PETER BURNS AND THE MILFORD GRANITE INDUSTRY
After Millford's incorporation in 1794 it had been known that there were vast ledges or quarries of siliceous rock such as granite within the town. The exact date is not known of when granite was first quarried in Millford but it was sometime around 1810 to as late as 1833 when the first set of steps 16 feet x 5 feet x 7 inches was hauled by ox cart some fifteen miles to Nashua and according to the Granite Town History was probably intended for use at a church.
Captain Peter Burns had opened the quarry on his farm and is known as the father of the granite industry. The quarry was opened in the southwestern portion of Milford on Burns land which was where John Burns had originally settled and which had been handed down from generation to generation. (This today would be in the area of Burns Rock off Armory Road). "It is a rugged rise of land and forms a part of a chain of hills that reaches back in a southerly direction" states the Ramsdell Town History.
Captain Peter Burns was born in Milford April 25, 1789 son of John Burns III and Grisey Patterson who was born in Londonderry June 16, 1761. They lived on the family farm. He was considered and industrious and hard workingman engaged in farming and later in his life in the granite industry. Peter was a captain in the state Militia and commanded a company of light artillery after he was drafted into the War of 1812, serving either for a 60 day or 90 day service. He was stationed in Portsmouth where the soldiers were discharged before the expiration of their term of enlistment. He married Sally Dunklee November 27, 1810 and they raised seven children. Sally lived on what was then known as Dunklee Hill, now known as Federal Hill. In 1831 Peter was one of the original members of the Milford Lyceum, which was one of the most important organizations in town. Peter was part of the anti-slavery movement in Milford in 1843. Peter Burns died October 18, 1865 at the age of 76. He had been a fourth generation resident of Milford from the original settler, John Burns, who had been born in Ireland and settled in Milford in 1746.
Peter furnished granite to builders in considerable quantity and with the public opening of the Wilton Railroad on December 25, 1850 made it possible to ship stone to out-of-town customers at a profit and from that date the quarrying of granite became a leading industry in the town of Milford. The opening of the Fitchburg Rail line in 1894 brought the Burns quarry to even closer proximity to markets throughout the country. It also added to the value of the Burns quarry as it was estimated that nearly 1,000 tons of granite per month came out of this quarry. The granite was reported to lay near the surface in large, even sheets which split with uncommon evenness. It was described in the Ramsdell 1901 Town History as "a quartz monzonite of varying shades from light to dark grey, of slightly bluish, pinkish or buff shade, spangled finely with even and regular grains of felspar and mica, and because of its uniformity, is capable of a high polish, and moreover lends readily to the sculptor's art for statuary, its composition retaining all the beauty of the carver's detail." All of the carving of statues was done right here in Milford. Most of the quarries had their own stone cutting sheds located along the Boston and Maine Railroad from South Street to Nashua Street in East Milford and west along Elm Street. The quarry owners also employed their own stone carvers - among them were Thomas King, Emilio Portaluppi, John and Anthony Conti, P. C. and Charles Felli, Frank Comolli, Gaetano Mai, Caesar Poletti, Marco Poletti, Feruscio and Martin Comolli and Ernest Marzoli. Many even carved their own cemetery statues. These were all men of enormous talent and except for Thomas King, learned their skills and trade in northern Italy before coming to the United States. Most of their work was commissioned and done here in Milford and shipped out across the country.
Peter Burns was a pioneer in the granite business and was succeeded by his sons John M and Luther M. Burns after his death in 1865. According to the Granite Town history, Luther became sole owner and in 1891, sold the quarry to Charles W. Stevens and Edward G. Kittredge. Later in its history in 1954 it became known as the Barrretto Corporation.
The granite business reached its peak between 1890 and 1930. Along with the Burns/ Kittredge/Barretto quarry, fourteen other quarries had also opened, some of which included Lovejoy, Tonella Queen, Tonella King, Comolli, Pease, New Westerly, Young's, Poletti & Falcetti, Fontana & Felli, Rossi Bros. Bianchi and Milford Granite. The majority of these quarries were located in the southeast section of Milford. This eventually led Milford to become known as "The Granite Town" in the Granite State. Even today Milford granite can be found all over the country, the best being used in statues and monuments, especially in cemeteries and parks such as the Vicksburg battlefield, and the poorest grade used as curbing. When large pieces of granite were used for finer pieces there was always a large amount of coarse granite that accumulated. This also was used for paving and curbstones. The 30 columns at the Treasury Building in Washington, DC came from the Lovejoy Quarry in 1908. The cupids on the staircase at the Congressional Library also in Washington, DC are Milford granite. A 22-stone war memorial in Wisconsin came from the New Westerly Quarry.
Right here in Milford, Riverside and West Street Cemeteries have some of the most beautiful examples of the statues carved here. When granite curbing was first installed around the Oval in 1905, Milford granite was used. Two buildings on Nashua Street are made from Milford granite - the Stone House built in 1818 and the Tonella building built in 1913 at County Stores. Two local churches also were built using Milford granite - The Church of Our Saviour (Episcopal) was built in 1901 from granite quarried from Young & Sons and the 1870 Unitarian Society building on Elm Street also used Milford granite. This stonework above the foundation was laid in ashlar work which is a thin square and dressed stone used for wall facing. The WWI memorial on the south side of the Oval was quarried from the New Westerly Quarry in 1927. Also, the WWII memorial just to the west of the Oval is Milford Granite. Hampshire Hills on Emerson Road also is of granite from the Barretto quarry.
By the 1920's cement was being used more and more in buildings and asphalt was replacing paving blocks, along with macadamized roads. As the Granite Town History states "The depression of the 1930's was the final blow to the granite industry."Milford had only one operating quarry left even as late as 2007 and this was the quarry Peter Burns had started in the early half of the 1800's.