In 1999, the Becket Land Trust spearheaded a community fundraising campaign to save a 300+ acre parcel of primarily wooded land from industrial development. The Trust soon discovered that the land, which they had purchased sight unseen, contained an old granite quarry contained rusted artifacts left behind when the Hudson-Chester Granite Company suddenly folded.
Since then, the Land Trust has turned the area into a series of walking trails and a living museum about the Industrial Age in this region. In recent years, the task of managing Beckett Quarry has overwhelmed the all-volunteer Trust.
The state’s oldest land trust organization, The Trustees of Reservations, has agreed to take ownership of the Quarry. The organization brings one hundred and thirty years of experience in conservation and managing outdoor recreation properties. Before that happens however, the Becket Land Trust needs the community’s support one more time. Producer Dave Fraser brings us this story.
Read the full transcript:
Ken Smith, Becket Land Trust: This is a winch, it was the workhorse of the quarry.
Dave Fraser, Connecting Point: A walk through these woods in Becket is like stepping back in time. Winches, derricks, cables, and old vehicles are scattered throughout a series of walking trails. But the highlight for most visitors who come here is to experience the old Chester Hudson quarry.
Ken Smith: Active from the 1860s until the 1940s, so for 60 years it lay dormant, basically untouched by by by time.
Dave Fraser: Ken Smith is president of the Becket Land Trust, a nonprofit group who currently owns and manages the 300 plus acre site. The Land Trust purchased the quarry from a private owner, according to Smith, to prevent a construction company from reopening the quarry and using the rock as paving material during the construction of the Big Dig in Boston.
Ken Smith: They would have opened up a new quarry and had 20 tractor trailer loads of granite coming off the mountain every hour, six days a week for years and years. And it would have had a significant impact on the quality of life for the entire town.
Dave Fraser: Financial contributions from town residents allowed the Becket Land Trust to acquire the multi-acre plot for public recreation and historic preservation. When it was in operation in the late 1800s and early 1900s, granite from this quarry was used to build prominent monuments and statues in several states.
Ken Smith: The material that they were bringing from this particular site was extremely high quality. It was known as Chester Blue. It took a very nice polish. It was very consistent in color and it was so prized that it was exclusively used for monumental purposes. And I don’t think it’s any coincidence that this quarry started in the 1860s when there was a very large demand for monumental stone on account of the Civil War.
Dave Fraser: When the quarry was abandoned, much of the equipment and structures were left just as they were, as if the quarry men had gone for lunch and never returned. Over the years, the Land Trust has developed a detailed map showing both the forest preserved trails and the self guided historic quarry walk.
Ken Smith: And it’s almost as if we have a story line of the Industrial Revolution. We have equipment that was originally steam-powered and then converted to compressed air. And we have evidence of early electric motors here.
Dave Fraser: Despite Smith’s enthusiasm for people to visit and learn the history of the quarry, he is also cautious, saying quarries are deceptively dangerous. The cliffs that people like to jump off of can be unstable. The water is extremely dense and very deep, and there are dangers hidden beneath the surface.
Ken Smith: Not only is visibility below the surface nearly zero, it is filled with fallen trees, old equipment, cables, boulders, and it’s extremely unstable down there.
Dave Fraser: Despite the warnings, the quarry has long been a mecca for extreme diving. It’s high cliffs are a haven for youths from surrounding towns and states who post videos on social media, adding to the lure of the quarry.
Ken Smith: During this past summer, I think exclusively due to COVID and the enormous popularity of people being able to spend time outside, we had over fourteen thousand visitors. This is just becoming much too much of a challenge for an all-volunteer ward to be able to take care of. And we’re delighted to say that the state’s oldest and largest land conservation group, Trustees of Reservation, has agreed to take over ownership of the property.
Dave Fraser: Before the trustees can take over the property, they have requested the Beckett Land Trust to start a two hundred thousand dollars stewardship fund for infrastructure work and additional signage for the trails. David Santomenna is the Associate Director of Land Conservation for the Trustees.
David Santomenna: We’ve been in business for one hundred and twenty five plus years, and we’ve got a lot of stewardship obligations across the whole state and we’re really trying to be disciplined about what new obligations we take on. As a member of the landtrust community, we do want to make sure that all of the interest-protected properties stay protected. It’s part of what motivates us here. I mean, I don’t think there’s any imminent risk to that property at all, but we want to make sure that it’s, you know, in the ownership of an entity with the. The long term capacity is important, I think, to the landtrust community. So, that’s certainly part of our motivation here.
Dave Fraser: So, the land trust in Beckect is once again looking to the community for support and using social media to help reach their goal. In the meantime, the quarry remains open every day from dawn to dusk, and Smith and the members of the Land Trust hope people continue to visit, learn about its history and perhaps most importantly, respect it.