Stone Facts and Stories

Stone Facts and Stories

What is the difference between a ‘Rock’, a ‘Stone’, and ‘Granite’ anyway?

Saying bedrock, rock, stone or granite is like referring to the same Ornithological acquaintance in conversation as
a bird,  a songbird or, more particularly, a Sparrow.


Westerly Rhode Island Quarry, Comolli Bros.

  • Bedrock and Rock are terms used to refer to large deposits of naturally occurring stone materials.
    The character of the rock varies from place to place, so the bedrock you are referring to in a place will be of a certain kind. Granite is one of the many possible kinds.

  • Rock is also a general term, used to refer to pieces of the bedrock, whatever their size. The photo above shows the natural granite bedrock on the right, and the worked pieces of granite from the quarry on the left, shoring things up. The picture was taken by permission of  Comolli Granite Company, stone masters in Ashaway, Rhode Island, the home of beautiful Westerly pink and blue granite.

  • Stone usually refers to a worked or smaller piece of rock, whether granite or any other kind.
    Stone is also sometimes used as a generic term, like ‘rock’ or ‘bedrock’.
  • Rock and Stone can thus refer to the same item.
    Most four letter words like rock are Anglo words, and were considered vulgar by the ruling Saxons who would have used the word stone instead.

    For the same reason, many four letter words in the English language have a word with more than four letters which is considered more polite, to express the same notion. They mean the same thing, just the longer word was considered a nicer way to say it.

    A more dignified word was especially appropriate because, even up to the 20th century in Scotland, Argyll people  thought of “going to the stones” as currently they think of “going to church”. The Gaelic phrase asking if you were going to church translates literally as “are you going to the stones ?”  (From John McPhee / The Crofter and the Laird, and other writings.)


    Babson Rocks

    This carved message with raised lettering was inscribed into a huge stone in Dogtown, in Gloucester, Massachusetts. This motto and many others were commissioned from local stone cutters in the 1930s by  Roger Babson, the owner of the Babson granite quarry, who donated more than a thousand acres of the Dogtown land on which the stones reside to the town of Gloucester around that time.

    The ‘Babson Boulders’ are inscribed with various messages he thought it was important to leave for us. There was little work for the quarry men in those depression times, and so his wishes were welcomed, and his words carved beautifully.

    The 24 mottos that are carved into some of  Dogtown’s larger stones are:
    Be clean
    Be on time
    Be true
    Courage
    Get a job
    Help Mother
    Ideals
    Ideas
    If work stops values decay
    Industry
    Initiative
    Integrity
    Intelligence
    Keep out of debt
    Kindness
    Loyalty
    Never try never win
    Prosperity follows service
    Save
    Spiritual Power
    Study
    Truth
    Use your head
    Work
    Babson Boulders, Dogtown Ma

    Granite is a kind of rock.
    The word granite comes from granum, the Latin word for a grain, in reference to the grained and crystalline structure of this type of rock.
    The composition and thus the appearance of granite varies from place to place, and so from one quarry site to another. The mineral elements and geological history in a particular location make the pieces from there tend to typical colors and a usual courseness or fineness in the enclosed grains.
    For example, the bedrock in Barre, Vermont gives us a uniform, fine grained white granite, while Rockport, Massachusetts rock inclines to a coarser grained beige and grey mixture which includes clusters of beautiful black biotite. Other quarries might have more pink or more green in their stones.
    A local stone master can often say where a piece of granite comes from based on its individual appearance..

  • Local Materials...
    If you are working on your landscape and want your framing to feel a part of nature, look around to see how the local stone has been used in other landscapes. You may want to try to get ‘related rocks’ for continuity of appearance, which will help to give your place the esthetic of belonging there.
    In the case of granites, you may prefer to choose a particular kind to use throughout your landscape, so consider the choices carefully in the beginning as they will affect the whole picture.
    If you begin with bright or steely grey pieces from Chinese quarries, you may find the stone does not have the local feeling that you were after, though it is a ‘granite’. Look around at your local sources for old or new pieces and try to get a kind that you can realistically acquire more of, over time, for your future projects.

