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Stories in Stone

How Geology Influenced Connecticut History and Culture

Jelle Zeilinga de Boer

Publication Year: 2009

In a series of entertaining essays, geoscientist Jelle Zeilinga de Boer describes how early settlers discovered and exploited Connecticut's natural resources. Their successes as well as failures form the very basis of the state's history: Chatham's gold played a role in the acquisition of its Charter, and Middletown's lead helped the colony gain its freedom during the Revolution. Fertile soils in the Central Valley fueled the state's development into an agricultural power house, and iron ores discovered in the western highlands helped trigger its manufacturing eminence. The Statue of Liberty, a quintessential symbol of America, rests on Connecticut's Stony Creek granite. Geology not only shaped the state's physical landscape, but also provided an economic base and played a cultural role by inspiring folklore, paintings, and poems. Illuminated by 50 illustrations and 12 color plates, Stories in Stone describes the marvel of Connecticut's geologic diversity and also recounts the impact of past climates, earthquakes, and meteorites on the lives of the people who made Connecticut their home.

Published by: Wesleyan University Press

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Preface

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pp. ix-

Many of us have, at one time or another, wished that stones could speak. It first happened to me when I was six years old and was standing on a tropical beach holding a stone to my ear. I had just listened to a shell, and although it spoke in a whisper, the stone remained silent! My experiment was triggered by a volcano near my childhood home in Indonesia that had rumbled for weeks. I had been told that the rocks inside this giant had woken up and were plotting their...

Acknowledgments

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pp. xi-

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Introduction

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pp. 1-7

A person can learn much about Connecticut’s landscape and past land use by taking a walk in the forests that cover its highlands. Follow any blazed trail and it becomes obvious that, with the exception of the northwest region of the state and the Central Valley, steep slopes and flat land are equally rare here...

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1. In the Beginning: Continental Fusion and Breakup

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pp. 8-26

Rocks were and continue to be essential to life on Earth. When molten rock escapes from fissures and volcanoes, it carries oxygen and hydrogen, which combine as water vapor. These steamy clouds condensed and filled lakes and oceans over billions of years, painting the planet blue. Once...

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2. Weather and Climate: Hurricanes and Ice Ages

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pp. 27-55

Connecticut is one of the smallest states in the Union. It measures about 125 miles from east to west and averages 65 miles from north to south. Twain, quoted above, also wrote, “As to the size of the weather in New England—lengthwise, I mean. It is utterly disproportioned to the size of that little county. . . . She can’t hold a tenth part of her weather...

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3. Connecticut’s Geologic Treasures: Gems and Ores

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pp. 56-82

New Hampshire comes to mind when we think about granite, California for gold, and Colombia for emeralds. However, Connecticut’s Stony Creek was once a major producer of granite, the area around the town of Cobalt yielded gold, and Middlesex quarries provided gemstones. An amazing variety of rocks and minerals occurs in Connecticut, and the remains of quarries can be found almost everywhere. Most of the enterprises...

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Sidebar: Gems in Quarry Tailings

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pp. 74-

When studying geology in the old university town of Utrecht in the Netherlands, I spent many afternoons bent over drawers full of minerals, trying to learn their exotic names in preparation for an oral exam. Among the crystals were a small greenish beryl and a black tourmaline that stood out from the others because of their perfect shapes...

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Sidebar: Other Historic Quarries and Mines in Connecticut

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pp. 82-

Stories about interesting metal and mineral resources in this chapter have come primarily from the Middlesex District in south-central Connecticut. As shown in figure I-2, several other mining/quarrying districts and sites with much greater historic impact than those discussed...

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4. Settlers and Soils in the Central Valley: The Legacy of Glacial Lake Hitchcock

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pp. 83-104

The geology of the Central Valley in western Massachusetts and central Connecticut profoundly influenced native and colonial settlement patterns in southwestern New England. In the Valley, the land is generally flat and arable, soils are relatively rich, and access to the river is easy. Save for the area’s highlands, where farmers were plagued by glacial debris...

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5. The Metacomet Ridge: The Scientific, Political, and Cultural Impact of an Old Lava Flow

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pp. 105-131

Anyone familiar with the devastation in Pompeii and Herculaneum caused by the 79 CE eruption of that mighty volcano will find Pynchon’s statement to be a stretch. After all, there is no sign of a volcano in Connecticut, not even the deeply eroded remains of one. However, Pynchon was right: volcanism destroyed much more territory here than the infamous Vesuvius...

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Sidebar: The Curse of the Black Dog

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pp. 129-

“Countless years have elapsed since the great tide of molten lava rolled over the region. Years, fewer, but still countless, have passed during which the shattered and tilted remains of the lava sheet have watched over the land. Deep gorges divide the masses into separate mountains, lonely and desolate.”...

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6. The Moodus Noises: The Science and Lore of Connecticut Earthquakes

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pp. 132-156

The small village of Moodus lies halfway between Old Saybrook and Middletown, near the confluence of the Connecticut and Salmon Rivers (fig. 6–1). Its rocky hills are notorious for the loud noises and tremors heard and felt at intermittent intervals. Archaeological evidence indicates a high concentration of ancient Indian sites in this area and suggests...

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Sidebar: Moodus Tremors and Sonic Booms

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pp. 156-

In the early morning of June 17, 1981, while enjoying a bowl of cornflakes, I heard a low rumbling sound. Shortly thereafter, the windows and sliding doors of our house in Haddam rattled strongly. Our three dogs panicked and joined me en masse on the couch.We had experienced a small earthquake, a Moodus tremor. After wiping spilled milk, cornflakes...

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7. Visitors from Space: The Weston and Wethersfield Meteorites

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pp. 157-170

Most people have looked up and seen meteors flash through the night skies. Their lights flare and vanish within seconds. Unknown to them, some of these objects continue their voyage and reach the Earth’s surface, occasionally even invading homes. After he woke up early in the morning of April 8, 1971, Paul Cassarino walked downstairs and...

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Afterword: Our Lithic Inheritance

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pp. 171-173

The Introduction began with a narrative of a hike in one of the wooded sections of Connecticut and an encounter with a stone wall that once enclosed a farmer’s field, which is presently surrounded by dense growth. Right there, a very small but essential part of Connecticut’s history was revealed in its basic simplicity...

Bibliography

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pp. 175-196

Index

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pp. 197-206


E-ISBN-13: 9780819572479
Print-ISBN-13: 9780819568915

Page Count: 228
Publication Year: 2009

Series Title: Garnet Books