Granite State of Mind

One man’s quest to turn stone into splendor

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Few nicknames resonate with more authority than the Granite State, that steadfast New Hampshire moniker that serves as a reflection of the state’s people as much as it does the endless bounty of rock below.

During the nineteenth century, New Hampshire boasted one of the country’s largest—if not the largest—granite industries in the country. Even today, the town of Milford, still known colloquially as “Granite Town,” houses a now-defunct quarry made famous for its part in helping construct the US Treasury Building, whose New Hampshire stone pillars can still be seen on the back of the ten dollar bill.

While the granite mining industry has since largely fallen by the wayside, one New Hampshire company is determined to make sure that both the narratives of a people’s resourcefulness and of a proud state’s namesake continue to thrive.

Adam Bennett owns Windham-based Colonial Stoneworks, which provides services ranging from simple walkways and stairways to elegant fireplaces. On the surface, the services and skills Bennett offers might not seem that different from others in his field. However, it is the 28-year-old’s construction materials that set him apart from the pack.

Colonial places a heavy emphasis on reclaimed and recycled materials, most of which are local. And in many cases, the project fodder will come right from a client’s back yard—literally.

“I’ve had customers who do their own yard work and just collected a pile of stones over time; a lot of times that stuff is usable,” Bennett says. “I did a wall a couple years ago for a Windham couple who had just bought the lot behind them that led to the water, and there was this huge piece of exposed ledge. We picked it apart, collected everything that had broken off, and used a lot of that for the project.”

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The calculus is simple: why pay for expensive pallets of stone from quarries as far afield as Pennsylvania, only to pay more for shipping and unloading, when plenty of high-quality, native materials are there for the taking? For Bennett, scavenging for local materials is less expensive in general and also uses less energy, which goes part and parcel with his burgeoning “green” approach to stonework.

“I did a job once in Concord that required literally tons of stone,” he recalls. “So instead of 40 pallets of stone, or 40 cubic yards, all we had were two 20-yard dumpsters filled with stones we’d reclaimed. At that point you just dump them in a pile and go to work.”

Such efforts, while requiring more heavy lifting, are not only good for cutting costs but also for cutting Colonial’s environmental footprint as well. Extracting stone and rock is, by its nature, enormously energy intensive, something Bennett thinks can and in many ways should be avoided.

Bennett uses biodiesel, made by a neighbor using waste vegetable oil, in his diesel machinery and trucks and makes every effort to use all other gasoline-powered machinery as seldom as possible. He even installed his own on-site, 500-gallon storage tank to store the biodiesel, meaning fewer trips to the pump to fill up.

Additionally, Bennett performs weekly service and maintenance on equipment and trucks to operate at maximum efficiency, and he has a strict “no-idling” policy. He recommends paperless billing and invoicing to his customers, drastically cutting down unnecessary use of paper. Add it all up, and you are left with a snapshot of a business setting itself squarely apart from industry brass.

“It’s definitely a competitive field, but in reality the guys who do dry stone work are a dying breed,” Bennett says, referring to stone-based projects that rely more on gravity and friction than cement or mortar to hold the pieces together. “But from my perspective the dry stone is far superior because it allows for flexibility and breathability, whereas a wall with a lot of mortar will eventually crack and fall apart. And that’s not even getting to the green aspect of it.”

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Because of the highly specialized nature of the dry stone niche, Colonial’s one-man show assures that whatever vision the customer has for their yard, patio, or walkway can be brought to life.

Take Brian and Karen McCloskey. Tired of a yard that suffered from poor drainage and seemed aesthetically uninviting, the McCloskeys wanted nothing less than to etch their vision into stone prettily, powerfully, and permanently. That is when Brian contacted Bennett, who took to reshaping and in many ways reimagining his clients’ unique landscape.

The site was composed mostly of clay, a notoriously difficult material to dig around, and it boasted a challenging slope that was overgrown and beginning to erode. The project was lengthy, but Bennett was able to reclaim 85 percent of the stone used from a nearby quarry. “The project extended our living space, meaning we can now spend more time outside,” Brian says. “The work reflected the land well and added interest and elevation to the landscape.”

Even when a particular project demands a more straightforward approach, Bennett’s ability to work within the surrounding property’s singular character and add a bit of luxury to the always-fickle New England elements inevitably finds its way to the fore. For example, Jim and Marilyn Donahue wanted an outdoor fireplace added to their newly renovated stone patio in North Hampton, New Hampshire. “As much as we love fire pits, there’s nothing quite like the ambience of an actual fireplace,” Marilyn says.

Enter Adam Bennett.

“I’d done a handful of fire pits before, but nothing too complicated,” says Bennett of his first large-scale outdoor fireplace. “This was a different animal entirely.”

The result is a grand yet spartan nine-by-six-foot structure with 15- and 20-foot seating walls on each side, perfect for gatherings large and small. In the course of bringing the Donahues’ vision to life, Bennett extended the patio to create an airy outdoor living space.

He also augmented the rustic patio centerpiece with an internal pizza oven, complete with shelf and rack. The Donahues have yet to test their pie-making mettle, but they find the fireplace useful in all seasons. “We use it throughout the winter actually,” Jim says. “And it’s only going to get used more during the summer months.”

Good thing, then, that the materials that make up this family’s outdoor nook are already nearly as old as time itself. “Everything I do, I want it to last, just like these stones have lasted for centuries,” Bennett says. “Otherwise, why do it at all?”

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