Stories in Stone – Virtual Tours Now Available

Booking for Groups Everywhere

Brooklyn Brownstone - 200 million years old!
Brooklyn Brownstone – 200 million years old

Most people do not think of looking for geology from the sidewalks they travel, but for the intrepid geologist any good rock can tell a fascinating story. On this virtual tour, which incorporates illustrations and photographs, you will explore a range of rocks equal to any assembled by plate tectonics, such as:
— 3.5-billion-year-old gneiss and 120,000-year-old Italian travertine;
— a fossil-rich limestone that is the most commonly used building stone in the US;
— and the granite that led to the construction of the first commercial railroad in America.

3.5 bya Morton Gneiss
Morton Gneiss – 3.5 billion years old

In this virtual exploration of  building stone from across the United States and Italy, I discuss history, transportation, and architecture to give you a new way to appreciate urban geology. Plus, we’ll even “visit” a couple of quarries and see where the stone originates.

Please contact me to book me live for a one-hour program (includes time for Q&A). Up to 25 people on a Zoom talk.

“David B. Williams’ virtual Stories In Stone tour is engaging, entertaining, and educational. As you’d expect from a naturalist of Williams’ caliber, the tour is multifaceted- weaving together geology, geography, architecture, and history. The virtual tour has the added benefit of “visiting” national and international locations. Mr. Williams’ humor and personality contribute to the experience and make for a welcoming question and answer session at the end. I highly recommend it.”
Kim Owens, Program Director, Seattle Architecture Foundation

Stories In Stone Clip from dbw on Vimeo. From a program presented to Seattle Architecture Foundation.

My talk is a Zoom meeting format of a PowerPoint presentation with me as a live narrator. To try to make it feel more in-person, I incorporate video and Google Earth to travel to different locations, including Minnesota, Massachusetts, Indiana, and Italy. I am available for questions throughout and after the talk.

For more information on booking me to make a presentation to your group, please send me an email: geologywriter at gmail dot com.

Sad Day for Brownstone

Brownstone is perhaps the most famous building stone of the east coast, quarried for more than three centuries and used primarily in New York, Boston, and Philadelphia. During its peak in the late 1800s, brownstone was the stone to use from coast to coast. So popular was it that “Silver King” James Flood shipped hoards of it around Cape Horn from Connecticut to San Francisco for his mansion, the only building on Nob Hill to survive the 1906 San Francisco earthquake.

But an article in yesterday’s New York Times reported that the final brownstone quarry is now closing.  That quarry was in Portland, Connecticut, where the first quarries open in the late 1600s. The area was the prime source for brownstone in New York City. The stone is a 200-million year old sandstone deposited in a valley formed by the breakup of Pangaea.

I was lucky enough to interview quarry owner Mike Meehan and tour his quarry in 2007, when I was working on my book, Stories in Stone. As I wrote in my book, in 1993, Mike, an ex-coal miner, opened a small quarry on a ledge north of the lake-filled Middlesex/Brainerd quarry. He knew nothing about quarrying brownstone.  “Being a coal miner, I was more adept at blowing things up,” said Meehan. “But at the end of the day, I knew I wanted to be small scale and to be making a product.”

Meehan’s first contract was for $25,000 worth of stone for a restoration project at Gallaudet University in Washington, D.C.  He quarried the stone and sent it to Barre, Vermont, to be cut.  The only local stone the university had been able to get was from old railroad trestles. He eventually acquired what I described as a giant-wire cheese slicer, except that the wire is impregnated with industrial diamonds. This wire travels between two, spinning, vertical wheels mounted about 20 feet apart from each other on a steel frame.  By lowering the wheels in tandem up and down on the frame, Meehan lowers the horizontal wire, which cuts into the block of sandstone.

But now Meehan has put the quarry up for sale. He is 63 years old and wants to retire. It is sad day for brownstone and those who love beautiful stone. Thanks Mike for all you did for the stone and keeping the story of brownstone alive.