1920-1941: The Most Productive Years

Sometime between roughly 1919 and 1920, the company was acquired by Bruno M. Grenci and Thomas H. Ellis, the long-time superintendent at the quarry under its previous owner. In a February, 1919 letter to the Cathedral of Saint John the Divine’s Building Committee on Mohegan Granite Company letterhead, Ellis wrote that the Mohegan Granite Company “after an experience with the adverse conditions attendant upon operations in their line for the past few years, has decided to relinquish the interest it acquired in the quarry property.” Ellis went on to assure the members of the Building Committee that because of his long standing involvement with the quarry, the quarry would be able to continue providing materials for the Cathedral.  The company was incorporated as Grenci & Ellis, Inc.

Source: Frank Goderre

Bruno Grenci immigrated to the United States in 1898 at the age of 15. In Italy, his family worked with stone.  Once in America, Grenci worked in quarries in Maine, Vermont, Pennsylvania and New York and in 1900 he went to work in the Mohegan Quarry.  In 1904, he started his own business and in 1917, in partnership with Thomas Ellis he “became associated” in the operation of the Mohegan Quarry; his name is mentioned in a June 22, 1917 letter from the company but his position was not identified.

In a March, 1920 letter on Mohegan Granite Company stationary, Ellis advised the Cathedral that “…Grenci and I have arranged to take over, and operate, the Mohegan quarries” and by August, 1920, Ellis was communicating with the Cathedral on Grenci & Ellis letterhead. 1  

In 1920, Grenci & Ellis was awarded a $150,620 contract to supply granite for a portion of the Cathedral’s nave. In a letter from one of the Cathedral’s trustees charged with comparing granite from competing quarries to the full Board of Trustees recommending that the bid be awarded to Mohegan, the trustee cited the fact that Mohegan’s price was $110,000 less than the Maine bid and the Cathedral’s satisfaction with the quality Mohegan granite used in earlier jobs.

But the trustees also cited a secondary reason for awarding the bid to Mohegan:

“It seems probable from such information as this Committee has been able to learn that without this contract the Mohegan Quarries may be obliged to close for lack of orders, while the execution of the contract, on the other hand, would greatly strengthen their business condition so as to be available to supply granite in the future as may be needed by the construction of the Cathedral.  While your Committee does not regard this consideration as controlling, it may perhaps be regarded as a feature of the situation.” 2

The new company’s major breakthrough came in 1925 when it was awarded a series of contracts for the Cathedral’s nave totaling $5 million. With contracts for $5 million in hand, the new company undertook  a modernization and expansion that enabled it to supply Mohegan granite for the Cathedral and finish granite from other quarries for other jobs.  Employment also increased significantly.  According to newspaper reports, prior to the 1925 contract, the quarry employed 50-60 men. With the contract, the number was expected to grow to 150-200 and it was anticipated that the quarry would have work for the next 10-12 years.

By the mid-1920s, it was reported that the company was doing $2 million worth of business a year and, depending on the size and number of contracts, the quarry employed 200 men with a weekly payroll of $15,000.

The amount of work at the quarry varied from year to year with newspaper reports of the number of employees ranging from less than 100 to possibly 300, depending on the number and size of the contracts as well as the type of work the contracts called for.  In a 1928 article in The Quarry Workers Journal that was reprinted in a local newspaper, the union’s corresponding and financial secretary wrote, “At present over 135 men are employed by our company, with more than 20 of us actually engaged in the quarrying of granite, and the general atmosphere is one of contentment and healthy interest in the work.”

In 1928, the company was awarded a $1 million contract for the State Office Building in New York City (below)  between Worth and Leonard Streets in New York City; Mohegan granite was used for the first story but Maine granite, finished at the Mohegan quarry where the cutting could be done quicker and cheaper, was used for other parts of the building. To fulfill the contract, Grenci & Ellis constructed a new cutting shed at the quarry, put on an extra eight hour shift and erected flood lights so work could be done at night. According to a newspaper account, quicker delivery and at a lower cost were deciding factors in Grenci & Ellis being awarded the contract.

Source: Yorktown Museum

In 1928, a New York State report on Mining and Quarrying in New York for 1925-26 noted that of the 15 granite producers in 1926 the Mohegan quarry was one of the quarries that accounted for the significant increase in the use of granite.

While the quarry’s business was primarily providing granite for buildings, the company also employed skilled carvers whose work can be seen today in New York City at 20 Exchange Place, originally the City Bank-Farmers Trust Building (below left) and the eagles on the Arlington Bridge in Washington, D.C. and countless memorials across the country.

