The Impact of the Mohegan Quarry on the Local Community
Although located in Yorktown, the quarry’s economic and social impact extended west to Peekskill. While Yorktown was a sleepy farming community in 1910 with a population of 3,020, Peekskill, with a population of 15,245, was the area’s commercial center and the community from which the quarry’s granite was shipped. For most of its history, the quarry was identified with Peekskill. And the two daily newspapers that most often carried news about the quarry, the Highland Democrat and later the Evening Star, were Peekskill based publications; the weekly Yorktown Herald did not cover very much business oriented news.
The following accounts of how the Mohegan Quarry impacted the lives of quarry workers and the economic and social fabric of the surrounding communities come mostly from local newspaper reports.
The local impact of the quarry can be divided into these four areas:
- The Lives of Quarry Workers (below)
- The Quarry’s Impact on the Local Economy
- Transporting the Granite
- The Quarry’s Impact on the Community’s Social Fabric
The Lives of Quarry Workers
THE ROLE OF UNIONS
Unions appear to have played a key role in the quarrying industry dating back at least to the late 19th century. At least two unions appear to have been involved in the quarry.
In January, 1892, it was reported that workers at the quarry stopped work on a Saturday because of an unspecified “dissatisfaction” with conditions at the quarry. The newspaper article went on to report that, “We understand that other workers will immediately take their place.”
In May, 1892, a New York City newspaper reported a lockout over a wage dispute that involved 60,000 members of the Granite and Paving Block Cutters’ Union. The action led to a series of inspections at selected quarries, including the Mohegan Quarry.
The United Operative Masons’ and Granitecutters Union brought workers over from Scotland to work at quarries throughout the United States. The union would arrange for its members to work at sites across the county. When one Yorktown employee returned to Scotland to visit his family, he temporarily left the union so he didn’t have to pay dues while he was not available for work.
THE DAILY LIVES OF THE WORKERS
In the early years, the quarry owners built barracks to house its workers, many of whom came from Europe. The company also provided an on-site commissary. But not all workers lived at the quarry site. In 1927, a complaint was filed against a local bus company for transporting workers to the quarry; the company was licensed to travel only in the Village of Peekskill and the Town of Cortlandt, but the quarry, located on the east side of Lexington Avenue, was in the Town of Yorktown.
Safety was a recurring issue and the local newspapers frequently reported on accidents at the quarry.
- In 1929, Grenci & Ellis offered a contributory life and disability insurance policy to its employees. The $176,000 policy was expected to cover 80% of the firm’s 200 employees.
- In 1930, at a dinner meeting, a representative of Traveler’s Insurance Company told 25 members of the quarry’s Safety Council that 98% of the accidents at the quarry were the result of carelessness. At the meeting, Mr. Grenci congratulated the workers on their safety record and urged them not to rush their work but to work carefully.
- Long before federal OSHA worker safety rules, the quarry had at least one safety feature: a vacuum hook-up in the finishing shed that captured dust as the granite blocks were cut and finished. But that didn’t prevent workers from getting ill with silicosis, a lung disease caused by inhaling dust. As late as 1942 and 1943, two former employees who stopped working at the quarry in 1940 and 1941 were applying for worker compensation awards for silicosis.
- Workers Compensation claims: In 1927, the Workers Compensation Court awarded a worker $300 for the loss of the end of a middle finger. And in 1944, the Court awarded compensation to an employee who was suffering from silicosis as a result of inhaling dust while working as a stonecutter at the quarry. The illness was not reported until November, 1941.
- In 1927, the Highland Democrat reported on the death of a quarry worker noting that it was the first fatality since the quarry opened. The quarry was closed the day of the funeral so that many of the deceased’s fellow workers could attend the funeral.
Former quarry worker Joseph Ferrara, father of Yorktown’s former police chief Charles Ferrara, was a stone cutter at the quarry before starting his own masonry business in 1943. The grandfather of actor Stanley Tucci also worked at the quarry.
Quarry workers weren’t always the best behaved local residents. In 1929, it was reported that the fourth quarry employee got a speeding ticket. The newspaper noted that the workers typically are speeding on Crompond Road when leaving work in the afternoon.
During a July, 1926 heat wave, quarry workers stopped working and returned home because of the heat.