Rub-a-Dub-Dub – Found!

You can’t wash with it, however.

Shepley Hill Soapstone Quarry

Do you see the small pond in front of a plant-covered stone embankment? You might be surprised to learn that this location was once an active soapstone quarry! A quarry is another word for a mine, a place where rocks are removed to turn into something useful. Anything made of stone in or around your home or neighborhood probably came from a quarry. The place where the rock was removed from this quarry is now filled in with water and overgrown with vegetation, but this was once a thriving industrial site.

You may have walked here via the Nashua River Rail Trail, which is a beautiful wooded path that follows the former Hollis branch of the Boston & Maine Railroad, one of the oldest rail lines in the United States. Now imagine…instead of a woodsy path leading to a small forest pond surrounded by mossy rocks…you’re standing in an open construction area with a huge factory. Loud hammers and drills cut stone blocks, which are then hauled to a busy railroad where giant steam engine trains stop for cargo. This place has transformed dramatically since its days as an industrial stone factory, and is now enjoyed by hikers and equestrians.

The Groton soapstone quarry was notorious for particularly strong, heat-resistant, soapstone that could be used for sinks, pumps, and hearthstones. Soapstone is not made of soap, but it can have a soapy-feeling texture, especially when it’s smooth and polished. Soapstone is also interesting because it’s a form of metamorphic rock: which means that over many thousands of years, heat and pressure transformed it from one kind of rock to another. It’s common to see the remnants of quarries while hiking in Massachusetts, particularly in the towns around Groton, but it’s much more unusual to find large areas of soapstone like this site. There are only a handful of similar quarries in the entire state.

We are grateful to the Groton History Center for sharing these photos of the soapstone factory.

More info about the history of the quarry:

https://www.grotonhistoricalsociety.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/08/Jan2013-GHS-Newsletter-FINAL.pdf

http://books.gpl.org/GPLDL4/GrotonSoapstoneQuarryFormH.pdf

More info about rocks and soapstone: 

https://pubs.usgs.gov/of/1969/0039/report.pdf

https://geology.com/rocks/soapstone.shtml

More info about Shepley Hill: 

http://www.gctrust.org/archives/1816

https://www.grotontrails.org/Media/Shepley%20Hill%20Trail%20Map%20-%20Groton%20MA.pdf

http://www.grotonherald.com/features/shepley-hills-conservation-area-offers-multiple-access-points-old-soapstone-quarry-drumlins

More info about the Nashua River Rail Trail: 

https://www.mass.gov/locations/nashua-river-rail-trail

https://www.railstotrails.org/trailblog/2019/november/08/massachusetts-and-new-hampshire-s-nashua-river-rail-trail/

https://www.wikiwand.com/en/Worcester,_Nashua_and_Rochester_Railroad