Source: Yorktown Museum
Source: Yorktown Museum

Then came the Depression. While the quarry remained open during the Depression, the changing business climate led to changes in how the quarry operated as well as its profitability.

The most significant operational change occurred in 1930 when the company purchased the Mount Waldo quarry in Frankfort, Maine which had been idle for some time; the acquisition enabled the company to offer a wider variety of granite which in turn enabled it to expand its market and secure additional contracts, like the 1928 contract for the State Office Building. A newspaper report called the acquisition, “eminently practical from every standpoint” as it would not diminish but rather supplement the activity at the quarry. The article went on to note that for certain jobs, the “golden Mohegan granite” was more desirable because of its softer tone.

Another contract that combined Maine granite and finishing at Mohegan involved the approaches to the George Washington Bridge. (below) While the 1970 William Ellis history of the quarry that formed the basis for subsequent articles about the quarry didn’t make a distinction between Mohegan and Maine granite, a 1930 newspaper article states that the granite for the bridge contract will come from Maine and be finished at Mohegan.4

Source: Maine Granite Industry Historical Society and Museum

The company also brought in granite from as far away as Texas and the Midwest whenever building specifications called for colors other than the golden Mohegan granite. The quarried granite arrived by barge at the Verplanck dock and was transported to the Mohegan quarry where it was cut and finished.

In an indication of the effect the Depression was having on the business, a 1930 newspaper article noted that the quarry was operating with “only half as many men as last year”

And in 1932, the company was challenging the Internal Revenue Service over a $319 tax bill in a dispute over the valuation of land purchased in 1912 and reported on the company’s 1925 tax return.  According to the company’s petition to the United States Board of Tax Appeals, the value of the land at the time of the purchase was $70,000, $15,000 paid in cash and the remaining $55,000 as a mortgage; the government set the value at $20,000.

In addition to some continuing work on the Cathedral — when the Cathedral had the funds — the quarry had contracts for the addition of a new wing on the Senate Office Building in Washington, DC and  a $75,000 contract to carve the eagles on the Arlington Bridge over the Potomac River in Washington, DC.

lex ave_1930

The 1930 Westchester County Atlas shows three separate parcels of Lexington Avenue owned by Grenci & Ellis, one of which says 251 acres. The map also marks the location of the Mohegan quarries and includes a dotted line which likely is the incline leading from the quarry down the hill to the finishing sheds just north of Route 202. The 1930 Westchester County Atlas ….down the hill to the finishing sheds just north of Route 202. The lower left hand corner of the map also identifies the location of Billy Sam’s Saloon (Sabato property), a popular after hours watering hole for quarry workers.      

By 1936, however, the newspaper reported that the quarry would reopen if the company got a new contract from the Cathedral — and if it did — the granite would come from Maine. But a follow up article in January, 1938 reported that before the quarry could expect any orders, the Cathedral had to raise $1 million.   

As work slowed and then ceased entirely, the union that represented quarry workers assigned their members to other locations; the young son of a quarry worker remembers his father working at other locations. In his late 80s in 2020, the son remembers that at one point, when Grenci & Ellis needed money to cover its payroll, his grandmother bought eight acres of land on Lexington Avenue from the company.

Two of the quarry’s last known contracts were a 1939 contract for $650,000 for the New England Mutual Life Insurance Building (white building on left) in Boston and a 1941 contract for $85,000, that required only 50 men, for an extension of Bancroft Hall at the US Naval Academy in Annapolis, MD. The latter was the last known contract and the last known work done at the Mohegan Quarry.

47_New_England_Mutual_Life_Insurance_Building_and_Trinity_Church_Boston,_Mass_87228

FOOTNOTES

  1. Earlier histories of the quarry incorrectly date the Grenci & Ellis acquisition as 1925, the year the company was awarded a $5 million contract for the Cathedral.
  2. See the Cathedral of Saint John the Divine for discussion regarding the ongoing competition between the Mohegan and Maine quarries for Cathedral contracts.
  3. The Ellis essay also notes that granite from the Mohegan quarry was used for the approaches to the Bronx Whitestone Bridge. However, the only documents found in the archives of the New York Bridge Authority state that the contractor was exploring granite samples including some from the Millstone quarry which is situated to the south of the Mohegan quarry in the Town of Cortlandt. The archives did not have any documents relating to what granite the contractors ultimately selected.

Read about the third phase of the Quarry’s history 1942–1999  The Abandoned Years