Tom Joyce Staff Reporter
November 10, 2013
When 30 people representing countries around the world officially became citizens of the United States during a first-of-its-kind ceremony in New York City on Thursday, granite from Mount Airy helped pave their way.
That’s because the new Franklin D. Roosevelt Four Freedoms Park there, built as a memorial to the 32nd president, is made of stone from North Carolina Granite Corp. at Flat Rock. That included more than 12,000 tons in all, courtesy of the world’s largest open-faced granite quarry.
“I think it was about a two-year process for us,” North Carolina Granite Corp. President William Swift said of the job of quarrying and delivering the roughly 24-million-pound order — one of the company’s largest ever. “I guess as far as quantity of materials, it’s probably in the top five,” Swift said of its long history of supplying granite for memorials and other structures.
Long Time Coming
The story of Four Freedoms Park — and the local quarry’s involvement — actually began decades ago, and illustrates the value of perseverance, particularly on the company’s part.
In the late 1960s, an idea arose to establish a monument in New York City to FDR, one of the nation’s most highly regarded chief executives who served during the Great Depression and World War II.
That idea emerged at a time when urban renewal was a trend, and in New York’s case the plan targeted what was then known as “Welfare Island,” later renamed Roosevelt Island. The finished monument was meant to face important components of FDR’s life, including the Atlantic Ocean he loved, its connection to the Europe the native New Yorker helped preserve and the United Nations inspired by him.
The “four freedoms” reference is to those of speech, expression and religion, and freedom from want and fear that FDR cited in his 1941 State of the Union address.
Elected officials announced the project in 1973, but due to changes in the political winds and the fact the Big Apple was facing bankruptcy at that time, it was shelved.
North Carolina Granite Corp. had been tapped as one of the suppliers for the project then, but hopes dropped when it was put on hold — for what ended up being nearly 40 years.
“We’d hear rumors about it,” Swift said of reports from time to time that the memorial plans were being rejuvenated, “and everybody got excited.” But in the end, organizers wouldn’t have the money.
In 2005, the project was revived in earnest, which led to the receiving of a $10 million grant from a foundation in Chicago in 2010 and the subsequent raising of another $54 million-plus from various public and private sources.
A representative of North Carolina Granite Corp. got wind of this, leading to a contact with the monument planners “to remind them who we were,” Swift said. This was fortuitous, since the local company by that point had been dropped from the list of possible suppliers, and everything just worked out from there, he added.
“It was good timing,” Swift said. “It just fell into place for us.” The contract was received at an opportune point for the local company that employs about 130 people, when the economy was at a low ebb.
“Really what sold it was our color,” the company president explained regarding the fabled white Mount Airy granite. “The white material, you can see it from a long distance.”
Construction finally began in March 2010.
Swift also said the size of the local quarry made it possible to feed such a large project. But he said even the huge amount of granite removed didn’t knock a dent in a supply that is predicted to last at least several hundred years.
Some of North Carolina Granite Corp.’s most-experienced workers helped prepare the large granite blocks that were required, ranging from 10,000 to 70,000 pounds. This included working with wire saws and much machining by hand for the finishes.
Arrangements were made with Yarborough Trucking to provide special trucks to transport the overweight stones up North. Barges had to be used to get some pieces to the job site because of weight limits for the bridge leading to the island.
In addition to the cut granite, the Mount Airy company supplied more than 260,000 cobblestones for Four Freedoms Park.
Originally, North Carolina Granite was to be one of multiple suppliers, but it ended up being the sole source.
“All of it is Mount Airy (granite) — every bit of the monument,” Swift said.
The assembly of the monument required the work of more than 100 trained stone setters and took 30 months to complete. It was dedicated in October of last year.
Swift has visited the memorial since its completion and says he was impressed by the “massive scale” when seeing it in person. ‘“It’s really dressed up Roosevelt Island.”
“Then to know we were involved in it,” Swift added of North Carolina Granite Corp., “it just makes you proud to be a part of a company that could do something like that.”
Its work on the project has increased the visibility of North Carolina Granite Corp., which Swift said has led to inquiries that could result in other memorial contracts.
In addition to the lasting value of the physical aspects of Four Freedoms Park, Swift is pleased with its symbolic presence as a gateway to new U.S. citizens, as was the case Thursday when it hosted a first-ever citizenship ceremony.
“That’s great to know.”
Reach Tom Joyce at 719-1924 or firstname.lastname@example.org.