parts of industries to lift,” said Haynes about not only the stones but steel and building.

With the sounds of an active, hand-chiseling quarry behind him, Haynes enthusiastically demonstrates the process of breaking off pieces of granite. Included in the demonstration is the sound of a horn to warn of an upcoming blast, which Haynes pauses to allow guests to hear, followed by the blast of black powder.

“Each quarry had a competition going,” he said. “Who could take the most tons out with one blast.”

When asked about neighboring Black Island, where remnants of an active quarry still sit, Haynes explains what was special about the granite there.

“Out on Black Island there was perfect sheeting of the same thickness,” he said.

Breaking the rock there was done in layers, by hand. The stone was carried out via a railcar that went to schooners waiting to be loaded. Hunks of granite can still be found along former rail trails. If a piece fell off the railcar en route to the shore, it was too costly to try and put it back on, he said, so the car would be sent back for another.

“We have no written information on how long this process took,” said Haynes. “But it must have taken weeks.”

Those fallen pieces are not the only ones left behind. 65 percent of the granite quarried on the coast of Maine was thrown away, Haynes said.

“They were very particular on the shade of granite,” he said. “It all had to be the same color.”

Visitors to the museum learn a lot in a short visit, especially about structures in the cities where they live.

“All their questions are answered right here,” Haynes said. “Everyone says, ‘I’m going to be looking at these buildings in a new light.’”

Sarah Hinckley

Sarah Hinckley

Former Islander reporter Sarah Hinckley covered the towns of Southwest Harbor, Tremont and neighboring islands.

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