Vermont Verde Antique: Resiliency After the Storm
Note: This article is part of a series about American quarries. If you work for a quarry that’s a member of the Natural Stone Institute and you’d like your quarry to be featured here, contact Karin Kirk. Thank you!
On a late summer weekend in August 2011, Hurricane Irene made landfall for the ninth time, in Brooklyn, NY. The storm had whipped itself into hurricane force some 2,400 miles southward, first crossing over land in the Virgin Islands, then striking Puerto Rico and the Bahamas before gathering strength and bouncing up the eastern seaboard, making landfall three more times, in North Carolina, New Jersey, and finally Brooklyn. The following day, the storm veered inland and churned her way northward through the New England countryside, stalling over southern Vermont, dropping nearly one foot of rainfall in a single day.
The steep slopes of Vermont’s Green Mountains funneled the rain into streams and rivers, and the famously bucolic waterways transformed to raging torrents. Many of Vermont’s roadways follow stream valleys, and water rose beyond the stream banks and gushed over the pavement, ripping out chunks of tarmac, carrying off cars and pickups, and dislodging bridges that had stood for over a century.
Almost every stream and river in the state flooded. Six people were killed, and 500 miles of roadway were damaged. Thirteen towns were left stranded when bridges and roads that served them collapsed, leaving no access to the community.
Among those unlucky towns was Rochester, home of the Vermont Verde Antique quarry.
“All of Vermont was devastated,” recalls Tom Fabbioli, the owner of the quarry. “We were like an island. We lost all of our access to roads.”
Due to the widespread extent of the damage, the power remained out for days. Tom uneasily watched water rising in the bottom of the quarry, which couldn’t be pumped out without electricity. As the water rose, Tom searched frantically for a generator, but one obstacle after another prevented access to backup electricity. Three days after the storm, with the power still out, water stood just ten inches below $250,000 worth of equipment inside the quarry.
“I believe in fate, whatever that means,” Tom says with a laugh. “I’m a positive guy.” After pursuing numerous options, all he could do was hope for the best. But luck went his way, and the power was restored in the nick of time. Pumping resumed, and the equipment was saved. “I was very thankful,” says Tom, with relief still clear in his voice ten years after the incident.
Overburden saves the day
Tom had purchased the quarry only four years prior to the storm, and shortly after he took the helm, the 2008 recession gripped the economy, cutting the company’s sales by 75%. After the company navigated its way out of the recession, Irene took another swipe at the operation.
But the natural disaster had an upside. Before roads could be rebuilt, stream banks needed to be stabilized and restored. Massive amounts of rock and fill would be needed to replace what had been washed downstream. “We had a pile of waste rock from the 1950s; this huge pile of rock,” says Tom, “and within two months, it was all gone.”
Managing waste rock and the “overburden” of soil and fractured rock that sit above the more valuable deposits is a fact of life for every quarry. The material has its uses, but it might not be the most interesting sales prospect. In the fall of 2011, that waste rock built an essential lifeline that reconnected towns and rebuilt infrastructure.
Even 60 years’ worth of overburden was not enough to meet the demand for repairs. Tom recalls the Vermont Department of Transportation approached them again. “So, they asked us what other rock do we have?” Tom and his crew hired drillers and blasters to extract more rock, removing layers of chlorite schist that lie above the more valuable serpentine.
The excavation of new stone for roadways was good fortune on many levels. It helped the state recover from storm damage, it provided steady sales for the company, and it fostered the development of an entirely new access point for the quarry. In essence, the work set the stage for the coming decades of quarrying.
“It’s like a Cracker Jack box”
Vermont Verde’s original quarry is so impressively deep that it’s a tourist attraction. The sheer rock walls step down into the Earth with geometric precision. The walls of the quarry are dark green with white veining, and a pool of turquoise water sits at the bottom, 200 feet down.
The picturesque worksite suffers from one major problem, though.
“It takes us about an hour to pull one block out of the hole,” says Peter Fabbioli, Tom’s son and business manager of Vermont Verde. Even after all the planning, drilling, and cutting of each block from the deep quarry, it still takes an hour just to lift one block up to ground level. “It’s very time-consuming,” Peter says. “So, if you can imagine, we have like 50 blocks down there – there’s 50 hours of crane movement.”
As the quarry team extracted rock for roadbuilding, they did so strategically, with a new concept in mind. “We’re starting a new area where we are going to go down next to the old quarry,” says Peter.
To convert the deep hole quarry into a drive-in quarry, the crew started 1,500 feet away and 34 feet lower than the surface of the existing quarry, and cut in a keyway, working their way toward the existing deep hole.
The ramp into the old quarry will run straight through the center of a second serpentine lens, which they’ve located via drilling and core sampling. This will allow the double benefit of providing better access to the old quarry while also accessing a whole new deposit along the way. “We’re in a good location to start,” says Peter, adding, “It’s like a Cracker Jack box. You don’t know what you’re going to find.”
What is serpentine?
Vermont Verde Antique is a serpentine, and it’s not unlike the coveted prize in a Cracker Jack box, because it occurs as isolated deposits within bedrock of schist and phyllite.
Although serpentine is often called green marble, it’s not marble, nor is it particularly similar to marble. Verde Antique is deep green, rippling with white veins. The stone has a Mohs hardness of around 5 and doesn’t etch from household acids. For those seeking the look of marble without the upkeep, it’s a sound option.
Vermont Verde has a somewhat complex geologic history, but it’s a fun story to tell.
