THE PORTLAND BROWNSTONE QUARRIES, PORTLAND,
GUINNESS, Alison C., 418 Tater Hill Road, East Haddam,
The arkosic sandstones of the Newark Supergroup have been an
important source of building and research material since the earliest
days of European settlement. Of particular significance is the Early
Jurassic Portland formation, the youngest and uppermost of the
Hartford Basin in Connecticut. From a site on the east bank of the
Connecticut River in Portland, stone has been utilized from the mid-
1600s to the present for contruction, especially for the New York City
³brownstone,² from which the building received its name. At the
location of the quarries, this chocolate-brown sandstone of the
Portland Formation lies atypically in subhorizontal layers of varying
thickness, which not only influences ease of extraction but also the
quality of the stone.
The quarries in Portland, no doubt the type locality for the
formation, developed into a huge industry, which greatly influenced
the socio-economic development of the community, supporting local
shipbuilding, agriculture, and mercantile enterprises. Newly arriving
immigrants, particularly the Irish, were hired right off the ships in
New York City to work in the quarries. These quarries also
influenced the founding and housing of Wesleyan University in
Middletown, Connecticut, which once included what is now the town
During the second half of the 19th century, millions of tons of
stone were extracted at the Portland brownstone quarries. At the same
time, scientists and students visited in search of fossil material. In
1874, a recently discovered trackway was the subject of a field trip
during that yearıs meeting of the American Association for the
Advancement of Science held in Hartford. The trackway was 60 feet
long and contained 20 footprints of Otozoum moodii, but, according to
Rice and Foye (1927), even this notoriety did not save these tracks
from being discarded during the normal course of quarrying.
Many reptile tracks, however, came into the possession of quarry
workers who offered them to universities and museums. Extant
footprints classified by Hitchcock as Otozoum, Anchisauripus,
Grallator, Anomoepus, Eubrontes and Batrachopus are on display at
Wesleyan University and Dinosaur Park in Rocky Hill, CT.
Brownstone was used extensively for gravestones from the
earliest days of the Middletown settlement. One of the most
interesting is the two piece monument for Dr. Joseph Barrett, a well-
known local physician, botanist and geologist. Dr. Barrettıs stone was
donated by the quarries and contained one large block of dinosaur
tracks and a second block containing two large casts of tree trunks.
Few bones were found in these sandstone quarries. A
specimen of pubis, tibia and ribs studied by Colbert and Baird in 1958
survives only as a fragile cast (AMNH 7636) at the American
Museum of Natural History, the original having been discarded in
1961 when the Boston Science Museum moved to its new facility.
Despite wars and floods, these quarries operated into the early
20th century, closed permanently by the spring freshet of 1836 and the
Great Hurricane of 1938, which filled the quarries, creating two large
lakes. Recently, however, a small operation has revived quarrying on
an upper bench of a previously quarried cliff face with the potential
for new fossil discoveries.
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