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BRANFORD — When the architects for the new Statue of Liberty Museum, which is about to open alongside that most iconic of American monuments, began sourcing materials, they didn’t have to look too far or think too hard to determine what stone to use.

All they had to do was walk across Liberty Island, out there in New York Harbor, and take a good look at the beautiful, shimmering, variegated pink granite pedestal upon which the Statue of Liberty itself has stood for 132-plus years.

You know it — everybody knows it: it’s the pedestal on which the plaque bearing Emma Lazarus’ famous words (from the poem, “The New Colossus”) is mounted:

“Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free...”

Then they had to head 90 miles up the road to the Stony Creek Quarry, where they ultimately ended up picking up 5,000 cubic feet — about 450 tons — of the stuff.

Well, it was a little more complicated than that.

But the end result is, Stony Creek granite, quarried by local workers in Branford near the Guilford line, will surround the throngs that attend the 26,000-square-foot museum’s May 16 opening — as well as the more than 5 million visitors expected to visit Liberty Island each year.

“It’s probably the most important, significant work that we’ve done ... since the pedestal at the turn of the century,” said Darrell Petit, who has worked at the Stony Creek Quarry since 1989 and is its seniormost worker.

Two other quarrymen, quarry supervisor Rick Atkinson and Tom Hixon, have been there even longer.

Petit works hard to get Stony Creek granite’s name out there, and has worked with the National Parks Service, which owns Liberty Island, to help improve the way it refers to the granite. At one time, it was described generically simply as pink granite from Connecticut, he said.

But make no mistake: it’s quarried in the Stony Creek Quarry — in Stony Creek — by employees of the Stony Creek Quarry Corp.

Stony Creek granite is what people will walk on as they head up the granite walkways and granite steps, and even what they’ll sit on if they happen to use a nearby pink Stony Creek granite bench.

If it’s not entirely clear when you visit, just keep this basic, thumbnail description from the principal architect, Nicholas Garrison of New York’s FXCollaborative, in mind:

At the new museum, “If you can stand on it, walk on it or sit on it, it’s Stony Creek granite...” said Garrison, whose great-grandmother came in from France via Ellis Island. “There isn’t a horizontal surface that we’ve used that isn’t Stony Creek granite.

“It’s just very beautiful, clean...” Garrison said of the Stony Creek granite, which contains flecks of quartz and feldspar that shimmer and twinkle in sunlight. “It was really the first and only choice.”

In designing the museum, Garrison never lost site of what then-superintendent of the island David Lucinger first told him: “You know, people still come to the island and they get down on their knees and they kiss the ground,” he recalled Lucinger saying. “It’s that important.

“We set out, the firm, to really honor that comment from the superintendent,” he said.

The new museum, accessible and free to all who make the trip to Liberty Island, aims to create a more full experience for a greater number of people.

Since Sept. 11, 2001, as a result of both security and capacity issues, 80 percent of Liberty Island’s visitors don’t actually go up in the statue, which was dedicated on Oct. 28, 1886, or get in to see the museum in its base, Garrison said.

The general idea driving the design is, “The building is a very welcoming structure,” said Garrison, pointing out that “you don’t need a sign to tell you where the front door is.”

The Stony Creek granite, in addition to matching the statue pedestal, fits right into that, he said. “I can tell you, it’s a great choice...” Garrison said. “It really takes on different colors depending on how it’s cut.”

Among other features, the museum provides a new home to showcase the original, 3,600-pound Statue of Liberty torch, which was replaced in 1984 and previously was hidden away in the base of the statue — in a spot that many of the visitors to the island never got to.

The torch had to be cut into two pieces in order to move it, he said.

“The museum will put the torch in daylight for the first time in 30 years,” Garrison said.

The museum also will feature an “immersive theater” that will tell the statue’s story, an “engagement gallery” and an “inspiration gallery,” which is where the torch will be.

The Statue of Liberty and its new museum are by no means Stony Creek granite’s only claim to fame.

It also adorns New York’s Battery Park — where people catch the boat to Liberty Island — various buildings at Columbia University, the Smithsonian National Museum of American History in Washington, D.C., the Smithsonian Cooper Hewitt National Museum of Design in New York, Grand Central Station, the Boston Public Library and Boston’s South Station, Yale University’s West Campus, St. Mary’s Church and the Ecuadorian Consulate in New Haven, the Willoughby Wallace Library in Stony Creek, the Bulkeley Bridge and Traveler’s Plaza in Hartford, several buildings at Quinnipiac University, Queens Hospital in New York, Children’s Hospital in Philadelphia and the Cleveland Clinic, among others.

It also is beneath the life-sized Torosaurus dinosaur sculpture outside the Peabody Museum of Natural History at Yale. The 7,350-pound sculpture sits on a 13-foot, 70-ton base of Stony Creek granite.

Stony Creek granite, first quarried in 1858, is part of a Mesozoic era deposit formed between 225 million ad 650 million years ago.

For the museum project, the Stony Creek Quarry worked in partnership with the North Carolina Granite Corporation. Stony Creek cut the raw block — typically 250 tons each — and North Carolina Granite then cut the block into the architectural cut-to-size product used for the actual cladding and paving.

Out in Stony Creek, the guys who quarried that granite, some of whom have been there for decades — and one of whom comes from a multi-generational quarryman family — are justly proud.

