Rock of Ages Blog

Rock of Ages Visitor Center: Celebrates 100 Years of Sharing Local History and Natural Stone Wonders

Posted by Chanel Provost

It’s been a century of smiles for the millions of visitors to the Rock of Ages headquarters in Barre, Vermont. On May 1st, Rock of Ages will welcome the public for a 100th straight year to enjoy the staggering scenery of its E.L. Smith Quarry and watch its world-renowned stone artisans at work.

EL Smith Quarry Blue Water


It was 1924 when, what was then, the Boutwell, Milne & Varnum Company, first opened its doors to curious onlookers who gathered on the surrounding hills for a peak at the mammoth operations before them. It was an era when families were first able to buy automobiles and enjoy the new freedoms they could afford. With the improvement of the road network, tires, and engines, Americans could hop in a car and go see their country in a way railroads never made possible.

While adventurers like Jack Kerouac crisscrossed America for months at a time, most planned simpler day trips to destinations with good word-of-mouth buzz. Barre’s natural wonders were among them, Rock of Ages explained to Vermont Public Radio.

While many companies were keeping visitors out of their factories and away from their active quarry and mining areas, due to safety concerns, Rock of Ages’ founders were forward-thinking, deciding, that they were going to welcome guests and educate tell them on the virtues of their product and their company. 


In line for Visitor Center

Group of men on granite blocks


The company established its first visitor center, called “The Retiring Room,” in what was formerly a back room in a machine shop. Tourists could take a break on a comfortable wicker chair, cool down beneath a ceiling fan, and enjoy a refreshing glass of lemonade on the house. Then they could cross the street and watch the quarry on a safe platform.


ROA Quarry Observation 2


It’s a tradition that’s continued ever since, although what visitors experience has changed a great deal. Back in 1924, Boutwell, Milne & Varnum was still primarily a quarrying operation that served granite to the many manufacturing companies in town. Today, Rock of Ages is one of the largest manufacturers in the world, creating an estimated one-third of America’s granite monuments and headstone memorials each year. Visitors today can watch these creations take shape from an observation platform overlooking the 160,000-square-foot factory floor.




Circular Saw w People


One of the draws in the early days was a marketing campaign that first used the trademarked phrase “Rock of Ages” to emphasize the strength and quality of Barre’s granite. It resonated so well that the company renamed itself from the phrase in 1925.

In 2004, Rock of Ages opened its modern Visitors Center, which is open seasonally for quarry tours, and a free self-guided manufacturing plant tour. The site captures the rich history of the industry and showcases some of the most iconic creations sculpted from its stone. Inside you can browse hands-on exhibits, watch informational films in a theater, and buy one-of-a-kind granite souvenirs.


Exterior of Visitor Center and Living Mounment

Inside the Visitor Center


Outside, visitors can “rock and bowl” a few frames on the world's only outdoor granite bowling lane. The prototype was conceived in the 1950s as a potential replacement for traditional wooden lanes but never caught on commercially.


kid bowling


And of course, the main event: Guided tours of the legendary E.L. Smith Quarry. At nearly 600 feet deep, it is the largest operating deep-hole, dimension granite quarry in the world.

The quarry tour with its majestic panoramic views, is especially popular during peak fall foliage season when the rock formations and blue waters juxtapose with the wild reds, oranges, and yellows on the mountains.


EL Smith Quarry Fall Foliage


However, if you can’t make it to Barre right away, have no fear – we have enough granite in our quarry to last another 4,500 years.

While you're there, please be sure to say hello to Shane Shaw, our esteemed Visitor Center Guest Service Supervisor at Rock of Ages. He is ready to answer any questions you may have, offer suggestions on additional attractions to visit, recommendations on the perfect place to catch a bite, and challenges you to stump his stone knowledge!  "It is an honor to be part of the centennial season of Rock of Ages Quarry tours. We will continue to uphold the highest quality, education, historical significance, and entertainment of the past tours, and set the foundation for the next 4,500 years." Shane is eagerly looking forward to extending a warm welcome as we embark on yet another remarkable year of tours.



FOr visitors

  • The Rock of Ages visitation season runs from May 1st to October 31st, 2024.
  • The Visitors Center is located at 558 Graniteville Road, Barre, Vermont. It is open for free self-guided manufacturing plant tours from 8:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. on Monday-Friday.
  • Quarry tours are available Monday-Friday four times a day: 10:15 a.m., 11:30 a.m., 1:15 p.m. and 2:30 p.m. Tickets can be purchased at the Visitors Center for $9 for adults, $7.50 for seniors, and $4.50 for children ages 6-14. Children under 5 get in free. 
  • Visit the tourism page on our website to plan your trip and book your tours in advance. For inquiries about group and school visits, call 802-661-1102.

EL Smith Quarry


more on the rock of ages history

Burlington Free Press: “Rock of Ages: A lasting legacy in Barre.”

Barre Scottish Bagpipe and Drum Band

Men bed of truck

Boys in Car


Topics: Granite, Marble, Civic Memorial, Mausoleum Design, Tourism, Vermont Attractions, Headstone Design

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