Columbia Granite Company


Columbia Granite Company

Columbia Granite Works offered artistically carved monuments created at its locations on Oak Street and later Old Hopkinton Road in Westerly, RI. It was founded in the early 1900s by Elia Monti, an immigrant from Italy, who became one of the leading representatives of the Westerly granite industry. Elia Monti was joined in the business by his sons, Americo and John L Monti. John L Monti would serve for many years as Councilman and Treasurer for Westerly from the late 1920s to the early 1960s. The company closed by 1958 as that is the last year it is listed in the Westerly Tax Book. Columbia Granite Company was a partnership (Twenty-First Annual Report of the Public Utilities Commission of the State of Rhode Island for the Year Ending December 31, 1921, p310).

The company was often referred to as Columbia Granite Company, a name used by several companies in other states including Connecticut, New Hampshire, and South Carolina. Their own advertisements as well as government inspection reports always said Columbia Granite Works into the early 1920s. Starting in 1924, Westerly taxes are assessed for the Columbia Granite Company until 1958. Rhode Island business directories in the 1930s and 40s listed Columbia Granite Company on Old Hopkinton Road.

Columbia Granite Company–History

Elia Monti came to the United States from Italy in 1890 and worked in Quincy MA for about 10 years (Brayley 1913). Three children were born in Massachusetts, John, Mary, and Americo E; the sons would later join him in the granite business. In 1897 Elia was naturalized. He subsequently moved to Westerly, RI in 1900 where he was listed as a stone cutter (1905 Rhode Island Census). In the 1910 US Census his occupation is “boss” working at a “stone shed” and living at 124 Tower Street surrounded by many neighbors who were also in the granite industry.
Columbia Granite Works advertised in The Reporter (Chicago, IL), a publication “devoted to granite and marble interests”, for the first time in April 1904. That ad stated that they were the successors to Jos Duca & Co. The ad further informs readers that Columbia Granite did “monumental work executed in white, pink and blue Westerly” with “carving and lettering a specialty”, used pneumatic tools, and offered reasonable prices. Jos Duca & Co had advertised in the Reporter since June 1900 offering “statuary carving busts and ideal figures” and their own quarry for the “best blue in Westerly”. Perhaps, Elia Monti worked for Jos Duca & Co before he took over the business and named it Columbia Granite Works.
Columbia Granite’s work force more than doubled between 1905 to 1910 according to Rhode Island factory inspections and then generally stayed above 10 workers until the 1930s (see graph below.). No women or boys or girls under 16 were reported to be employees. No data for the 1940s or 50s are currently available. John L Monti, the oldest son, joined the business sometime before 1913 (Brayley 1913). He would leave to serve in the ambulance corps in World War I before returning to the company around July 1919 (GMB v29 n7 p44). Americo E and the youngest son, Louis P who had been born in Westerly, also joined the business (Norwich Bulletin December 6, 1922). Richard “Dick” Comolli learned and developed his stone cutting skills during the six years he worked for the company at Old Hopkinton Road. Joseph Gervasini Sr carved statues at the Old Hopkinton Road shed, as well working for Joseph Coduri Granite Company.

Graph: Number of employees at Columbia Granite Works reported by RI annual factory inspection reports (values for 1930-7 average April and October worker numbers).

