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Griffith Quarry Park and Museum: Placer County's pit of prosperity | Bartell's Backroads

A fieldtrip destination for thousands a day looks forward to schoolchildren's return. The man, the rock and the hole that put the little town of Penryn on the map.

PENRYN, Calif — Surrounding the town of Penryn is all Gold Country. Gold is in the hills, the rivers and mountains, but inside Penryn city limits, it's Granite Country. You’ll find the mighty Griffith Quarry--Placer County’s lesser-known pit of prosperity in the center of town. 

“This area is all about getting granite out of the ground. Forget about gold; it’s all about granite,” says Katy Bartosh, Historian for Placer County Museums.

Granite is the rock you see on the outside of buildings and used for kitchen counters. According to Bartosh, it’s not as sexy as gold, but it made a man by the name of Griffith Griffith very rich.

“Griffith Griffith, he came from Wales. He came to the east coast," says Bartosh. "He was doing quarrying originally. He heard about gold and came to California. He then decided that granite was more lucrative."

Griffith Griffith started digging the Penryn quarry in 1864 near the Transcontinental Railway. “Penryn Granite Works,” as he called it, was his third quarry in California. 

Griffith specialized in polishing granite, which eventually made its way into several iconic Bay Area buildings. “The U.S. branch mint in San Francisco and the Mare Island dry dock,” says Bartosh.

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Blood, sweat and black powder allowed men to pull granite out of the quarry until 1918. Today, the hole-in-the-ground is part of a 23-acre park and museum, a popular field trip location for Placer County students. 

“I work with over 3,000 students on a daily basis. Then all of a sudden, we couldn’t do that anymore," Bartosh said.

The pandemic severely impacted Griffith Quarry and all seven of Placer County’s museums. Hiking trails are open, but the volunteer historians have been quarantining for the past year. 

“We have these amazing online resources, but I can’t wait, the students can’t wait, and the docents can’t wait till we open back up again,” says Bartosh. 

The Griffith Quarry may just be a giant hole in the ground, but to the town of Penryn, it’s a big draw for the community, and locals are looking forward to the day the museum opens up and welcomes back students.

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