Marble Museum commemorates the people that built the town of Proctor
By RUSSELL JONES
PROCTOR — When you step down the marble walkway leading into the Vermont Marble Museum, you’re stepping back into history. It’s the history of a town as well as a legacy of the people who shaped this part of Vermont. Their influence — through the commitment to their work — still stands the test of time in the last marble monuments displayed throughout the nation’s capital and other larger cities across the nation.
The quarry in Sutherland Falls, now known as Proctor, opened in 1836.
A few decades later, Redfield Proctor founded the Vermont Marble Company in 1880 and the town was later named for him. The company became a titan of marble production and acquired the rights to all the marble deposits in Vermont, Colorado and Alaska for the next 100 years. At one time the Vermont Marble Company was the world’s largest U.S.-based corporation, had offices in most major U.S. cities and employed more than 5,000 workers.
The building that now houses the museum was the main manufacturing workspace where the marble was cut, shaped and polished. Marble from that quarry was used to build the Jefferson Memorial, the Supreme Court building, the Capitol building, the Senate building, and the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. The list of U.S. monuments that contain marble quarried, cut or finished in Proctor goes on and on.
“The Vermont Marble Company made the town of Proctor,” said Vicky Young, a volunteer at the museum and member of the board of directors. “It was a true company town.”
That company town included a company store, where workers could shop on account using chits, and a company hospital. People from all over came to work for Vermont Marble and small neighborhoods of various ethnic groups formed throughout the area.
The history of those different groups is preserved on a slab of marble in front of the museum. Names like Swan Swanson, of Sweden, Stanislaw Tatarinowicz, of Belarus, and Antonio Manganelli, of Italy, are proof of the diverse heritage of marble workers.
As marble was replaced by concrete and steel for construction and relegated to roles such as countertops or headstones, the business of Vermont Marble slowly crumbled as well.
The Vermont Marble Company’s facilities in Proctor were purchased by OMYA, Inc. in 1976, but eventually moved its headquarters to Ohio in 2007.
For a few years, Martin Hemm owned the building and operated a business there that sold marble fixtures, and he kept the showroom in place.
The Marble Museum grew from what was the showplace and sales room to what it is now — a collection of the history of marble workers in the area.
The Preservation Trust of Vermont purchased the museum collection in 2012 and then purchased the 90,000 square foot building in December 2014.
“We have done a bunch of upgrades to the exhibits over the years,” said Paul Bruhn, president of the PTV. “But for the most part, it is much the same as it was for the many years it was the showroom for Vermont Marble.”
Bruhn asked Young and her husband, Bob, if they would like to help with the fundraising for the museum when PTV was in the process of buying the museum.
“We had lived in Proctor for over 30 years and we wanted to make sure the history is saved, so we volunteered,” Young said of how she came to volunteer at the museum. “After that, he asked if I would be interested in taking care of things and I agreed.”
The museum is open from May to October, but their busiest time of the year is coming up.
“We get lots of visitors and bus tours, especially during leaf peeping season,” Young said. “We get over 40 bus tours that stop here a season.”
She said people are often surprised at how detailed the exhibits are, which can often lead to the bus tours being late in leaving.
“Many people think they’re just going to walk through and see everything in 15 minutes,” Young said. “There’s just so much to see here, it’s amazing. I think it really celebrates how important marble and the Proctor family was to this part of the country.”
Young said the Preservation Trust is working to determine what the museum would like to look like in the future.
“We hope that it can be an exciting, vibrant place to visit,” said Bruhn, “as well as an educational resource for area schools.”