Digging Deep

Acres of landscaping products are on display in the lot.

A plywood template will be used to imbed the company’s logo in a stone landing.

Inside the warehouse, the couple surveys a piece of North Jay granite that will form part of a veterans memorial wall; in the background, a massive block saw bisects a slab.

Kathleen and Jamie, pictured atop 3,000-pound chunks of Heritage Valley ledgestone at their Jefferson stone yard.

PROFILE-June 2012

by Sarah Stebbins | Photography Irvin Serrano

For more than a decade, Jamie and Kathleen Carle have been unearthing Maine’s geological treasures. Now they’re at the forefront of the state’s stone industry.

From a distance, the yard at J.C. Stone in Jefferson resembles the remains of an ancient village. Boulders, slabs, mammoth quarried blocks, and smaller rocks stacked in cubes of varying heights rise out of the earth for a quarter mile down a dusty road off Route 17. Architects, designers, sculptors, and homeowners flock here for the sheer size of the selection and for inspiration. “It’s fascinating to walk with people in the lot and see the moment when they find the perfect piece or type of material,” says Kathleen Carle, who owns the company with her husband, Jamie. “I’ll think, I walked by that 50 times and never saw a dragon’s head. With stone, it’s all in the eye of the beholder.”

Depending on the needs and vision of the client, a granite slab might become a front step, fireplace mantel, or—in the hands of a talented sculptor—an elaborate, serpentine creature. A weathered boulder may serve as a focal point in a garden, or it may be piped to run water for outdoor bathing. Then there’s the vast supply of hardscaping products, which can be arrayed in infinite combinations, from neat geometric rows to intricate puzzle-like designs. “Our stone travels all over the place and we don’t always know where it ends up or how it is used,” says Jamie.
In 1995, when Jamie and a business partner began mining rock from a 90-acre lot in the town of Washington, he knew where every stone went: he drove it there himself. The partners focused on “natural stone” that can be peeled off from the ledge with an excavator, and they sold the pieces—slabs, wall stones, flagstones, and veneers—to local landscapers. “At the time, there wasn’t a huge market for natural products. We sort of helped create it,” says Jamie. The guys filled custom orders and built up a supply of stock products, eventually bringing in stone from other quarries to expand their lines. When Jamie and Kathleen met in 1998, “he was working out of his truck, writing orders on pizza boxes, and transferring them to his books at night,” recalls Kathleen. “I said, ‘It looks like you could use some help.’”

Two years later, the couple bought out the other partner and incorporated as J.C. Stone. Kathleen handled the paperwork in the basement of their home until 2003, when they moved into an office on their current 10-acre lot. Today, the Carles have 46 employees and operate seven quarries throughout the state, making the company the region’s largest supplier of Maine stone. Their original Washington site yields a bluish-gray ledgestone called Heritage Valley, and the other quarries produce granite in colors ranging from classic salt-and-pepper gray to pinkish, lavender, and brown tones. At most of the locations, workers unearth natural as well as “dimensional” stone—giant blocks dug from deep below the surface with heavy machinery. Back at the stone yard, the blocks are “fabricated,” or cut into pavers, tiles, steps, and other products and treated with a variety of rough and polished finishes in a warehouse.

The company’s diverse offerings give customers the ability to mix and match colors and grains—or design an entire home or landscape around a single stone. For clients such as Mark Jorgensen of Jorgensen Landscaping in Bath, the latter is a particular thrill. He recently created a sweeping outdoor scheme—including chiseled veneers on the home, natural stone pathways, and a terrace composed of textured tiles and polished columns— almost entirely out of Heritage Valley stone. The result is “cohesive but not boring because there’s such variety in the finishes,” says Jorgensen. “The natural surfaces appear rough and muted; then when you start slicing into the stone and polishing it, it comes alive with more intense colors and a marble-like grain.”
The Carles have also created opportunities in the realm of restoration. Four of their quarries are historic sites that supplied stone for prominent national projects before ceasing operation in the late 1800s. The North Jay quarry in Jay provided granite for Grant’s Tomb in New York City, Portland City Hall, and other major buildings, and granite from the Oak Hill quarry in Swanville helped build the Holland Tunnel connecting Manhattan and New Jersey. Reopening the old quarries has enabled the company to match stone more precisely in preservation work. For projects that specify a different material, the Carles often get involved in the fabrication process. Around here, you can see examples of their craftsmanship in the carved brownstone lintels on the Maine Medical Center building on Bramhall Street in Portland, the marble altar at St. Ann’s Episcopal Church in Kennebunkport, and in the gray-and-black granite used throughout the Bowdoin College Museum of Art in Brunswick.

Despite their growth, the Carles have always maintained a personal approach. “The fact that everyone at J.C. knows my name and the guys in the shop call to ask questions when they’re cutting my order means a lot to me,” says George Libby Jr. of G.M. Libby and Sons Masonry in North Yarmouth. “Beyond that is the level of customization. I can give them a stencil of a fiddlehead design to carve into a slab, or tell them I need a boulder the size of the front end of my pickup, and they’ll find a way to make it happen.”

“We recognize we wouldn’t be here without our customers,” says Kathleen, who organizes free quarterly seminars for clients who want to grow their own small businesses. The company also hosts an annual sculpture symposium to showcase the work of local artists using Maine stone. “We want to be more than just a stone company,” she says. “We want to be a resource for our customers.”

Currently, those customers are scattered as far as Michigan, transforming their homes and cities with rock from a little stone “city” in Maine.

J.C. Stone: jcstoneinc.com, 207-549-4729