Portland Brownstone Quarry Stories Part I

Bob McDougall

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Bob McDougall
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In this on going series about The Portland Brownstone Quarries, located in Portland, CT, we learn about the quarry history from Portland historian and resident, Bob McDougall.

In 1690 a stone cutter by the name of James Stanclift was contracted by the town of Middletown to build stonework. By 1783 commercial quarrying began and by the peak of the brownstone era more than 1500 immigrant workers were employed. During the 1800's Portland was famous for it's shipbuilding due to the Gildersleeve family, prominent shipbuilders of the time. Both quarrying and shipbuilding became hand in hand and soon brownstone was being shipped all over the United States and eventually the world.

The site was listed as a National Historic Landmark, which also placed it on the National Register of Historic Places on May 16, 2000. 

Robert W. McDougall, born and raised in Portland, has been a longtime student of town history. Joining the Portland Historical Society as a charter member in the sixth grade, he is a past president of the society and serves as the director of the Ruth Callander House Museum of Portland History, which opened in June 2003. In 2004 he published a book, Images of America. Portland. In this short video he shares his passion for the history of the Portland Brownstone Quarries from the birth in 1690 to the flood of 1938 that ended the brownstone quarrying business.



Scottish Stonemason 1891

My greatgrandfather, James Murray was a stonemason in Thurso, Scotland,the most northerly point in the Highlands. As a teen, he enlisted in the Suterland Highlanders (kilted I have a photo); came to Novia Scotia,then to Hartford and ultimately Wethersfield. He commuted by ferry from Wethersfield to Portland every day to work as a stonemason in the quarries. He built 2 houses in Wethersfield, raised a family. He had the first auto accident in Wethersfield. He was the chairman of the Republican town Committee. He sent one of his sons, Clifford (my grandfather) to Tufts University. My son, Christopher Ferry went to Tufts University.
Now his grandson Donald C Murray, and I, his greatgranddaughter, live in Portland, and walk thru Quarry Park. I take my grandchildren to the Discovery Park, show the chiseled graffitti, and tell them about their great, great, great grandfather who worked there.
It is a special blessing to be able to walk and totouch where he worked. I've been to the quarries in Thurso, Scotland and have seen where he lived and worked. My aunt lives in the house he built in Wethersfield, and my father, cousin and I live in the town where he continued his trade.

brownstone quarry

I lived in Portland from 1950 to 1975. In the modern history of the quarry, there must be at least a footnote for one of the more iconic figures associated with the quarry during the 1950's. Charlie 'Arrigoni' was one of the 1st homeless people I learned about in my youth. He was a tall, haggard looking man who was always dressed in a long gray overcoat, concealing a bottle of wine in a brown paper bag inside the coat. Presumably, he lived under the bridge, on the edge of the quarry. I think it was 1960 when a small group of 12 year olds (me included) found Charlie face down on the sidewalk in front of the Junior High School on Main Street. We had just finished football practice and were on our way home. I'm fairly certain that Charlie Arrigoni was known by many people in town. I never knew what his real name was, but his image remains vivid to this day.