Rock, Paper, Scissors

The Piers on either side of the mouth of the Kennebunk River seem almost new.  As you gingerly walk their length, there is no trace of the sweat and tears that have long since washed out to sea.  I have, like most of you, read that the stellar, if short, granite industry in Kennebunkport, failed as a result of a serious miscalculation on the part of the investors, as to the cost of transporting the cut stone from the quarry to the River's edge.  This assumption seems to have been made first by Daniel Remich, author of the History of Kennebunk.  I have a theory about another influence that relates to the political and fiscal context of the mid to late 1830s.

 Andrew Jackson, our seventh President, was in office for two terms, beginning in 1829.  He had radical ideas about the government sponsored, Second Bank of the United States (BUS).  He considered the BUS to be corrupt.  "A system designed by the rich to make them richer", he said.  Leaders of the Whig Party in Congress feared that the new President's feelings, threatened chances for renewal of the Bank's Charter which was due to expire in 1836.  In an effort to "out" Jackson's radical intentions toward the Bank, they sent him a bill to renew the Bank's charter early.    He vetoed the bill and thereby committed, publicly to the idea of doing away with the BUS.  The Whig Party's plan backfired, as the popular vote agreed with Jackson.  He was overwhelmingly elected to a second term.

 Once back in office, he removed, from the BUS against the advice of his financial advisors, the money that the government had made, from sales of land taken from the Creek Nation and the Cherokee people as they were driven west, across the Mississippi River.   Jackson distributed $37 million dollars in gold to his "pet banks".  They, in turn, issued five times that value in bank notes to borrowers.  This triggered a burst of land speculation.  Government lands were sold on credit and then resold for dot-com -like profits, also on credit.  The land speculation even spread to the timberlands of Maine.  Rumors were circulated that timber was becoming scarce in Maine.  Huge fortunes were made overnight.  To make matter even more volatile, in 1834, Henry Clay, who had acted as an attorney for the BUS, submitted and passed legislation to Congress authorizing revenue sharing with the states, of the same $37 million dollars.   Major infrastructure improvements were made in every State; roads, railroads and lighthouses were built throughout the country.  To say that the new country was in a period of expansion is to understate the matter.

In 1834, $10,500 was appropriated to replace the wooden piers at the mouth of the Kennebunk River, built by the federal government in 1789.  The Piers had already been rebuilt once but had again been weakened by an attack of sand fleas in a matter of just a few years. 

In July of 1835, Granite was found for the job, 2 or 3 miles from the river, on the Beachwood rd.  It was examined by Geologists and found to have superior properties. It was straight grained, of uncommonly firm texture and split well.  Specimens were heated to 800 degrees and then suddenly doused with cold water.  There was no cracking or damage to the stone. This was unusual. The promise of profits was comparable to the granite quarries of Hallowell and Quincy, Massachusetts. 

The quarry on Beachwood Road was named The United States Quarry, as it would supply the granite to build the government piers.  A company, which was incorporated as, "The Maine Quarrying Association" owned it.   The Officers of the Association were Portland speculators; John Neal, Daniel Winslow, Mason Greenwood, Nathaniel Mitchell and William Cutter.  Greenwood and Cutter had been on the building committee of the High Street Church in Portland in 1830.  According to Bradbury, the 1000 available Shares of stock in the company that originally sold for $75, sold for $83,000.  Farmers who had cursed the ledge in their pastures were being offered huge amounts of money on speculation that they to would yield similar valuable granite.

Several other Quarry companies were incorporated in 1836.  The officers of The Kennebunkport Granite and Railroad Company were local men, Daniel Lord, Robert Towne, Jacob Mitchell.  Perhaps they intended to circumvent the expensive transportation issue by connecting a railroad branch from the quarries to the lines of the Boston and Maine Railroad, which was in South Berwick by 1842.   

The First Geologic Survey of Maine by C. T. Jackson, published in 1838, also refers to Hill's granite field, close to the Biddeford line, The Emmons Ledge, 1/3 mile from the sea at Goose Rocks and ledge a plenty along the road from Kennebunk to Kennebunkport.

By the time Bradbury was finishing up his book, in 1837, large quantities of cut stone waited at the river to be shipped.  He also reported that there was little going on with the various quarrying companies, though he had hope that the industry would prove highly profitable when "the present general pressure is taken from business". He was undoubtedly referring to the financial "Panic of 1837". 

In July of 1836, in response to the new flood of paper money in the government coffers, Andrew Jackson issued his Specie Circular decree.  This was a new rule that stated that government lands could only be paid for in gold or silver.  Many banks could not cover in specie.  This caused a decline in borrowers and a drop in land sales to one quarter of the previous year. Out of eight hundred and fifty banks, three hundred and forty-three closed entirely and sixty-two failed partially.   It was the worse depression the new nation had ever seen. No buildings were being built, businesses of all kinds were failing and unemployment skyrocketed.  The militia had to be called in, at one point, to keep order on Wall Street.  At the same time, British investors, in reaction to their own economic problems in, called in their loans to Americans. 

The repercussions of the Panic of 1837 reverberated for seven long and painful years; throughout the Presidencies of Martin Van Buren, (1837-1841), and Whig candidate, Willim Henry Harrison, who died after one month in office and into the "Accidency" of his Vice President, John Tyler. 

By 1840, the granite quarried in Kennebunkport was limited to local projects but the industry did not die completely.  According to William Barry, the Locks were built in 1848, by a contract J. Smith.  The granite, most likely, came from the Quarry on Beachwood Rd.  The Customs House, in Portland was built of Kennebunkport Granite.  George Varney's Gazette, 1881-1886, refers to four good granite quarries in Kennebunkport still in existence. 

The Quarry of most recent memory is John and Albert Day's Quarry that was on the Mountain Rd, in North Kennebunkport, today's Arundel.  This was very successful and lasted 50 years until about 1925.  The proprietors learned from history and included a Railroad spur that connected to the Eastern division of the Boston and Maine Railroad.  Day's Siding, as it was called, was across the road from the quarry.  The cut stones were "buggy-lugged" to the Railroad cars.  Granite from this quarry was used to build great granite archways on New York's Riverside Drive, the state capital buildings in Albany, New York and President Ulysses S. Grant's tomb.      

We live in an area that is so rich in documented history.  It is important to remember that our town was also influenced by what was happening in the rest of our nation and indeed the world.  It is connections that keep history breathing.

Sharon Cummins

This article was originally published in The Log, Kennebunkport Historical Society's quarterly publication.  Copyright 2001-2006 Sharon Cummins