Welsh immigrant Griffith Griffith came to the United States in 1847 and worked in the granite quarries on the East coast before leaving for the Gold Rush. However, the bedrock of the Sierra’s promised a more lucrative career than gold. The Penryn Granite Works was Griffith’s third, and final, granite quarry.
Built along the Transcontinental Railroad in 1864, the Penryn Granite Works became one of the most successful manufacturing businesses in Placer County. Stone from the quarry can be seen in projects from local gravestones to the Old San Francisco Mint.
When Griffith died in 1889, his nephew David Griffith took over the Penryn Granite Works. While the quarry operations formally ceased when David died in 1918, the history of the site lives on today.
Background Image: Griffith Griffith.
1. The Griffith Quarry Museum
The Griffith Quarry Museum is operated by Placer County Museums and is housed in Griffith’s original office. The building required extensive renovations before opening. The area around the quarry was partially cleared, trails were added, and fencing was installed.
The Museum opened on May 8th, 1981. The artifacts and exhibits on display have changed over time, but have always reflected the donations from Enid Griffith, Griffith’s great-niece, and the local history of Penryn.
To learn more about Griffith and the establishment of the Penryn Granite Works, check out our web page A Legacy in Stone below.
2. Boiler Room Wall
At this location you will find the remains of the main boiler house where water was turned into steam. Steam-powered equipment is how workers were able to move and process the incredibly heavy granite blocks throughout the quarry site.
Among the most essential of this equipment is the derrick.
6. Boiler/Engine Housing
Boilers and derricks were located in multiple places throughout the quarry site. Once the granite was blasted from the wall of the pit, the derrick would lift them onto flat carts and taken to the main work sheds to be cut, shaped, polished and shipped.
You will notice the quarry pit is at an incline from Taylor Road. Oxen pulled the empty flatcars up to the quarry where they were loaded with granite. The cars then rolled downhill to the sheds from gravity.
7. Iron Anchors
The large derricks required multiple support points. Iron anchors were driven into large granite outcrops to run guylines. Some of the anchors can still be found in the park.
Throughout the park you will also see remnants of granite with drill marks. These are holes from blasting granite from the side of the quarry or cutting it into manageable pieces for moving. Large holes were drilled for black powder or dynamite, while smaller holes were drilled for a plug and feather. The feather was inserted, and the plug was hammered in. The pressure split the granite along the grain.
These drill marks can be seen on pieces of granite throughout quarry.
8. Granite Tailings
The valuable pieces of granite would be loaded onto carts and brought to the work sheds. The useless pieces were left in the tailings pile. There are large piles of tailings throughout the quarry, all in the shape of a crescent due to the derrick’s rotation.
A small path leads to the top of this tailings pile and offers a view south over Penryn toward Loomis.
9. Scenic View
Now a quiet oasis a short distance from the California State Capitol, in the 19th century the Penryn Granite Works was a leader in the industry. Penryn granite was notable for its variation and lack of iron, and the workers produced world-class products from the state’s first polishing mill.
This area was once a hub for activity at the Penryn Granite Works, though little remains. Carts brought granite from the quarry pit down to the sheds where quarry workers shaped, polished, and perfected them. Finished pieces could then be transported via a spur track to the Central Pacific Railroad.
As a Museum, a Park, and a location on the National Register, the Griffith Quarry illustrates one of the many facets of our county’s fascinating history.