    beach cobble…..
  • Cobblestone..
    The oldest paving cobbles were natural, rounded stones, 2.5-10″ or so, difficult to run wheels over, but available galore from the beaches, and so pressed into use.
    Subsequently, in our area and all along the Eastern coastline, handworked granite cobbles, with flat surfaces were cut from our New England quarries and brought in to pave the streets.
    Over time, the term ‘cobblestone’ in New England has come to refer to flat surfaced square or  rectangular pieces of granite which have been trimmed into sizes useful for paving. These days, some of those old street cobblestones may be purchased used. They may be shiny and a bit rounded on one side from the wear of use over time by creatures, carts and cars, but that is just the patina. They started off pretty flat from the quarry.

    granite line-1

    Simple granite rectangles were cut to be incorporated into buildings of all kinds. The same kind of quarried granite, cut to other sizes, came to be widely used through the 1800s and early 1900s as building stone and as the material of choice for shoring up the shorelines. At one time there were 32 different measurements just of paving blocks, and each town and city commissioned particular sizes for their streets, from their choice of quarries. For the Boston streets alone, 5,500,000 paving stones were  commissioned just in 1874. For these reasons there is variety in the shapes, colors and kinds of recycled stones we can find for our uses.
    Now that asphalt and concrete have become the building materials of choice for paving, a large percentage of these cobblestones have been or are being removed from the roadways, and many useful and beautiful things can  be made with these repurposed, hand cut pieces of stone.…..

  • Reusing Cobblestone and Other Granites
    For paving purposes, originally the individual cobbles were most often set vertically into the ground to strengthen the paving for heavy use, and  their largest ‘faces’ were hidden.  When I reuse these in lighter use residential applications, I like to let their biggest faces show. In this way, I have various shapes that lend themselves to composition. Being handcut, each one has a slightly distinctive self.
    Considered as design elements, cobbles and other granite pieces can be blended into a composition by patterning the sequence and configuration of their shapes. Whether as an outline for a garden or used in a path or driveway edge, this sort of treatment may make your place more interesting than having all the same size ones set up in a soldierly rows or lined up for a patio floor.
    Shown below on a path, as an example, one edge of the outline has a careful line or curve, and the other is allowed to vary in a thoughtful sequence using the related shapes of the stones themselves.
    In the example below, building roughly a mirror image of the shape sequence on either side of the path gives balance and continuity to the overall effect.
    ……Cobbles entering the garden
  • Fieldstone refers to the ‘country stone’, whichever kind comes out of the local ‘ fields’ of a place.
    Such stones often have rounded corners from rolling around in the earth and being affected by water over a long span of geological time. Depending on where you live, your fieldstones will have a different character, based on the bedrock they came from. Their color and texture will vary according to their elemental makeup. In one geological area they may tend to be more flat, in another, more rounded. If you look at the local stone walls, you will get an idea of what came up from the earth nearby.
    If they have been out of the ground for a while they will have beautiful colors from the effects of weather, moss, lichens and such. The classic fieldstone one prefers is that material which the farmers brought out of the land a hundred years ago and more, and so the stones have had ample time to green up.
    If the stones have been locked in the earth until you dig them up, they will typically have less color than if they have been on the surface for a while. Such stones with a rounded fieldstone character but not much color are referred to as pit rocks. You can use these, but they may look like unbaked dough for a few years. The process of coloring up begins once they are in touch with the growing surface of the earth, and happens faster in a shady, moistish place. Feel free to rub mud on them or add a moss and buttermilk concoction once in a while to encourage biological beginnings on the stone’s surfaces.
  • Blasted stone
    This stone has been created from local bedrock too, but broken into workable sizes unnaturally in the blasting process, often spitting rock apart where there is no natural seam.
    It will tend to have sharp edges, and so this is not my first choice for individual stone placements in gardens, where I avoid sharpness. In the hands of a mason who can choose out the stones with the best faces and make small seams it can be made into beautiful stone walls.
    ……Stone Wall, Local blasted stone

I will have much more to tell you about “the long stories of stone”. Meantime, see if you can find some treasure granites for your place. I am sure you will be happy for their company.

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