Becket quarry — Ghosts in the machines

Berkshire naturalist Thom smith takes a walk into the industrial past of a Becket quarry. The Chester-Hudson Quarry operated for close to 100 years. It is a skeleton of its past now. When it closed in the 1960s, buildings, machinery and vehicles were abandoned as if the workers finished their shift and left for the night. Trucks and much of the machinery remain, heavy with age and rust, turning the trails into an outdoor museum.

The site is open to curious visitors, free, dawn to dusk throughout the year. When I walk through the property and adjacent forest trails on summer mornings, I keep getting interrupted and stopping to take photographs of the old vehicles, all sufficiently intact to recognize and, in cases, read logos, such as on the green doors of the General Asphalt Paving truck.

A self-guiding tour of the quarry begins at the parking lot. While some markers have been vandalized, others remain and a descriptive brochure describes machinery, tools, trucks and buildings. Look for the old rail bed with rails still visible in places. Imagine the tons of stone hauled down the hill by rail to the town of Chester for shaping, polishing and transport across the Northeast.  Be sure to take a trail map to see the quarry from different vantage points and explore the forest with its miles of hiking and cross-country ski trails. Many are loop trails, so that it is easy to design a hike.

From post # 1 at the Sullivan Drill — used for drilling holes in solid rock for explosives — a near-steady uphill amble brings me to the action. The first impressive signs of former activity show up near post # 2 as we approach a large grout pile, pieces of granite that are by-products of the quarrying process.

I begin looking more closely at post #5, for two trucks, guy cables and a derrick. A larger building, the former electrical generator shed, is visible among the trees.

I am careful not to get to close to the edge (or rim) when I reach the open maw of the water-filled quarry.  At final post #14, the heart of the operation, stands the large Guy Derrick that was used to remove blocks of granite to the quarry rim along with “grout.”  It is an impressive site and recently reconstructed.

Leading to the rim are well-crafted block steps leading to the large compressor used to run tools. I was fascinated to find a valve still in working condition after these many years subjected to the elements. Imagine all it controlled here once, decades ago.

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The Becket Land Trust owns and operates the Historic Quarry and Forest, along with an office and gallery, the Mullen House Educational Center, at 12 Brooker Hill Road (at corner of Route 8) where the land trust displays selections from the its permanent collection.

Directions: Take Route 20 to Becket. At the intersection of Route 20 and Route 8 North and Bonny Rigg Hill Road, turn south onto Bonny Hill Road. At the four-point intersection, turn left onto Quarry Road, and continue until you come to the quarry signs and parking lot on the right.

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