I had some time to kill this morning waiting for Misha’s “day spa” treatment at Country Groomers in Barre. For those of you who haven’t been introduced, Misha is our 12-pound black and white Pomeranian whose hair grows and grows. I have offered to cut it numerous times, but for some reason Susan always says no, so, as infrequently as we feel we can get away with, we make an appointment with the nice people at Country Groomers and Misha gets expertly shorn, coming back smelling like a giddy gardenia with little decorative doo-dads in her ears that I’m convinced embarrass her. They sure embarrass me.
It takes three hours. There are some amusing photos of her on the Country Groomers Facebook page. (They spell her name “Meesha”.)
Barre is an interesting place to kill time. It’s certainly not a tourist destination, but the town has personality, and I imagine that if you had been born and raised there you might feel affectionately toward the place. It was literally built on the granite industry, but despite high-quality granite still being quarried there, much of the heavy skilled labor required to do the work has been replaced by machines, so the job market is bad and the once-proud artisan immigrant culture has eroded. Barre has become a place where way too many people, especially young people, are killing time.
Though I have been in and out of Barre many times over the last two and a half years I had never been to the Rock of Ages quarry, the world’s largest. The main quarry is 600 feet deep, and taps into a vein of granite that’s six miles wide, four miles long, and 10 miles deep. It used to be a world where hundreds of men crawled over the face of the quarry using a combination of hand tools and explosives to extracting enormous chunks of granite; now it is done more quickly, efficiently, and safely by big machines. Even the carving of granite, once done by expert artisans who were the pride of Barre, is now done increasingly by machines, to the significant loss (to me, at least) of artistic interest.
I also visited the Old Socialist Labor Party Hall, a national historic landmark built in 1900 by Italian immigrants. It’s a solidly-built but otherwise unremarkable architectural presence in a neighborhood of former tenements and granite sheds. It had a lively and distinguished life as the meeting ground for early 20th century socialists. Emma Goldman (who lived on the same street), Eugene Debs (the socialist presidential candidate of 1904, ’08, and ’12), and “Mother” Jones are all known to have spoken there, and both socialists and anarchists claimed the building as their own. The original purpose of the building, as a social and cultural center for the labor unions and fraternal societies espousing radical politics, was relatively short-lived, however. The double whammy of the great flood of 1927 and the Great Depression forced the closure of the Hall in 1936 and for the next 60 years it was used as a produce warehouse. In 1994 the Barre Historical Society purchased the building, and it was reopened as the Socialist Labor Party Hall in 2000 at which time it received its special designation as a National Historic Landmark.
When I stopped by, a gentleman was mopping the floor. When I asked if I could come in, he introduced himself as a member of the board of directors and invited me in. He told me a little bit of the history and said (with what I took to be an anarchist’s twinkle in the eye), that the original National Historic Landmark plaque, issued in 2000 by the National Park Service during the George W. Bush administration, spelled the word “anarchist” incorrectly. “We always wondered about that. They sent us a new plaque, but we saved the old one.”