Elia Monti owed taxes on Personal Estate, reflecting his growing business activities, starting in 1906 (Westerly Tax Book, Oct 1906) even prior to acquiring Real Estate in 1908. “The Columbia Granite Co have shipped many fine monuments this spring and have others under the hammer which call for a high grade of carving. Their ad shows what they are in readiness to do in the way of monumental work.” wrote The Reporter in June 1906 (v39 n6 p13). A 1909 story in Granite, Marble & Bronze, another trade publication, stated that Elia Monti had been in business in Westerly for 10 years (GMB 1909 v19 n8 p44). It reported that he had worked in a shed across the street from the building at the southeast corner of Oak and Spruce Street that he acquired in 1908 from the Westerly Granite Works. Likely they occupied the shed across Spruce Street, which is shown doubling in size from the 1907 Sanborn Insurance Map to the 1912 map, at which time they had moved across the street to a large shed. The 1907 map shows Westerly Granite Company in the building Columbia Granite would buy (see 1907 and 1912 maps). Across Oak Street were several sheds occupied by A. Farrell & Sons, so it is also possible they could have shared that space (see 1912 Oak and Spruce map).
Once they were working from the shed at the southeast corner of Oak and Spruce Streets, Columbia Granite Works was well equipped. They had a “compressor, surface cutter, polishing wheel and traveling crane” and were soon to have a new polishing wheel if business was good, reported Granite, Marble and Bronze (1909 v19 n8 p44). In January 1910, they are reported to “have lately installed a 35 horse-power electric motor, a polishing wheel, and an additional compressor. At the present time, they are running one gang of men.” (GMB 1910 v20 n1 p36). Elia Monti’s success was indicated by his election to the Westerly Board of Trade in 1910 along with Andrew Farrell, Joseph Coduri, and others (Norwich Bulletin May 4 1910).
“The Columbia Granite Co have been favored with many orders for good work and they have made it their aim to give their customers all that their order have called for.” (The Reporter, December 1906). They stopped advertising in The Reporter in 1906 and switched their advertisements to Granite, Marble & Bronze in the 1910s and 20s. In 1910 they advertised “Artistic monuments. Let us figure your carving. We make a specialty of this class of work and guarantee the workmanship”. “We are especially equipped to manufacture carved monumental work. Our cutters are artists. Our prices warrant your submitting a design to us.” They did all kinds of cemetery work (Brayley 1913).
“Nine of the bush hammers stolen from the granite sheds of Joseph Fraser and Elia Monti have been recovered by Chief of Police Brown. Six were found by a boy named Codwin in the baseball park and three were found in the bushes in Granite street.” (Norwich Bulletin Jan 25, 1915). Tools were essential to the granite workmen, so their theft or their loss in the 1922 fire were noted in local newspapers.
John L Monti was elected to the Westerly Board of Trade in 1920 (Norwich Bulletin April 8, 1920 p7). The Board of Trade also voted at that meeting to support adoption of daylight savings time, which didn’t get adopted by the town that year or the next (Norwich Bulletin April 25, 1921 p2). In May 1922, Elia Monti along with Orlando R Smith, Joseph Coduri and Joseph Fraser visited Barre Vt for an inspection tour (Norwich Bulletin May 27, 1922). Joseph Coduri had been responsible for introducing the use of pneumatic tools in Barre thirty years before in 1892 so this aspect was highlighted in the news report. Not discussed in the news story was whether they discussed the labor unrest with their hosts in Barre, but that might have been a part of the trip as the Westerly-Bradford workers had suspended activities April 1, 1922 (Norwich Bulletin Aug 11, 1922 p2). Columbia Granite Works and Smalley Pink and Red Co. reached an agreement detailed in the Barre Daily on Aug 9, 1922. 1922 was to end with a devastating fire at the shed on Oak and Spruce Streets.
Business directories from the 1930s and 1940s list the company’s address as Old Hopkinton Rd, now the main site of the business. The assessed value for the Quarry and the buildings on Old Hopkinton Rd and Spruce Street remained fairly stable from the 1920s onward, with small increases in the 1950s. Elia, John L, and Americo are all listed as working in the quarry business in the 1930 census. But, in 1940 Elia Monti is 74 and listed as retired, while John L and Americo Monti are now listed as the proprietors of a granite company. Elia Monti died in 1943 from skin cancer and pulmonary silicosis from his many years of working in the stone trades. The Company ceased to be taxed in 1959 and the properties were sold.

