Granite and History

Granite and History (HM1J6O)

Location: Richmond, VA 23225
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Country: United States of America
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N 37° 33.11', W 77° 31.313'

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Rocks and Railroads

Look Ahead

Riverside Drive is now on top what used to be a railroad bed. It serviced quarries you can find further to the west.

Look to the left in the grassy field between the park entrance and exit. You can still see the part of the railroad bed running through the woods.

Look across the street

The flat stone walls are the remains of a line of quarries that stretched along the banks of the river. Stone was cut here to be used in buildings, canals, streets and monuments in Richmond, Washington D.C., and other cities.

Across the street to the left

The granite bridge was built some time in the 1800s. It was used by the Westham Granite Company that operated here until the turn of the 20th century. It spans a creek that used to be a channel of the James River. The land that is now Pony Pasture Park used to be an island!

If you'd like to explore a little, crawl under the bridge

Note how the space under the bridge is wide open on the right and pinched closed on the left. This slowed the flow of water and created a still pool to the right where steam locomotives could draw their water supply.

A Hard Business

Examine the stones along the shoreline behind you

Some of them are marked with grooves about the size of your finger. These are evidence of a stone-splitting technique called the "feather and wedge" system.

A line of holes was drilled where the stone was to be split. The holes were filled with two shoe horn-shaped pieces of iron called feathers. Wedges were hammered between the feathers and they directed force outward from the line of holes. The feathers could be wiggled to even the pressure and assure a straight split. It may have taken hours to cut one piece of stone!

Quarries were a big business in Richmond in the 19th and early 20th centuries. The city's location on the Fall Line yielded an abundance of granite. Slaves often did the work so quarries struggled to find labor after the Civil War. The cut stone industry eventually gave way to concrete and steel construction.

Look for granite streets and sidewalks in the Shockoe Slip neighborhood of Richmond. Stone from these quarries was used extensively along Cary Street and the side streets.

(bottom left) This Victorian stereocard shows the painstaking process of drilling holes in granite to prepare it for splitting. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress

(top right) This map shows the extent of the granite industry along the south bank of the James River in the nineteenth century. The current locations of the Powhite Parkway and Pony Pasture Rapids Park have been added. Image courtesy of the Library of Virginia and Kane Design
HM NumberHM1J6O
Placed BySouthampton Citizen’s Association, James River Park System (Department of Parks, Recreation and Community Facilities)
Marker ConditionNo reports yet
Date Added Monday, February 16th, 2015 at 1:02pm PST -08:00
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Locationbig map
UTM (WGS84 Datum)18S E 277226 N 4159081
Decimal Degrees37.55183333, -77.52188333
Degrees and Decimal MinutesN 37° 33.11', W 77° 31.313'
Degrees, Minutes and Seconds37° 33' 6.6" N, 77° 31' 18.78" W
Driving DirectionsGoogle Maps
Area Code(s)540, 804, 757
Which side of the road?Marker is on the right when traveling West
Closest Postal AddressAt or near 7343 Riverside Dr, Richmond VA 23225, US
Alternative Maps Google Maps, MapQuest, Bing Maps, Yahoo Maps, MSR Maps, OpenCycleMap, MyTopo Maps, OpenStreetMap

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