My city, Gloucester, and the village I live in, Lanesville, are mourning the loss of our local historian, Barbara Erkkila.
As a somewhat recent writer, blogger and historian of sorts, the person I would most want to emulate would be Barbara.
Barbara took on the task of preserving the previously unrecorded history of the granite quarrying industry that represents a huge chapter in the history of Cape Ann. Years after the quarries closed, the pits filled with water and nature turned the scarred landscape into beautiful scenes of sparkling water, greenery and sheer granite walls, Barbara undertook to record the history.
She was an expert. She could look at a piece of granite and know from which quarry it was mined. She could also write with wit and accuracy. She could hold your attention. Without her history of the quarries, “Hammers on Stone”, the details and stories of the industry would have been lost. She had seen it, lived it, remembered it, knew who to interview and completed a task that could not be duplicated today. The history of the quarries will always be alive because of her.
|Butman's quarry pit starting to freeze on a cold winter day. December 16, 2013|
This cape, Cape Ann, is sitting on granite ledge. The stone quarried here paved the streets of every major city from Boston to Havanna. It provided the granite for Bunker Hill Monument, the Boston Post Office, Custom Houses, statues, fountains at Union Station in Washington and infinitely more major landmarks.
The quarries attracted Irish stonecutters, followed by Finnish stonecutters as well as Italians, all leaving their mark on the community, especially the Finns with their back yard saunas, nisu, their cardamom flavored coffee bread and their braided mats. Barbara recorded it all.
Stone cutting was dangerous. Death and injury from black powder explosions were frequent as was silicosis affecting the health of so many.
The woods are laced with paths and old roads that led from one quarry to another. Locomotives helped move the granite to the cove for loading onto the stone sloops. Track beds still survive as paths including one beside my house.
All of this was recorded by Barbara and no one else.
She then went on to write “the Village at Lanes Cove”, about my neck of the woods. She recalled the characters, the old businesses, the artists that flocked here, the writers and sculptors and every imaginable facet of village life in the midst of the quarries and the fishermen who for 300 or so years had been making their living from the little coves dotting the shoreline.
It would have been tragic if no one had recorded all of this but Barbara did record it. We do have it. The legacy of the recorded history she has left will be here for all time. Where would we be if she had not stepped up to the plate?
Small in stature but gutsy, determined and strong was this daughter of Cape Ann. We all knew her, loved her, were proud to have her in our midst. She was a great story teller and told the tales with great humor. She will be sorely missed
Rest in peace, Barbara.
Erkkila, Barbara, Hammers on Stone, Peter Smith, Gloucester, MA, 1980
Erkkila, Barbara, The Village at Lanes Cove, Ten Pound Island Book Company, 1989
These books may be available through The Bookstore in Gloucester or Tem Pound Island Book Company. They are also available through Amazon or Barnes and Noble. If you buy one be prepared to pay dearly. They are well worth the investment. Anyone who loves Cape Ann should have them on their bookshelf.