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History of Quincy’s Granite Incline Compressor Building

The railway incline, in a 1922 view, made it easier to transport the stone.
The railway incline, in a 1922 view, made it easier to transport the stone.Credit: Quincy Historical Society

The Granite Incline Compressor Building represented the pinnacle of technology when it opened on Quincy’s Mullin Avenue in the early 1920s.

Large compressors tucked into the top of the building pumped air into the granite quarries to better cut the rock, a dramatic improvement from the steam method, which made the quarries slippery and dangerous.

The cutting capability, matched with the adjacent railway set on an incline, helped transport the massive pieces of stone from the quarries to the railroad, where they could then be shipped throughout the world.

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But long before the compressor building was constructed, granite played a huge role in the city, coming into significance in 1826, when architect Solomon Willard selected Quincy as the source for the stone in the Bunker Hill Monument.

The first commercial railroad in America was founded soon thereafter to help transport Quincy granite to Charlestown for the construction.

Quincy granite soon became synonymous with superior quality, and the industry brought in immigrants hungry for work. By the time the compressor building was constructed almost a century later, Quincy had become known as “Granite City.”

For the Granite Railway Co.’s stone-cutting operations, the square building performed beautifully for 20 years. The granite foundation remained strong, the arched windows shedding light on the operations within.

But when World War II broke out, operations came to a screeching halt. The compressors were taken for the war effort in 1942.

With the roof removed from the building, a second story was added on, and the building was used as a residence next to the historic granite incline, which remained intact.

In the 1980s, the building was used for a check-cashing company and later the offices of South Shore Paving. In May 1990, the Quarry Museum opened on the first floor, offering a peek into Quincy’s historic past.

With an ever-expanding collection, and the building needing more work than the museum could afford, the institution moved out in November 1994. The artifacts went on display for nine months at the Commonwealth Museum in Boston, but are now in storage. The Quarry Museum later joined with the Blue Hill Adventure program and was incorporated as a nonprofit in 2003. The musuem had a rotating exhibit at the Presidents Place office complex in downtown Quincy from 2003 to early 2011, and hopes to renew that next year.

With the downstairs tenant moved out, the compressor building and the land surrounding it fell into bankruptcy, and were sold to one of the business partners of the original owners.

Several years later, the Metropolitan District Commission acquired the building and much of the surrounding land, hoping to restore the property to some form of its former glory. Yet everything changed when the commission merged with the state’s Department of Environmental Management in 2003, creating the Department of Conservation and Recreation.

The new agency tried to give the building to the city of Quincy, which wasn’t interested.

Since then, few repairs have been done on the property. The gutters fell off the sides as the roof started to leak.

This fall, Hurricane Sandy ripped off several rows of shingles. Then on Halloween, vandals broke every window in the structure, and soon after that, 300 feet of copper piping was taken from the building.

The boarded-up building remains in this condition today.

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