The Columbia Granite Works–Facilities

Sheds & Quarry
Columbia Granite initially worked in a shed across either Oak or Spruce Streets before they acquired the building on the southeast corner of two streets. Later, they purchased the former Chapman Quarry and land on Old Hopkinton Road and built a shed there.
The building at Oak and Spruce was purchased in May 1908 from William D Kenneth (Book-Page 39-574) for $500 to be paid as “labor in cutting and working on granite, or by furnishing granite, or both”. On Dec 19, 1909, WD Kenneth acknowledged receipt of payment for the building “together with all shafting and other property therein”. The agreement stipulates, that the sale does not include the Westerly Granite Works name under which Kenneth had been working. In 1910, Gianni Giuseppina Monti, Elia Monti’s wife, bought the land under the building from Mary and Virginia Vose who had previously rented the land to William D Kenneth (Book-Page 43-93). A mortgage for $900 obtained from the Industrial Trust Company for the land and building was subsequently paid off and released. Gianni Monti transferred the land and building to Elia Monti in December of 1912. In the 1930s Elia Monti and his wife acquired several other parcels of land, some with houses on them, on Oak and Haswell Streets (Book-Page 54-505, 59-196, 59-197, 59-198). Click on maps for larger image.

The 1907 Sanborn Insurance map shows the Westerly Granite Works building at the corner of Spruce and Oak Streets that became the location of Columbia Granite Company the next year. Across Spruce St from Westerly Granite Works is an unlabeled building that is the likely location of Columbia Granite before their move in 1908.

The Columbia Granite Works building is shown on the 1912 Sanborn Map Company Insurance Map as a special insert across Oak Street from the A Farrell & Son Monumental Works [Picture from 1912 Map]. The drawing indicates there was a derrick on the north side of the building toward Oak Street and the long one-two story shed was parallel to Spruce Street. The office was on the Spruce Street side while there was a blacksmith shop and engine room on the opposite side of the shed.

The building, with some modifications, is shown again on the 1921 map with the buildings across Oak Street now occupied by William P Pellett & Son [Picture from 1921 map]. The building has been lengthened towards Oak Street and a 120-foot long traveling crane added at the opposite end of the building.

On Wednesday, December 6, 1922 the Columbia Granite cutting and polishing plant on Oak Street was largely destroyed by a fire. The Sun in Westerly published a complete description that evening of the incident including the difficulties getting word to the fire department due to the nearest alarm box being inoperable at the corner of Oak and Haswell streets (see 1922 Westerly Sun Dec 6 fire story.doc). About a dozen men were reported working when the fire was discovered shortly after noon. None were reported injured, but “the flames spread so rapidly that the men were unable to save any of their working tools.” The plant, “fitted up with the most modern machinery for cutting, carving, and polishing granite” was a complete loss estimated at $40,000 and $10,000 for the monuments that were completed or in progress. The fire damage was so severe it was reported in the Boston Evening Globe and the Barre Daily Times, as well as the local paper. Later that month (December 29, 1922), the Norwich Bulletin reported that “Elia Monti, president of the Columbia Granite Works, …is planning to rebuild his granite cutting sheds and is getting figures from the local building contractors preparatory to building.” Tax records indicate a large reduction in the assessed value of the building from $2000 to $500 from 1922 to 1923 consistent with the fire; the building valuation decreased in later years and the 1946 update of the Insurance Map from 1921 has deleted the building entirely.
At auction in December 1920, Elia Monti bought the former Chapman Quarry and a parcel of land across the street, 70 Old Hopkinton Road. A newspaper story indicated that they wanted to build a railroad spur across Old Hopkinton Road to the quarry and begin cleaning it out in the spring of 1921 (Norwich Bulletin January 19, 1921). During 1922-23, buildings were constructed on the land raising the assessed building value in 1924 to $5000, more than double the valuation for the building that had burned down on Oak Street. Additional land was purchased next to the former Chapman Quarry in 1931 so the site was about 20 acres north of Old Hopkinton Road. A request to build a railroad spur across Old Hopkinton Road was approved by Westerly Town Council on December 5, 1932 and a petition submitted to the Rhode Island Public Utilities Commission for a spur at grade was approved on December 21, 1932. A map of the proposed spur was filed with the town, “Plat of proposed single spur track runing [SIC] from the quarry of the Columbia Granite Co to the present siding of the N.Y.N.H.&H. Railroad at the shed of the Columbia Granite Co.”(see 1932 Spur map). It shows the cutting plant back from the road toward the railroad, an engine house just off Old Hopkinton Road, and the proposed spur crossing the road running to the quarry. Following the death of Elia Monti in 1943, the quarry was transferred to his heirs until it was sold to Gencarelli, Inc. in December 1957.

