Lower Cove

Former site of booming quarry

Cumberland’s built heritage consists of more than the dwellings and churches that have been examined in this column over the summer. Bridges, cemeteries, monuments, sculptures, industrial buildings and sites all require and deserve protection and acknowledgment as monuments to our local past. Many factories and industry-related sites, due to their size, location and obsolescence, have been allowed to deteriorate and/or disappear.

Lower Cove was the site of a booming quarry and grindstone producing industry long before the early 20th century industrial boom in the more populated areas of this county. Acadians were producing grindstones on the Lower Cove beach prior to 1800, probably for their own use and not as a money making enterprise. One of the early stone traders was Joseph Read who leased a property in the area in 1810. Commencing in 1831, Amos Seaman leased the grindstone quarries from the DesBarres (Minudie Estate) holdings for 40 pounds sterling a year. Under Seaman’s management, the quarrying of sandstone became a major industry employing over one hundred people at most times during productive years. The grindstones were gleaned from sandstone reefs along filled with water and scrap rock. This beach experiences some of the world’s highest tides and so the reefs were only accessible for quarrying at low tide. The stone was lashed to rafts or vessels to be carried by the incoming tide. Stones from both sources, were then fashioned into grindstones and loaded onto scows for transfer to schooners, clipper or cargo ships in Minudie. Grindstones from Lower Cove were shipped mainly to New England and the Eastern seaboard. 

Placed in a cradle-like holder and rotated, large grindstones were principally used as filling objects for sharpening tools and machine blades while smaller stones were used for kitchen knives, scythes, axes and other small implements. Good grindstones usually lasted a year, and were, in that time, greatly reduced in size by the wear of filing.

Basically grindstones were chunks of sandstone fashioned into a circular shape with as square hole in the centre from which the stone could be attached to a frame for use. In the early 1800’s, the stones were quarried and dressed (made circular) entirely by hand. Leonard Lee, in 1991 wrote two informative articles about the Lower Cove quarry industry. In one he quotes Abraham Gesner who wrote in 1836: “After having been split into pieces of small dimensions with iron wedges, it (the sandstone) is conveyed to the stone-cutter, who, with a pair of compasses, describe the circle and with amazing facility cut the eye, and complete the whole process in the shorter space of time than would be required to form a piece of wood of similar size into the figure of a grindstone.”

Grindstones were fashioned in a variety of weights and sizes. In 1875, a stone, produced in Lower Cove and shipped to Maine was seven feet in diameter and weighed 8,000 pounds. 

Until the second half of the 19th century, quarrying and stone cutting was done with black powder, horses and skilled stone cutters. In 1843, Amos Seaman introduced, at Minudie, the first steam powered mill in the province. It could be assumed that after this date, steam was used to dress the stones at his quarries, although the 20th century photo accompanying this article shows a stone being dressed by hand. 

Sandstone quarrying was phased out in Lower Cove in the early 1900’s. More expedient methods of filing were developed and improved transportation systems in the U.S. led to exploitation of their own sandstone in the interior of that country. 

Lower Cove is one of twelve locations in the Maritime provinces where sandstone was quarried for the creation of grindstones and one of three in this county alone, the others being Minudie and Ragged Reef. Production was impressive, in 1847, the number of stones shipped from Cumberland County was recorded at 33,075. 

Little remains in Lower Cove today of the offices, powder shack, chimney (removed in the 1960’s for safety reasons) wharf, store or the various other work buildings used to facilitate the operation of the quarries. However, two dwellings still exist in the community which were directly related to the stone quarries – one owned by Peter and Jean Flemington was the home of the Atlantic Grindstone Company manager and the present day home of Alex Burbine was built to be used as a cookhouse for the quarry workers and stone cutters. 

Today a walk along the Lower Cove beach will reveal a number of dressed stones, most of them abandoned due to flaws. As well, some tools and the remains of the wharf are quite visible. Visit this area but please do not disturb these remnants of the quarrying industry. Lower Cove is a protected beach. What remains are sadly, the only monuments on site in testament to the people who and the natural resources which so early and so substantially contributed to Cumberland’s economy.


Leonard Lee, “Grindstones and Clipper Ships”, WOODCUT. Autumn 1991, Issue 1. Pages 24-29. 
Leonard Lee, “Lower Cove 150 Years Later”, WOODCUT. Autumn 1991, Issue 1. Pages 30-31. 
The above are two photocopied articles at the Cumberland County Museum #92-29. 
“The End of An Era”, Amherst Daily News, April 5, 1985. Cumberland County Museum. #92-771. 
“Oddities came from Nova Scotia” by Robin Rowland. Toronto Star. October 18, 1986.

Individuals and organizations who own private homes or public buildings constructed in Cumberland County before 1914 and wish to investigate the history of the structure(s) or are interested in Municipal Heritage designation for their building(s) or the Heritage Act in general are welcome to contact Laurie A. Glenn, Historical Researcher at the Municipality of Cumberland, E.B. Fullerton Building, P.O. Box 428, Amherst, Nova Scotia, B4H 3Z5. Phone 667-2313 or fax 667-1352.

(Source: The Citizen, Saturday, August 20, 1994, Page 30 – Cumberland’s Built Heritage, compiled by Laurie A. Glenn – Former site of booming quarry)