Industrial Revolution and Immigrants in New York Marble Quarries

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The Marble School House made of Tuckahoe Marble

Marble was a coveted resource in the building industry of the mid-to late1800’s. Marble quarried from Tuckahoe, New York quickly became a favorite.

Tuckahoe Marble is part of the Naval Observatory in Washington D.C., St. Patrick’s Cathedral, and the Vanderbilt Mansion in Rhode Island, along with many other structures built in the Greek Revival style. Irish immigrants, and later, Italian workers, were the main source of labor for these quarries and it was their work that helped create some of the most astounding buildings in America. Technology brought in during the Industrial Revolution changed the quarry business forever.

Marble Supply and Demand: Quarries in Westchester County, New York

As the United States became established as a nation, architects sought to create buildings and monuments in the classic Greek style, blended with others. This period became known as the Greek Revival, as builders wanted more marble. Although granite and brownstone were suitable materials, buildings designed with columns, sculptures, and lintels used marble. In the 1822, marble was discovered in Eastchester, New York, about twenty miles north of Manhattan in Westchester County. Proximity to New York City made the marble easy to transport via railroad or waterways.

The marble from this area became known as “Tuckahoe Marble” because of its general location in the village of Tuckahoe, in the town limits of Eastchester, New York. What made this area so valuable for quarrying was the quality and consistency of the marble. It was white, with few impurities. Most importantly, Tuckahoe marble was durable and could withstand pressure, making it stronger than Vermont marble and Keene granite. Marble was also fireproof. During the Boston Fire of 1872, granite buildings collapsed under extreme heat, while those made of Tuckahoe marble survived.

Marble Quarries and Irish Immigrant Workers in Westchester County

By 1854, four main quarry owners in Eastchester, Westchester County had merged to form the Eastchester Marble Quarry Company. Their business included both quarrying as well as marble dressing – the process of shaping the marble into blocks or columns. Other smaller quarries developed in Tuckahoe and other nearby towns. Stonecutters and quarrymen were the two main jobs in the marble industry. Stonecutters were skilled workers used to dress the raw stone. The Journeyman Stonecutters Association grew in membership during this time. Quarrymen were laborers who removed the stone, usually with a process of wedges and striking. Some quarries would also have auxillary laborers such as blacksmith to shoe the work animals.

In the mid to late 1800’s, most of the workers in the Eastchester quarries were Irish immigrants. Because the marble industry was seasonal, based on supply and demand, and also slowed during the Civil War, steady employment was questionable. This played into slum-like conditions in Tuckahoe neighborhoods at the time, such as Waverly and Sebestopol. Alcohol was also a problem, and the Temperance League placed itself Eastchester. By the turn of the century, Italian immigrants moved into these communities.

Industrial Revolution, Technology, and the Decline of the Marble Industry

The Westchester County quarries grew idle in the late 1880’s, even though the New York Metropolitan Tower was built during this time and the Vanderbilt Mansion in Rhode Island. Machinery developed during the Industrial Revolution began to replace the quarrymen, such as the use of steampower, gang saws and stonecrushers. The planer began to replace the stonecutters.

Marble lost its importance and demand dwindled as new architectural styles emerged. Quarries diversified for several years, making marble dust, limestone, artificial stone, and crushed rock. Over time, however, the marble quarries were exhausted and by 1930 the last Eastchester quarry had closed.

Source:

  1. Torres, Louis. Tuckahoe Marble: The Rise and Fall of an Industry. Purple Mountain Press, 1976.