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H.E. Fletcher Granite Company LLC, Since 1881, Tradition Etched in Stone

Mon May 24, 2010 - Northeast Edition
Jay Adams

The very earth, what it is and what it holds, has been the literal bedrock of a reputable, solid company since 1881.

One of the oldest quarries and fabricators in the country, H.E. Fletcher Granite Co. LLC of Westford, has been mining the stone fruits of Massachusetts for nearly 130 years and counting, an impressive milestone for any industry in any nation of the industrial world.

In 1881, 18-year-old Herbert Ellery Fletcher, son of a prominent family in the Chelmsford area, founded his quarry by extracting granite and other stone on the family’s land in Westford, Mass., which was known as West Chelmsford at the time. Robert Fletcher, an ancestor of the family, was one of the first settlers and founders of the Town of Chelmsford in the mid-1600s.

What started as a mere hole in the ground has been in continuous operation since.

The company, located at 534 Groton Road, was incorporated in Massachusetts in 1924.

Steeped in Stone and History

According to company archives and historical records, Fletcher also operated a construction business until 1915 and invested in other granite companies and a slate company. He was very active in town government and served as a state representative in the late 1800s and a state senator from 1901 to 1903.

When his two sons, Harold and Ralph, returned from World War I, he turned the operations of the company over to them. Fletcher lived to see a third generation of Fletchers running the company before his death in 1956.

Stone from the quarry was used to build his magnificent home, which was finished in 1912 and also his mausoleum.

The Fletcher home, called Greyledge, still stands near the quarry and is now used as office and drafting space.

A Desirable Commodity

According to Fletcher CEO and Chairman Victor Castellani, granite has been a desirable commodity since the town was settled. Starting in the 17th century, area granite was hewn from giant boulders and used for hearthstones, thresholds, steps and, most notably, miles of stone walls still found surrounding fields that once belonged to farmsteads.

Water power was harnessed to run the grist and saw mills in the late 17th century, when granite was in great demand to build the dams that held the water to make grinding wheels that processed grain. By the 1880s, when Fletcher Granite was founded, the granite business was well established in the Chelmsford area.

Although most quarries shut down during both World Wars, Fletcher stayed open, providing ballast for ships, in addition to its usual product output.

The main quarry is, and always has been, based in Westford, as is the company’s headquarters. Fletcher Granite also has quarries located in Maine and New Hampshire.

Eleven Kinds of Stone

Fletcher Granite is a full- service quarrier and fabricator. Today, the company extracts 11 types of stone from 10 separate quarries. It also has a large fabrication plant that ships finished stone products throughout the United States and the world.

Fletcher has pioneered many firsts, including the first quarry wire saw and circle guillotine for producing radius curbing. Other innovations include the development of various saws and splitters to produce curb and inlets, and the development of a high pressure, environmentally safe water jet for quarry block extraction. In 2004, a multi-diamond wire quarry was developed for the production of curbing slab.

“Fletcher Granite has developed unique technology for the production of granite curbing slab feedstock and quarry blocks directly in the quarry using an in-quarry multi-diamond wire saw with six wires designed, developed and fabricated in-house. This apparatus replaces a 10 wire multi-wire apparatus using twisted wire and silicon carbide which the company had developed and used for more than 50 years,” said Castellani.

Using the multi-diamond wire saw technology large primary blocks of granite, typically 80 ft. (24.3 m) high, and more than 120 ft. (36.5 m) wide are developed in the quarry by cutting and quarrying out large channels, 12 to 16 ft. (3.6 to 4.8 m) wide on either side of the primary block. Pull through diamond wire saws are used to saw both sides of the channel.

Two holes are drilled vertically, 12 to 16 ft. apart, 60 to 80 ft. (18 to 24 m) back from the face of the granite block and intercepting holes are drilled horizontally at the bottom of the 80-ft.-high block. Diamond wires are then fished through the holes and are run by pullback single wire diamond saws cutting both sides of the channel. A third cut is made diagonally across the channel to facilitate quarrying out the material which is done primarily using drilling and splitting in a traditional manner.