Oh, and fittingly, several of the quarry workers are immigrants — and one of those “quarrymen” is a woman.

“It’s pretty cool — projects that you do that have a heritage and history to them,” said Atkinson, who lives in Stony Creek and has worked at the quarry since 1981. He comes from a family that has had other quarry workers, as well.

“I think it’s really fitting that our material is there,” he said.

Both Petit and Atkinson are aware that there were discussions at one point during the project’s planning process about using other, cheaper granite — and Petit said he was glad that things worked out in Stony Creek’s favor.

But architect Garrison said that Stony Creek granite was what they specified from the start. It’s what both FXCollaborative and The Statute of Liberty - Ellis Island Foundation, which is the customer driving the project, wanted — and that’s ultimately what won out.

That’s important to Atkinson.

“You can get cheaper materials elsewhere,” he said. “But we’re an American classic for a reason.”

It’s a disappoinment and a bit of a sore point to Petit that Stony Creek granite isn’t used for more projects in New Haven. He pointed out that the city specified Canadian granite for the upcoming Downtown Crossing project to connect downtown to the Long Wharf area and New Haven Harbor.

Given what the Statue of Liberty stands for, it is worth noting that at least four of the people who quarried the granite for project are immigrants.

Quarrymen Guido Lopez, Rodrigo Vega and Manuel Pugo all came to the United States from Ecuador — and one other worker, who was not there last week when the New Haven Register came by to visit, is from Mexico, coworkers said.

Quarry worker Stacy Bandecchi, who has worked at the quarry since 2004, said the magnitude of the Statue of Liberty Museum project is beyond anything she’s done previously — and its a point of pride to think that “it came from here, this small, little corner.”

While working on the project, “you’re doing your job,” she said. “But I think in the back of your mind, you know ... You know where it’s going.”

Tom Cleveland, the quarry’s new director of sustainability, said he has Brazilian relatives and he took them out to the Statue of Liberty — which has remained open throughout the construction — last Monday.

“It’s special,” Cleveland said of the museum project. “It reiterates the national significance of this quarry.”

Since being brought in to discuss the project with the architect and the foundation in 2017, “We worked collaboratively with the architect to make sure that they know that it is available,” and that the Stony Creek Quarry is actively quarrying, said Petit.

“If a classic, historic American quarry has closed, then it certainly is not available ,” as was the case with Stony Creek for a short period of time in the early 2000s, he said. “It’s in our best interest to always have open lines of communication.”

For the museum project, one of the people on the other end of the line, FXCollaborative Project Manager Dan Piselli, grew up not too far away from the quarry in Milford, Woodbridge and Orange.

Piselli, who also is the firm’s sustainability director, said his interest in architecture was first inspired by some of the buildings on the Yale campus — including the David S. Ingalls Rink, aka “The Whale,” designed by architect Eero Saarinen. His mother still lives in Seymour.

“The whole idea that a building can elicit emotion” began for Piselli at The Whale, he said.

Piselli, like everyone involved in the Statue of Liberty museum project, is very aware of how iconic the site is, and how many visitors will see it.

“Being such a high profile project kind of raises the stakes from the ... high design perspective, in terms of making sure it’s a beautiful building that’s going to resonate with people,” Piselli said.

“We designed the museum to be an extension of the land,” he said.

The museum has a living “green roof.” While people will not be able to walk on the roof, it is flanked by a terrace, or series of steps “that you can walk out to get a panoramic view.”

Stony Creek granite is used on the stairs and terraces, Piselli said.

“The central experience of the museum is going to be of the stone,” he said.

The new museum, which is designed and built to be in harmony with the natural topography of Liberty Island, will replace a much smaller, more cramped and less accessible museum in the Statue of Liberty’s base, and “will give people another way to experience the statute,” Piselli said.

Because of security and access concerns, “The museum that exists now only is available to 20 percent of the people who visit,” he said.

Piselli said the Stony Creek granite fits in with the overall design — and said it is significant that the Stony Creek granite being used for the museum is the same granite used for the Statue of Liberty’s pedestal.

“If you have the ... original of something, it’s more meaningful” than something that simply bears a resemblance to it, he said.

While there are other granites out there that could have been used, “we’re happy that we were able to use the Stony Creek granite because it is on the original statue base.”

As sustainability director, it’s also important to Piselli that all that Stony Creek granite came from less than 100 miles away, as opposed to much longer distances for some other possible choices, even if they were a little cheaper.

In working on the museum project, “the building is meant to have its own presence on the island, but it’s also trying to defer to the statue...” Piselli said. “The statue is supposed to be the main event ... So using that stone was just trying to fit in, and making sure we weren’t trying to compete with the statue.”

In designing a new museum on an island, it was important to design with the future in mind — and in the fairly recent past, “This part of the island was flooded during Hurricane Sandy,” Piselli said. “Preparing for the future, with climate change in mind, we raised the building off the ground significantly

“Undernearth, it’s designed for flood water to flow freely under the building, if it comes to that,” he said. The building has been raised about 10 feet — “putting it 19 feet above the water mark that we were using,” he said.

The Statue of Liberty Museum also “was designed to be a bird-safe building,” with a pattern in its window glass to discourage birds from flying into it, Piselli said.

Connecticut Media Group

This article originally ran on shorelinetimes.com.