The Columbia Granite Works–Monuments

General descriptions of the work done by Columbia Granite Works are available from trade publications, their advertisements, and business directories, but few details are known beyond those included in Built From Stone – The Westerly Granite Story (LS Chaffee, JB Coduri, EL Madison, 2011) or on the Babcock-Smith House Museum webpages

The Monti memorial in River Bend Cemetery has a beautiful angel carved by Joseph Gervasini, Sr. at the Old Hopkinton Road shed. The original clay model for the statue was done by Mathia (Matthew) Portaluppi for The Columbia Granite Works.

Richard Comolli, a 30- year- old statue cutter, carved a 7-foot-tall statue of the Lady of Assumption at the Columbia Granite Company in Westerly. The statue,the base and the surrounding arch which is topped by a cross, are located in Holy Rood Cemetery in Westbury, Long Island, New York. It is a memorial for Nicholas Handal, a New York lawyer. John Monti, Americo Monti and Andrew Anderson cut the base, the archway, and the rough work on the statue. The fine details of the status, the features, the hair, the robe, the hands, et al were carved by Comolli who commented the that the hands were the most difficult. He went on to explain that they were the last to be carved and any mistake on them would undo hours of work.

The Providence Journal, September 15, 1957

A memorial in Bradford, RI for those men and women from Bradford who served their country in all wars was produced by the Columbia Granite Company (Built From Stone – The Westerly Granite Story, p 206). It was dedicated on May 24, 1953 with John L. Monti and Frank Sullivan among the invited guests. Sullivan Granite Company provided the blue-white granite cut by Columbia Granite Company. Americo Monti designed the memorial.

The Washington Trust Company building on Broad Street in Westerly, has a first course of red granite from the Chapman Quarry that was set by the Columbia Granite Company. The building was constructed starting in 1923 and dedicated on January 1, 1925. (Built From Stone – The Westerly Granite Story, p194).

The monument for General John Henry Patterson in the Albany Rural Cemetery was erected by the Empire Monument Co of Albany New York (Monumental News, v34 n1 p22). They had it cut by Columbia Granite Company from Westerly granite. It has “a finely executed carving of the Valor Emblem” presumably done by carvers at Columbia Granite. General Patterson (10 Feb 1843 – 5 Oct 1920) was awarded the Civil War Congressional Medal of Honor for his actions on May 5, 1954 during the Wilderness Campaign, Virginia when he served as a First Lieutenant with the 11th Infantry Regiment. His citation read “Under the heavy fire of the advancing enemy, picked up and carried several hundred yards to a place of safety a wounded officer of his regiment who was helpless and would otherwise have been burned in the forest.”. While illustrated in Monument News with only his name on the monument, it now has his wife’s name carved below his.

An elegantly carved tall tablet in Calvary Cemetery, Long Island City, NY was cut in blue-white Westerly Granite by the Columbia Granite Co. for E. H. Stone & Co of NY (Monumental News, v34 n1 p 24). It’s dimensions were given as 6 x 3 x 10.5 high and it was reported as the “Canovan” memorial.

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