Monday, April 02, 2012

A monument to the daily grind

From one angle they look like any other stones jutting from hillsides in the southeast Ohio woods, their angles softened by lichen and fuzzy green moss. Look again, though, and notice the stones' uniformity of shape and size, the unnaturally symmetrical squares piercing the centers. We're standing next to a defunct grindstone quarry, a potent reminder that these quiet woods once rang with the sounds of hard work.

When we first moved to this area, we noticed a big stone disk half buried in a small park alongside the highway. A nearby sign offered an explanation: "Grindstone." That's all it said. Not very helpful!

Later we learned that for a century sandstone quarries in the county fed the needs of industrialization by providing stones to grind and sharpen tools. Workers who cut and shaped the grindstones breathed in sandstone dust until their lungs became coated with the fine powder, many dying from an occupational disease known as "sandstone consumption."

How did they get the immense heavy stones out of a quarry deep in a ravine served by no surviving roads? We had to clamber down muddy slopes and jump across streams on stepping-stones just to find the place where all those stones were left behind when the need for sandstone grindstones collapsed. Starting around 1920, synthetic materials made these quarries obsolete and the industry that had employed thousands for a century fell silent.

We drive on streets still paved with bricks formed from clay quarried from the site where our grocery store now stands, and we marvel over the slate shingles still protecting roofs on historic houses more than a century after they were built, but it's easy to forget the labors of men who dug the clay, laid the bricks, notched the slate, cut the sandstone and hauled it away. Today these woods are so quiet that we feel like bold adventurers forging a trail into the wild, but the mossy remains of quarried grindstones stand as a monument to the many who have walked this way before, reminding us that we are not the first to walk these woods, and we will not be the last.

No comments: