Wonders of the South Coast: Why did Fall River almost blow away the iconic Rolling Rock?

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Autumn River – 58 feet high and 140 tons, Rolling Rock in Fall River County Street and Eastern Avenue are hard to miss while driving.

Once upon a time, it was literally It’s hard to miss it when driving, as it’s stuck on the street. In the early days of automobiles in Fall River, Rolling Rock was considered a traffic hazard, a “menace,” a “freak of nature,” and a “mass of petrified clay.” The neighbors wanted to haul it away somewhere else, or blow it up with dynamite to get rid of it.

Although it is now a symbol of the city and a useful landmark, Rolling Rock hasn’t always received much attention. How did it get here, and why has it been preserved? lets take alook.

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Two young girls sit under Rolling Rock in Fall River in this picture postcard from 1909.

Two young girls sit under Rolling Rock in Fall River in this picture postcard from 1909.

Rolling Rock: Did it come from the Biblical Flood, Atlantis, or Dayton?

The huge pudding stone – a ‘conglomerate’ as we should imagine it – rests on a flat granite base, looking as if one good blow might topple it over. It has been observed on maps since 1800, but It was first studied by Edward Hitchcock of Amherst College in 1830While passing through the city on a geological survey trip across the state.

Naturally, the first thing to do is try to push it. Everyone is trying.

And in those early days, I moved – just a little.

“It lies on the edge of a quarry; “I fear, therefore, that it may be precipitated for a long time from its present interesting position,” he wrote at the time.

Hitchcock’s initial idea was that it must have been washed away here during the great Biblical flood. He later came to embrace the modern understanding: it had likely been transported south by glacial ice thousands of years ago, deposited on its stony perch, and left hanging there.

The Rolling Rock band likely originated in Dayton, since its composition resembles that of the conglomerate found there — although a newspaper once noted that its place of origin was “probably the mountains of Atlantis.” And this is not the only myth surrounding it. Over the years, tales have claimed that Indian warriors would place their enemies’ limbs under them and roll the rock over them as a form of torture, or that a doctor who feared robbery by the Indians would hide treasure inside the rock, or that an Indian chief, upset that a brave man from a warring tribe was courting to his daughter, crushing them under his “heavy mass” – none of these stories were told, of course, by actual Native Americans.

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Children try to push a Rolling Rock in Fall River, in this undated archive photo.

Children try to push a Rolling Rock in Fall River, in this undated archive photo.

Conservation efforts pushed, but they wouldn’t budge

Fall River developed around Rolling Rock, which was considered a geological oddity and a hazard. In the 1860s, Barney Harrison, foreman of a nearby granite quarry, feared that some Yahoos he worked with would push it over and flatten the men inside, or that an explosion would dislodge it. So he supported him.

In a do-it-yourself style when you don’t know how to do it yourself, Harrison “fixed” a rolling rock band by jamming a bunch of random crap underneath: “shards of broken pegs, all iron” and “stone chips,” according to Daily evening newsUntil “the wonder of the ages no longer revolves.”

This photo published in the Herald News in July 1927 shows how Rolling Rock was stuck in traffic on County Street before its preservation, with cars and wagons driving by.

This photo published in the Herald News in July 1927 shows how Rolling Rock was stuck in traffic on County Street before its preservation, with cars and wagons driving by.

By the turn of the twentieth century, the County Street neighborhood had become densely populated. Housing ended everywhere, and roads were built, with a streetcar line running along County Street. The Rolling Rock band was a fixture in the neighborhood, and was hard to ignore, since the rock was partially hung on County Street itself. Cars were in the road, and a huge rock stuck to the road created a blind corner.

As early as 1900, Fall River saw efforts to preserve the rock, according to Fall River Evening Newswhere people petitioned to protect it “not only as an interesting landmark but as a geological specimen that directly affects the very life of humanity.”

But like the rock itself, its preservation plans have been difficult to move forward with. Nothing happened until 1912, with more public anger over traffic problems. Fall River Schoolchildren wrote essays and short stories about the rock in favor of saving it — but generally, people preferred to dispose of the rock “with sand or dynamite,” perhaps moving it to nearby Lafayette Park or another corner where it could be out of the way.

A Fall River Evening Herald newspaper clipping dated March 20, 1912 tells the story of how Rolling Rock was removed or nearly destroyed due to lack of interest.

A Fall River Evening Herald newspaper clipping dated March 20, 1912 tells the story of how Rolling Rock was removed or nearly destroyed due to lack of interest.

In May 1912, according to Fall River Evening Herald, about half a dozen citizens at a sparsely attended meeting “preferred to move the pudding stone as a mass or scattered pieces in any direction they cared after the spark touched the giant powder.” Standing up to them was Edmund Estes, who distributed copies of an original poem he had written about the Rolling Rock band, calling it “our one great natural curiosity.”

“Let us understand the true value of this wonderful landmark,” he said. “Make it a talking point when referring to the natural history of Fall River, and a topical point when accompanying visitors on a tour around the city.”

But once again, public opinion wavered but did not budge.

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A bronze plaque mounted on Rolling Rock's granite base provides some details about its history.

A bronze plaque mounted on Rolling Rock’s granite base provides some details about its history.

How Rolling Rock Was Saved

If the rock “belongs” to anyone, it is Estes, president and treasurer of the Estes Mill, a string, rope, and string manufacturer. He became her biggest supporter over the years. By 1927, he owned the land on which the rock sits, and he continued to offer it to the city for a park, to no avail. He even designed a plan that saw the rock surrounded by a green triangle that kept county drivers safe — the exact design we have today.

However, the City Council seems to prefer blowing Rolling Rock into smithereens. The general public received this with disregard Herald News At that time it was blamed on “such passion for mathematical life that the beauty of nature or the attractiveness of phenomena no longer holds any charm for us.”

The newspaper took a firm editorial stance against destroying or moving the rock. In 1930, the newspaper heavily promoted a fund to finance Estes’ proposal and build a park around the rock, and for several months continued to push the idea forward, publishing fund updates and positive letters to the editor. The money quickly flowed in.

Fall River's Rolling Rock rests atop its granite perch in this 1966 postcard.

Fall River’s Rolling Rock rests atop its granite perch in this 1966 postcard.

By June 1930, the newspaper had raised nearly $5,700 for the fund — about $104,000 today. That was enough to finally get the ball rolling, so to speak.

Later that year, on November 22, 1930, a crowd of 2,000 people gathered on County Street as Mayor Edmund B. Talbot dedicated the new park, a major shift in public opinion. As the old saying goes, you never know what you’ve got until it’s almost blown to pieces.

No one was happier than Estes, who saw decades of work pay off.

“The years-long intermittent controversy has ended, primitive hostility has been subverted and replaced by universal goodwill, the traffic hazard has been removed, an eyesore has been transformed into a spot of beauty, and Fall River’s famous Rolling Rock has been preserved.” “My heart is full of gratitude,” he said.

Dan Medeiros can be reached at dmedeiros@heraldnews.com. Support local journalism by purchasing a digital or print subscription to The Herald News today.

This article originally appeared in the Herald News: Fall River’s Rolling Rock landmark: How it was saved from destruction

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