“Once the 12-to-16-foot wide channels are quarried out on both sides of the large primary block, the multi-diamond wire saw apparatus with six wires is erected in the channels on either side of the primary block,” added Castellani.

This apparatus then makes six wire cuts 12 to 20 in. (30 to 50 cm) apart and occasionally — depending upon need for quarry blocks — up to 6 ft. (1,8 m) apart, through the entire 80-ft. high, 120-ft. wide primary block.

“This usually tales ten to twelve twenty-four hour days,” Castellani explained.

After the first six wire cut, the multi-diamond wire saw apparatus is moved over to make the next series of cuts in the primary while the extraction crew splits the sawn material into 10-ft. (3 m) wide, up to 12-ft. (3.6 m) long slabs. Holes are drilled in the top of the slabs and lifting pins are inserted so that cranes can lift the slabs out.

The slabs and blocks are loaded onto flat bed rails cars for the half-mile trip to Fletcher Granite’s mill for processing into curb and dimensional stone components for building, parks, bridges and other projects. Granite quarry blocks also are sold and shipped to other fabricators both the northeast and around the world.

All Year Round

The quarry can operate year round, and since the company fabricates so many products, even cobblestones, there is very little waste. Blocks are processed in several ways; beyond the wired process described above, blocks also can be cut on large disc saws from Park Industries, which feature blades as large as 3.2 yds. (3 m).

For polishing, the company uses a Thibaut T502 automatic bed polisher from France, which is capable of polishing several large flat stone slabs at once.

Fletcher Granite has been used for many projects locally as well as globally. Chelmsford Granite, purportedly from a site close to where the present day Fletcher quarry is situated, also was used to build the historic Quincy Market in downtown Boston.

The columns for Quincy Market were hauled to a landing in Chelmsford by 22 yokes of oxen, loaded onto a barge and sent into Boston. In the early 1880s, Charles Bulfinch, a noted architect of that time, chose Chelmsford Grey granite to build University Hall at Harvard University.

Tremendous Project History

Other notable Fletcher projects include the Thurgood Marshall Federal Judiciary Building in Washington, D.C.; Nashua Street Park in Boston, Mass.; East and West Wings of the Smithsonian Institute’s Museum of Natural History in Washington, D.C.; the United States Military Academy’s Eisenhower Hall, Jewish Chapel, MacArthur Hall, and Washington Hall at West Point, N.Y.; the Robert F. Kennedy Memorial at Arlington National Cemetery; and the Museum of Modern Art in Luxembourg, among many others.

Fletcher Granite has been used in a multitude of bridge projects as well including the Theodore Roosevelt Bridge in Arlington, Va.; the Newport Bridge in Newport, R.I.; the Saugatuck River Bridge in Westport, Conn.; and the Second Woodrow Wilson Bridge in Alexandria, Va.

For architectural works, each piece is drawn and detailed by the company’s highly-specialized drafting department, right down to the “anchoring.”

But not everything continues to be etched in stone. The ownership of the company passed out of the Fletcher family in 1985, after 104 years of continuous operations with a Fletcher at the helm. The quarry was owned and operated by Pioneer International headquartered in Sydney, Australia through 1999, when a group of four investors purchased the company and still own it today.

Castellani said, “Our company motto is, ’Quality Through Tradition.’ Our employees possess an expertise in ’Old World’ craftsmanship combined with Fletcher Granite’s state of the art equipment; this knowledge allows them to fabricate a unique line of custom products. Our reputation as a leader in the granite industry is well established due to our superior work and customer satisfaction.

“We offer unmatched diversity — color and finish options including historical finishes, and innovative or traditional fabrication utilizing a broad range of shapes and sizes,” added Castellani.

Fletcher Granite employs up to 65 workers when things are rocking in the plant, during a good economy. Most of these workers have 25 to 30 years in service experience, usually all with Fletcher.

“Our granite is specified in many restoration projects as well as sought by architects and builders for new ventures, such as curbing, dimensional stone, bridge and roadway, or landscape architecture projects,” Castellani said.

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