East Dorset History: The marble industry's impact on the village

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(Editor's note: This column will be an occasional column on the history of East Dorset. If others would like to submit columns on their towns, contact editor Darren Marcy at dmarcy@manchesterjournal.com.)

The business of quarrying, hauling and finishing marble dominated the life and livelihood of Dorset from the late 1700s until the 1920s. During that time it is estimated the marble business extracted over 15,805,000 cubic feet of stone from over 20 quarries.

The 1830 U.S. census cites 15 stone manufacturers having "100 hands" being employed by these mills. At the time of the industry's peak in the 1880s, there were over 400 workers connected to the quarries, almost equal to those making a living at farming.

Reputedly, the oldest quarry in the U.S. was opened on the slopes of Mt. Aeolus in Dorset by Isaac Underhill in 1785. His marble was used for hearthstones, lintels, chimney blocks and headstones. It wasn't until 1837, when marble was desired as a building material.

In 1808, Elijah Sykes opened a quarry, which later was owned and operated by J.K.Freedley & Sons on the eastern side of Mount Aeolus between East Dorset and North Dorset. This was not an open pit quarry, but tunneled into the mountainside 1,160 feet above the valley.

There were 9 to 14 quarry operations identified on the east and southeast side of Mt. Aeolus operating periodically for the next 100 years. Many of the Irish immigrants employed to work in these quarries settled along today's Dorset Hill Road.

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There were Catholic services held in private homes along with a school and a Catholic cemetery along with three small family plots that remain. The arrival of the railroad in 1852, improved the ability for quarries to ship large stone blocks. However, it was 30 years later that Mr. Freedley completed a funicular (or inclined) railroad to move marble blocks from his quarry to the Route 7 valley and the railroad below.

The Sept. 28, 1871, Manchester Journal reported in the East Dorset Personals that "Mr. Freedley's (mile long) railroad to his quarry is now complete and in successful operation. The marble mill is to be built at the lower terminus of the railroad, thus adding materially to the business prosperity of East Dorset."

The funicular was a very steep rail track on which two cars were simultaneously raised and lowered by a cable. Midway, the track switched onto two separated tracks so the cars could pass each other, one going up and one going down, before switching back onto the single track. A miniature replica of an inclined railway was created by Jim Kingston and sits on the back lawn at the Dorset Historical Society.

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Although heavily overgrown the raised railroad bed for the funicular can still be followed from the Freedley Quarry to the valley by the more adventuresome.

The Freedlyville mill in North Dorset was operated by the Manchester Marble Company until it burned in 1923. The Freedly (sic) Marble Quarries were advertised at auction for June 25, 1938, but no bid was received. No marble was quarried at this location again.

Ownership of the Freedley Quarry has passed through several banks, marble companies and land speculators and is currently "owned" by the Town of Dorset.

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Two other large mills were located next to the railroad in East Dorset Village — the Dorset Mountain Marble Company (north of Mad Tom Road) and the Dorset Marble Company to the south of the road. The Beers Atlas identifies several other marble related buildings — offices for D.L. Kent & Co., Field Marble Co., Batchelder & Bowen S(team?) S(aww?) & G(rist?) Mill and two blacksmith shops, adding materially to the business prosperity of East Dorset' as quoted by Mr. Freedley.

These mills were all gone by the 1930s presumably used to help build the Route 7 "bypass" around the Village.

Extensive evidence of the impact marble had in the East Dorset Village remains today.

Just after turning onto Mad Tom Road water is channeled under the road along a marble lined mill race, which supplied water to the steam powered saw mills. The East Dorset Post Office was labeled a marble company office on Beers' 1869 atlas. Marble sidewalks, porch steps, building foundations, hitching posts and mounting stones are still part of today's streetscape. Marble did add materially to the business prosperity of East Dorset and Dorset as well as play an important role in Vermont's marble industry.

Resource: West, Ernest H. A History of Marble Quarries on Dorset Mountain. Complied in 1939. Copies in the Marble Room at the Dorset Historical Society.

East Dorset resident, Ruth Stewart is a retired educator, avid birder/naturalist/citizen scientist and long time volunteer for the Dorset Historical Society.


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