Serpentine is a metamorphic rock that originates very deep inside the Earth, usually in the lower crust or the mantle, which is a thick zone of hot, semi-solidified rock that lies beneath Earth’s solid crust. Verde Antique serpentine began its life as basalt, which is the igneous rock that makes up Earth’s ocean basins.
Fans of geology know that rocks don’t always stick around in their original locations. Around 450 million years ago, the east coast of the U.S. went through a geologic train wreck known as the Taconic Orogeny, caused by a volcanic island chain crashing into the east coast of North America. When land masses collide, the ocean floor that once stood between them gets “subducted” or pushed underneath the continents. But it’s not quite as tidy as that. Some oceanic rocks get scraped up and folded into the overlying sediments, then the whole mass gets plastered onto the leading edge of the continent. It sounds messy, but that’s how Vermont was made.
All told, the landscape around Vermont got compressed by 600 miles, squeezing the rock layers into tight folds and transforming them into metamorphic rocks. Slivers of ocean crust, long detached from their ocean, got pushed downward and exposed to hot, mineral-rich fluids. The heat and chemical reactions transformed the basalt into serpentine, in a process helpfully named “serpentinization.”
Fractures in the rock filled in with calcite and magnesite, creating white veining that hints at how the rock was pushed, pulled, and twisted underground.
Because the serpentine originated as small scraps of ocean crust, the serpentine deposits are found in pockets, rather than in a continuous layer. Vermont Verde’s original quarry taps into one pocket, and the new quarry is aiming for another one.
One of the “little guys”
As the crew prepares the next section of the quarry, Tom and his team continue to work the original hole. “we’re nearing the best of the area” says Tom. “Mike firmly believes that some of the best deposit is down there.”
Mike Solari is among the tight-knit crew of eight people that work at the Vermont Verde quarry. With 26 years of experience, he’s of enormous value to the company. “It’s a great place to work,” he says. “The Fabbiolis are a great family, a lot of fun to work with.” Their connection is easy to observe, even on a Zoom call.
The leadership team of Vermont Verde has a distinctly different feel than most others. There’s visible pride as Tom describes their operation as “one of the little guys.” Many of today’s quarries tend to be owned by large companies with substantial resources. But Tom’s path is different. “I started out as a cabinet maker,” he says modestly. He first went into business for himself at the tender age of 21, and he bootstrapped his way into general contracting, then renovating historic buildings. “I did it with all my own working capital,” he says.
With dreams to buy a quarry, he began scouting. “I went around the world looking for different quarries,” he recalls.
Tom first bought a stone fabrication shop in Barre, Vermont, which eventually led him to the Verde Antique quarry. “It was not a straight line, let’s put it that way,” he says. Indeed, one could even say it was a serpentine path that led him to the beautiful, deep hole in Rochester.
Through all the chapters in his career, Tom’s foundational philosophy becomes evident. “I have always produced something where the customer’s expectations were met or exceeded. And when you do that, you always seem to have work. You always seem to be busy.”
Nowadays, Tom doesn’t need to shoulder the entire burden; his three sons all work in the business. “I have worked with my father hand in hand since I can remember,” says Peter.
Both Peter and Tom consider Mike to be an honorary member of the Fabbioli family. “We have a wonderful quarry and we’re happy to have purchased it,” says Tom, “but having Mike part of the family business here has been—it’s better than the quarry. You know? He is a wonderful, wonderful asset.”
“It can’t get more white…”
A quarry operation can do a lot to ensure success, but it can’t control the aesthetic whims of the market. In recent years, kitchen design has leaned strongly toward white, grey, and neutral colors. The move away from saturated colors has been “a negative impact on us,” says Tom.
When manufactured quartz entered the marketplace, it pushed the trend even father toward colorless surfaces.
Tom recounts their internal conversations about design trends: “I would say, ‘It can’t get more white than it is now.’ And sure as hell…”
Peter chimed in, and father and son finished the sentence in perfect harmony: “It got more white!”
Nevertheless, Mike points out that the stone’s enduring history is a bigger benefit than the color-du-jour. “Verde Antique was used in so many commercial projects, so a lot of restoration work is going on now.”
In the meantime, the chlorite schist that was excavated for road repair may prove to be another color option the company can offer. It has a subtle, silky glint of mica and a grey-green, muted color that would be at home in contemporary designs.
Northward migration and local devotion
Regardless of the ebbs and flows of stone fashion, Tom and his crew recognize their strongest market is the one closest to home. “We have a wonderful clientele, noting that dedicated customers are mostly local but come from all over. “We have customers that will go out of their way—we’ve had people coming in from California and all around the country.”
Spurred by the pandemic, the local market expanded as people migrated northward, away from the more populous parts of the eastern seaboard. This fueled a steady stream of work and a strong interest in Vermont Verde. “People wanted to come to the showroom. People wanted to see it,” recalls Tom. Peter adds, “All the fabricators we were talking to, they were gung-ho through the whole pandemic.”
Tom “I think the reality is people look at our stone and there is a draw – there is something they feel – whether they remember it from something old or wherever this connection comes from, but I think that’s only developing in a more positive way.”
As a lifelong Vermonter, Mike appreciates the bond of the local culture, “That’s a big thing here in New England. They love buying local stones. We have a lot of fabricators that are regulars. Somebody comes into their shop and they say, “Look at this Verde Antique. It comes out of Vermont. It’s nearby.” People like it for that reason and the fabricators like it also,” he says. “It’s a big, big thing.”