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Searching for the Old Soapstone Quarry in Groton MA

Last Updated: 17th May 2019

By Jonelle DeFelice

On May 15, 2019, I decided to try and find the old soapstone quarry in Groton MA.

I knew I would have to park by the Nashua River Rail Trail, walk along the old right-of-way, then get off the trail and into the woods. What I didn't know was the quarry's exact location. I knew roughly where it was and used Google Maps, which I am not fond of, to make sure I was walking in the right direction.

I ended up walking in the wrong direction. Uphill.

Eventually I got my bearings and after avoiding piles of horse poo (??) came across the quarry site. It didn't look at all like I expected. My limited knowledge of soapstone was that it is related to talc (or visa versa?). So I expected a lot of soft, green minerals scattered all over the forest floor. Instead, I found moss covered blocks of hard stone, and flooded pits with jagged walls. There were indeed some very brittle stones that crumbled with very little pressure, but they seemed "rotted" and still not very "talcy".



I decided that after all that walking and sweating, I couldn't leave without one specimen of Groton soapstone, and picked up one of the many examples that had fallen off the quarry walls. I figured that MUST have been what was mined here. I also snapped photos to add to the site's Mindat page.

One of the interesting phenomena I noticed were trees that were growing in and around all of the rocks. Tree roots can do amazing things!

Then it was time to get back to my car, which resulted in getting out of mineral-mode and into railfan-mode. I dislike rail-trails, and kept looking for any sign of the old Worcester & Nashua Railroad, later part of the Boston & Maine. All I found were some wooden ties that had never been collected after the trail was paved. Depressing.

There was, though, one boulder that was out of place, dark gray with whitish squiggles. It looked a bit like what I thought soapstone looked like, but was far from the quarry site. It looked like it had rolled down a hill at some point. The beer can next to it was not vintage...

When I finally got back to my car, I spotted a rather nice block of stone embedded in the dirt parking lot. It had a very white overall color, with areas almost lavender. Photos don't do it justice.

So that is the summary of my amateur exploration of the Groton soapstone quarry! When I got home, I did find that soapstone can have a variety of hardnesses. I also found a much easier path to get to the quarry, which would have come in VERY handy earlier...




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Comments

Thanks for the article. I have had many similar experiences looking for old, overgrown, 19th century New England mines and quarries. This one is typical - small and poorly documented - and now flooded and forgotten. Soapstone can be very difficult to find once all the rocks get covered with lichens, moss and debris and then tend to look the same. These little quarries generally had only a relatively thin layer that was profitable, resulting in a lot of waste rock - usually schist - and not very much of the prized soapstone in the dumps. They usually were hand-worked for a decade or two to supply a small local market until it got too difficult and/or costly to remove as it dipped steeply down under barren rock (or the market disappeared). As a result, the "pay" layer may not even be well exposed in the pit. Although the talc that makes up the rock is soft, the soapstone rock can be surprisingly tough to break. It tends to absorb hammer blows by deforming rather than fracturing, but the soft, slippery powder that results is a giveaway.

Harold Moritz
22nd May 2019 1:08pm

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