Thursday, July 9, 2009

Bluestone Country

I live in the upper reaches of the Appalachian Mountains. This area is rich in bluestone, a beautiful, nonflaky stone with various shades of blue and blue-gray popular with contractors across the country.

For the past several years quarry owners in the area had enjoyed a boom in business. Quarries that had been closed for many years suddenly opened and thousands of tons of stone left here every week to be used in landscaping and home building projects in NJ, NY (especially Westchester County and Long Island), Conn., even as far away as California.

Tourism folks promote this as the Endless Mountains, but for a while there it looked like it would become the Endless Flats. Then the bottom dropped out of the market. Most of the quarries are closed, silent. No more unexpected dynamite blasts, no more rumble of stone trucks passing by, and a lot of out-of-work quarrymen at a time when there are amost no jobs to be had.

As a writer, I enjoy the peace and quiet but I'm concerned about all those people who don't have jobs. The help wanted ads in the newspapers used to fill 3-4 pages. Now they barely fill 2-3 columns of one page, yet another blow to struggling newspapers.

What about the young men who went straight from high school to the quarries? They didn't see any reason to go to college or train for a skilled job. Now many are married with young children.

We had escaped big problems from the recession around here. We had few foreclosures, lost jobs, or homeless people. That's beginning to change with quarries closing, companies just across the state line in New York laying off many PA residents, and the cancellation of the presidential helicopter project at Lockheed affecting us as well. My husband's machine shop business has been affected and many other small businesses here have downsized or closed.

Apparently we were one of the last places to be hit; I hope we won't be the last to recover. I'm retired from full-time work as a medical transcriptionist and my husband is about ready to retire, but we're just a lucky exception to the norm here. It's very sad.

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