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The Granite and Ice Industries

Granite Quarry Crew at Work, Mount Desert Island, ca. 1890
Granite Quarry Crew at Work, Mount Desert Island, ca. 1890
Men at work in Hall Quarry. Stone from Mount Desert Island was loaded directly onto boats in the deep water of Somes Sound and shipped to cities along the Atlantic Coast.Mount Desert Island Historical Society

Eventually things improved -- aided by such things as the development of the granite industry. As many as 46 quarries were scattered across the island at times and they would provide work for a generation. Stone was loaded directly onto schooners in Somes Sound, where the water was deep enough for very large vessels. As many as 50,000 paving blocks would be shipped on one schooner, usually loaded by hand. Sometimes as many as 10 three-masted schooners were lined up, waiting for stone. Stone from the island was used in buildings all over the country. Most notable were the Congressional Library, the Brooklyn Bridge and the Philadelphia Mint, the largest contract that Hall Quarry ever had.

One traditional employment that helped sustain some through these times was the ice industry, which had started in Maine 100 years earlier and peaked in the late 1900s, when Mainers shipped a million tons of ice south every year. The crews would cut pond ice into two-by-four-foot slabs weighing about 200 pounds each and store them, packed in sawdust, in ice houses. Then, in warmer weather, the ice would be loaded onto schooners for transport to market.

As the granite industry was coming into its own, another started to flourish -- tourism. Though less substantial than stone, it proved more enduring.