The Statue of Liberty famously proclaims, “Give me your tired, your poor,” and so on. Less famously, it’s builders asked quarries along the Connecticut shoreline to give them their pink granite rock — 450 tons of it — for Lady Liberty to stand on.
The pink granite, concentrated in a vein running through Branford and Guilford, has been making its way around the Northeast and points beyond since the first quarry was opened in Branford’s eastern side in 1858. The stone has been used at Columbia University, the foundation of the Brooklyn Bridge, Grand Central Station, Boston’s South Terminal Station, Philadelphia’s Reading Terminal Market and the National Air and Space Museum. Closer to home, the granite can be found in the jetties at Hammonasset Beach and the foundations for Hartford’s Bulkeley Bridge.
That storied quarrying history comes alive at the Stony Creek Quarry Preserve along the town’s border with Guilford. The 480-acre preserve also includes the Van Wie and Brooks R. Kelley preserves with trails passing by remnants of old quarry holes, huge piles of gigantic tailings and abandoned finished pieces. Visitors can even get a feel for what quarrying operations were like, as the Stony Creek Quarry Corp. still actively works in a middle portion of the preserve.
You get the sense of where you are immediately after traveling down Old Quarry Road to the trailhead; the parking area is covered with pink granite gravel and bordered by huge granite boulders. The trailhead is through an opening at the end of — you guessed it — a stone wall of giant pink granite blocks.
The preserve can be explored in two ways — a moderately difficult trip along the east side of the active quarry or a relatively easy jaunt along the western edge. The eastern portion is accessed off the parking area by following the white trail (marked with silver circles). The western portion can be accessed across the dirt access road along the trails marked with green blazes.
The eastern sector is a rugged trip around huge boulders, many with easily seen drill and chisel marks. The path passes under huge 40- to 50-foot-high ledges, some with drill holes that were once filled with black powder. The path winds to an overlook of quarrying operations.
According to a history of the quarries on the town’s website, quarrying was a difficult and dangerous enterprise. “A suitable seam had to be found and holes drilled by hand,” the history notes. “The holes were filled with black powder, sometimes as many as sixteen kegs for one hole. The black powder would open a seam with relatively little damage whereas dynamite would shatter the stone into useless fragments. … The huge blocks were hauled to cutting sheds where they were cut and polished as contracted.”
The trail continues around the western edge of the quarry where gigantic chunks of granite blocks were dumped off the side. There are waste piles of granite tailings everywhere. Massive rocks with long chisel marks can be seen everywhere. Perhaps the most impressive piece to come out of the quarry is the Battle Monument at West Point — the largest single polished granite monolith in the Western Hemisphere.
The white trail comes to an end at the trailhead of Red Hill Woods, a 29-acre preserve owned by the Branford Land Trust. Continue along the white trail to find the “Selectman’s Stones.” The rocks have various years and initials etched into them, some dating back to the late 1800s. The rocks were marked by town officials who occasionally checked and confirmed the borders of Guilford and Branford before the days of Google Maps.
Visitors can either return to the trailhead along the white trail or continue briefly on the paved Red Hill Road to connect with the red trail at Van Wie Woods, a 100-acre preserve donated to the trust by two generations of the Van Wie family. There are multiple trails in the preserve, so visitors should print out a map or keep one handy in their smartphone.
The red and yellow trails traverse the western boundary of the quarry, and visitors should stay away from the edge of the active quarry at all times. The trail wraps around to a path marked with green blazes that return visitors to the parking area. Be on the lookout for old unfinished pieces of granite scattered around the forest floor.
“It is possible today to cut as much stone in a month as the old timers cut in three years,” the town history notes. “Lest you wonder how much longer they can continue to cut granite in Stony Creek, rest assured, there is enough to last at least another 200 years.”
Stony Creek Quarry Preserve, Branford
The bottom line: The Stony Creek Quarry Preserve, along with the Van Wie and Brooks R. Kelley preserves, total more than 480 acres and offer miles of remote and rugged trails.
Difficulty level: The trails to the west of the active quarry are relatively easy. Eastern trails are moderately difficult to difficult with rugged and rocky terrain.
Total mileage: 11 miles of trails with connections to other preserves in Branford and Guilford.
Directions: Take Leetes Island Road (Route 146) from Stony Creek toward Guilford. Take a left on Quarry Road and park in the lot on the right before entering the active quarry. There is also parking along Red Hill Road, which is off Leetes Island Road just south of Interstate 95. Go to scrcog.org/regional-planning/regional-trails for a color map of all the trails in the area.
Things to do Nearby
Stony Creek Brewery: The brewery is located on the banks of the Branford River near Branford Harbor and invites customers to come have a “brew with a view.” Stony Creek makes progressive craft beers with names like Little Cranky, Ruffled Feathers, Dock Time and Big Wing Haze. 5 Indian Neck Ave., Branford, 203-433-4545, stonycreekbeer.com
Shore Line Trolley Museum: Incorporated as the Branford Electric Railway Association in 1945, the railway is the oldest continuously running suburban trolley line in the U.S. The museum is home to the last 1½ miles of track that was once part of the Connecticut Company New Haven Trolley system. 17 River St., East Haven, 203-467-6927, shorelinetrolley.org
Lenny’s Indian Head Inn: The restaurant is located in the Indian Neck section and has been a favorite seafood stop for nearly a half-century. The outdoor deck and boat bar offer views of Sybil Marsh. The restaurant opened in 1968 and offers favorites like housemade chowders, lobsters and lobster rolls, steamers and clams, and oysters on the half-shell. The menu also includes steak and ribs for those who wish to keep their palates on land. 205 S. Montowese St. (Route 146), Branford, 203-488-1500, lennysnow.com
Pet friendly? Leashed dogs are allowed and must be cleaned up after.