The three phases of the quarry’s history
1890-1920: The Early Years
The first known commercial exploitation of the Mohegan Quarry dates back to 1890 with the formation of the Mohegan Granite Company. The new company was headed by Evelyn Pierrepont Roberts, an engineer with the New York City Aqueduct Commission responsible for building the New Croton Dam, a position that likely led to one of the new company’s earliest contracts: In 1892-1893, the company supplied the granite for the gatehouses at the Carmel and Purdys dams in Putnam County. According to a newspaper report at the time, the granite was transported by “Postmaster John Smith’s teams” to the railroad station in Yorktown “from whence it is shipped to Carmel on the Northern Road.”
After the completion of the dam contracts, the quarry was idle for several years until it was reorganized in 1896-97 with $10,000 in capital and with Eugene M. Rudiger, his brother John M. Rudiger and Evelyn P. Roberts as directors.1
A January 1, 1897 article in the New York Tribune noted that the new company, the Mohegan Granite Quarrying Company, leased 400 acres of land, tools and implements from the former company. Although the details of the 1897 land leases are not known, according to Sigmund Lasker’s research, over time the following Yorktown farms were purchased for the quarry: Conklin, Denike, Strang, Frost, Briggs and Chase.
Initially, the blocks of granite were transported to a cutting shed on lower Centre Street in Peekskill but in 1919-1920 a large steel framed cutting shed was built at the quarry.
While information about the company’s early years is limited to a few newspaper articles, it is likely that the 1897 reorganization was motivated by the fact that it was during this time frame that the Cathedral of Saint John the Divine began to show interest in granite from the quarry. Also, according the newspaper article that reported on the reorganization, there was a “scheme on hand” to build a four mile narrow–gauge railroad from the quarry through Peekskill to the New York Central Railroad tracks so that granite from the quarry could be transported to New York City. 2
The Cathedral’s interest in the quarry can be traced to 1896, four years after the Cathedral’s cornerstone was laid, when the Cathedral’s architects, Heins & La Farge, began investigating sources of granite to be used in the construction of the choir, one of the earliest parts of the Cathedral to be built. According to a 1926 magazine article, one of the firm’s partners, George L. Heins, lived in Peekskill and was an avid hiker and it was on one of his hikes that he “discovered” the golden granite at the Mohegan Quarry.
In 1896, the Mohegan Granite Company submitted a proposal to the Cathedral’s Building Committee which, in turn, led Heins to commission Ricketts & Bank, a laboratory described as being “public chemists” to analyze the properties of Mohegan granite. In 1897, in a “Certificate of Analysis,” the company stated, “There is every reason to believe that this stone would prove to be a durable and satisfactory one.”
Based on the Certificate, the Cathedral’s trustees accepted the company’s proposal, and in 1898 authorized the expenditure of $40,000 for the purchase of Mohegan granite for the exterior of the choir. The contract was the beginning of the quarry’s long history with the Cathedral: over the next three decades, as funds became available to finance additional phases of Cathedral’s construction, the quarry received additional, and larger, contracts. Looking back over the quarry’s 50 year history, and based on available documents, the Cathedral was the quarry’s largest and most sustained customer.
The 1910 Westchester County Atlas shows that the Mohegan Granite Company owned 300 acres east of Lexington Avenue and a smaller piece on the west side of Stony Street. (pictured below)
Between 1911-1913, Mohegan granite was also used in the construction of the Cathedral’s Synod House and the Saint Columba, Saint James and Saint Ansgarius Chapels. In 1913, a local newspaper reported the company’s weekly payroll was over $1,000. And in 1917, the Cathedral accepted a proposal from Mohegan for $34,856 for the first phase of the exterior walls of the nave, but construction was put on hold due to the war. A contract was eventually signed in 1920 for work to start in 1921.
A 1902 Annual Report of the State Treasurer for the period October 1, 1901–September 30, 1902 noted that the company paid a total of $45.37 in state taxes and license fees. An earlier report for the period 1897-1898 noted $34.50 in taxes but no license fee.
In addition to the early contracts for the Cathedral, during this initial phase of the quarry’s history, the quarry supplied granite for other prominent buildings in New York City, including the Postal Telegraph Building in New York City, (below left) built between 1892-94 and the Charles M. Schwab House (below right) on Riverside Drive, a 75 room mansion that, when constructed, was considered the grandest and most ambitious house ever built in Manhattan. The house has since been demolished.
Other contracts included a New York City residence for a Charles W. Bowen (the exact location not known), the Cross Building on Fifth Avenue in Manhattan and the Presbyterian Church (below left) in Poughkeepsie, NY. 3 The quarry also provided granite for the pedestal for the bronze Joan d’Arc statue (below right) in New York City’s Riverside Park at West 93rd Street and Riverside Drive.4
But operations at the quarry were sporadic. A July, 1898 newspaper article reported that since the quarry’s shutdown, several former employees were now working elsewhere. A December, 1899 article noted that work at the quarry had been suspended because Cathedral of Saint John the Divine funds were low. Subsequent articles were optimistic about new contracts but activity was again reported “slow” in 1905.
In 1912, a report on the activities of the Peekskill Board of Trade stated, without providing any specifics: “The Mohegan Granite Company was getting ready for big business and several large contracts were in sight.”
And in 1913, the newspaper reported that the Mohegan Granite Company hoped to be very busy in the spring with the prospect of work to keep a large force employed based on outstanding bids for the new railroad station in Peekskill, a railroad station at Utica, a state building in Middletown and two chapels at the Cathedral of Saint John the Divine.
In 1913, when the Village of Peekskill was selecting materials for a new police headquarters, one trustee believed that granite from the nearby Millstone Quarry in Cortlandt would be better and cheaper but another trustee, citing the Mohegan Quarry’s contracts for the Cathedral and the Schwab mansion, referred to the warmth and beauty of Mohegan granite and said its granite was the best granite within 1,000 miles of Peekskill. The trustees left the selection decision to the architects.
The quarry’s workers came from Europe, including Italy and Scotland, and were either housed in barracks at the site or they boarded in the area. According to the son of a former quarry worker, the union that represented some of the workers, the United Operative Masons’ and Graniteworkers’ Union, brought the workers over from Scotland and assigned them at various jobs throughout the country.
- The Rudiger brothers also had an interest in the Millstone Quarry in the Town of Cortlandt on the south side of Route 202 that supplied granite for the construction of the New Croton Dam. At some point in time, the Rudiger brothers sold any interest they had in the company and H.L.Dudley became its president, serving in that capacity until the company was purchased by Grenci & Ellis. In 1912, it was reported that Dudley had an interest in the Yonkers based Cathedral Granite Company. Nothing is known about that company.
- The possibility of building a rail line from the quarry to Peekskill was a recurring theme in early newspaper reports.
- The New York State Museum’s 69the Annual Report (1915) states that Mohegan granite was used in “several of the houses in the Bronx Geological Gardens” (aka the New York Botanical Gardens) but no mention of Mohegan granite was found in the Garden’s archives.
- A 1961 interview quoted a former quarry employee who said that when the statue arrived from France it was missing several pieces and that the Mohegan granite “matched it pretty closely.”