Monastery granite sits unused, with unclear future

Monastery granite sits unused, with unclear future

Hundreds of pieces of cut granite in the Cumberland Monastery sit year after year, largely left untouched because of a conservation easement on the property off Diamond Hill Road.

CUMBERLAND – A field of granite pieces strewn alongside a pathway within the Cumberland Monastery presents quite a scene, prompting questions among passing hikers about how it might have come there.

This repository of a couple hundred significant pieces of cut-block granite was left behind by the Cisterian monks after a 1950 fire that forced them to move their community from Cumberland to Spencer, Mass. They quarried within the Monastery for decades.

Though three pieces of granite were previously used to construct a new sign at Tucker Field, similar plans to utilize more of the stone at the new Cumberland Public Safety Complex ended up being scrapped.

Questions about the granite field, located off the green-marked Monk’s Quarry Trail within the Monastery, were revived on Facebook during the week after Christmas, with several residents asking what’s planned for the stone.

Mayor Jeff Mutter said there’s been plenty of talk about whether the town can use the granite, an action many have said they’d like to see over the years, and officials will ultimately need to make a final decision one way or another at some point.

It was Mutter who, for a story in February 2017, opposed then-Mayor Bill Murray’s plan to use the cut granite to create stairways at the new safety complex and the sign at the Tucker Field Athletic Complex, citing the removal of artifacts from the protected 500 acres of the Monastery.

The mayor was the Town Council president in 2004 when a strict conservation easement was adopted for the Monastery, limiting how it could be altered.

Councilor Peter Bradley said this week that using remnants from the old monastery buildings goes against that protection established in 2004. There has always been the opinion among some that this isn’t strictly part of the natural topography here, said Bradley, but the easement is pretty clear that everything behind the main fence at the Monastery is not to be touched, while everything on the library side can be altered.

Mutter agreed, saying he remembers arguing the point in the past.

“A strict reading of the conservation easement says you can’t take anything out of it,” he said.

When the Monastery easement passed 15 years ago, he said, the thought was basically that if one took a picture of what was in place at the time, “whatever’s in that picture is supposed to stay,” whether it was there by natural occurrences or not.

“Based on that, and if it has significance in the Monastery, my opinion is you can’t use it,” he said, adding that he plans to research the matter further.

Jonathan Stevens, the planning and community development director under Murray and now Mutter, said Monk’s Quarry within the Monastery is where “a fair amount if not all material” used to build the Monastery back in the day went. The theory is that after the fire, stone was strewn about in this area covering about 500 feet by 200 feet, he said.

The idea with the Tucker Field sign was to use the granite as a celebration of Cumberland’s history, Stevens said, but there are no immediate plans to use additional granite for other projects. Back when he was advocating for the granite to be used at the safety complex, he questioned why the town would purchase granite when it has so much free granite available for various projects.

“The work of stonecutters of 100 years ago,” he said in 2017, “should be displayed.”

There are a number of pieces of significant size remaining in the Monastery, said Stevens. Some are as long as 10 feet, and at about 60 pounds per square foot, that’s a whole lot of weight.

The monks of the Cistercian Order of the Strict Observance, commonly known as Trappists, quarried granite at the Monastery as they established themselves at the turn of the 20th century. Several decades after the 1950 fire, the town took ownership of the land, and then in 2004 imposed the conservation easement backed by a master plan that prohibited nearly any new activity within the grounds.

The field of granite in the Monastery measures about 500 feet by 200 feet.
The star on the map shows the area where the granite is located off the Monk’s Quarry Trail.

Comments

Why was the order given to take down the fence at the Monastery if nothing can be moved off or any additional work?

I could see fixing the fence but removing it all together? The fence was to keep 3-wheelers and atv vehicles out.

The residents of Cumberland should be asked in a voter referendum if we want to keep the conservation easement in place or change it?

The restrictions on this property were driven by Mayor Mutter years ago. Now he plans “to research the matter further”. How about just come clean and admit the restrictions you worked to put in place are too onerous. Then consider expanding the senior center (rather than minor cosmetic fixes), fixing the cross country paths and other things that will make Cumberland a better place to work, live and play....while maintaining the natural beauty of the property.

just remove the granite, unreal.