April 7, 2013

Hallowell may honor its granite roots with waterfront crane

By Susan McMillan smcmillan@centralmaine.com
Staff Writer

HALLOWELL — A piece of Granite City history could rise from the riverbank within a year.

click image to enlarge

This undated photo shows a crane, that was used in a Hallowell granite quarry, when it was on display in Augusta. There are plans to install it at a waterfront park in Hallowell.

Photo by Al Hague

The City Council has approved the installation in Waterfront Park of a historical granite crane that the city received as a gift 10 years ago.

Preserving and finding a suitable home for the crane has been a project of several Hallowell residents — in particular, Al Hague — for nearly three decades. With city approval in hand, they need to raise $25,000 to $30,000 for the installation.

Hague said there's no better place for the crane than Waterfront Park, where it will have prime exposure near the spot where a similar crane was located in the late 19th century to move slabs of prized Hallowell granite onto ships.

Dozens of other cranes would have been in use at quarries, cutting sheds and near the railroad in Hallowell during the last half of the 19th century.

Another volunteer, Nancy McGinnis, said people in Hallowell appreciate history, but there's a gap in recognizing the importance of the city's granite industry.

"Hallowell doesn't really have a monument or anything to pay tribute to its granite heritage," she said.

Hague was an official of KeyBank in 1985, when the crane was discovered in the remains of a small quarry on property the bank bought to build a parking lot on Edison Drive in Augusta. Hussey Quarry, as it was known, was owned by Hallowell Granite Co. at one time.

The crane consists of two 35-foot hexagonal wooden beams. One is a stationary vertical mast, anchored by four guy wires; and the other is a boom that's attached to the mast at a 45-degree angle and can swing in a full circle.

Pieces of granite were suspended on cables from the end of the boom. The cables were connected to the top of the mast and two hand-cranked winches at the base of the mast.

Some parts of the beams and the metal fixtures needed to be repaired or replaced, but overall the crane was in good shape, Hague said, probably because it fell on top of slabs of granite rather than wet ground.

The crane was installed at the edge of the KeyBank parking lot until the bank leased the building to Maine Revenue Service. The bank donated the crane to Hallowell in May 2003, and it was transferred to a space behind the public works building in October 2004.

McGinnis is hopeful that the installation will be completed within the next year, depending on how quickly donations come in.

Donations can be made via checks written to the city, with "crane" written on the memo line, and the money will be placed in a reserve account established by the City Council for the project. Mayor Charlotte Warren said the volunteers were not equipped to collect tax-deductible donations, but the city is.

The City Council also signed off on the installation site. The volunteers had commissioned an engineering study to ensure that the crane would be safely anchored and also out of reach of floodwater or an ice pileup like the one Hallowell experienced in 2010.

Warren said she and other city officials are enthusiastic about the project and grateful for the work of Hague, McGinnis, Gerry Mahoney, Sam Webber, Dick Bachelder and others.

The installation will feature large chunks of granite intended to mimic the tiered stone in a quarry. There also will be signs with information about Hallowell's granite industry and the operation of such cranes.

"If you don't know what it is, it's not very dramatic. It looks like a utility pole or a telephone pole," McGinnis said. "It's amazing to the think that that's the technology by which huge pieces of granite were moved."

A crane of that size could have moved blocks of granite weighing up to a ton, Hague said. A much smaller chunk of stone will be suspended from the crane in this installation.

Susan McMillan — 621-5645
smcmillan@mainetoday.com

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