Although they can be kind of creepy, an interesting place to scuba dive is in a quarry. I did my very first check-out dive in an Illinois quarry when I got certified back in high school in 1979. Cold and dark with a sheer wall, it was not all that great…after we did skill drills, we basically chased turtles around.

Quarry diving is a different kind of dive experience. No worry about tides or salt water, but there are other considerations. Sediment tends to build up on things as there is little current or movement of water, which comes mostly from rainfall or runoff into the quarry.

They can be pretty dangerous with sheer drops, broken pieces of granite or rock, and twisted jagged chunks of iron or metal. These can easily entangle you or scrape or cut into your wetsuit. Often used as party places, quarries tend to have a lot of broken glass around as well. One positive is that visibility tends to be very good, especially on a sunny day.

One thing about quarries that interests me is their history. Back in the day, the hustle and bustle of an operating quarry must have been a sight to behold. When we hiked up to the Mt. Waldo Quarry, it was a quiet peaceful trek…no signs of oxen and steam engines or pulleys and harnesses needed to carve out huge slabs of granite and transport them down the mountain to where ships awaited their loading.

My first quarry dive in Maine was at Long Cove Quarry in St. George, now a popular location for swimmers. The business opened in 1873 and ran into the 20th century, owned and operated by Hurricane Isle Granite Co. of New York City. Long Cove Granite ended up in Albany’s Post Office and Philadelphia’s Bates Building.

At its peak, Long Cove Quarry had a post office which served the company town of Booth Brothers & Hurricane Isle Granite Co. Workers’ homes were located near the quarry. Long Cove and nearby Clark’s Island quarries were some of the largest operations in Maine, employing many stone cutters from England and Sweden. Many boarded with local families or lived in boardinghouses. Labor troubles in the 1890s brought many Finns to the area to replace the strikers.

Owners wanted to enlarge the quarry in 1895 and set off a huge explosion that November. The event saw five thousand spectators show up, including many quarry (or granite) men from around the country. The tremendous blast uncovered 100,000 tons of granite for removal.

By turn of the century, Long Cove Quarry measured nearly 1,000 feet by 500 feet with a depth of 75 feet. And that is pretty much what it is today, although now wicked quiet and filled with water and a lot of human material culture, which is a fancy way of saying junk or trash.

There is plenty of parking, but then you have a decent flat trek to lug your gear to the water. In the old days, it was accessible by vehicle so it was easy for people to dispose of all kinds of things, like trash. Diving the place is like a tour of Maine’s 20th century material culture. We have come across everything from a skateboard to a truck seat to a washing machine to barrels to a barbecue grill as well as a car.

Long Cove Quarry’s sunken car, about 25 feet down, with the trunk we could not open. Photo by Charles H. Lagerbom

Yes, there is a car. It sits about 30 feet down, slowly deteriorating. The first time we saw it, it was wicked exciting. I thought about trying to get into the driver’s seat for a picture of me driving underwater. But then thought better, as it could be an entanglement hazard. We found the trunk closed and tried but failed to open it. Maybe that was for the better, too; I was left to wonder what or who might be in it!

Mid-Coast Maine Aqua-Nut divers encounter an entire car seat in Long Cove Quarry.

The Mt. Waldo quarry officially opened in 1853 as the Mt. Waldo Granite Works, specializing in cutting paving stones. Waldo quarry granite even went to D.C. to help finish the Washington Monument. In the early years, oxen hauled the large pieces down the mountain to a wharf on the Penobscot River where two 20-ton cranes loaded nearly 1,300 tons of blocks onto waiting schooners. These vessels did this work until replaced around 1911 by large barges, although the arrival of a rail line from Frankfort to Stockton Springs also helped end the days of the granite schooners.

Mt. Waldo Granite Co. in Frankfort.

By 1916, Granite Works had filed for bankruptcy. A 1923 fire destroyed most of the buildings. The property was bought in 1930 by Bruno Grenci and Thomas Ellis and for the next 20 years the place once again came to life. They closed from 1942 to 1945 because of wartime shortages of steel for saws, but then reopened post-war and lasted until 1966.

I had only heard of Mt. Waldo Quarry from people who said they used to go up there to party, so when I got a call from a local writer asking if maybe the Mid-Coast Maine Aqua-Nuts might be interested in seeing what’s in the water up there, I said sure!

My first view of the place was on a solo reconnaissance hike in early April. There was a locked gate to the path and the slope was steep. In places at that time of year, it was either ice-covered or running with meltwater. The climb was a good workout and I began to question the wisdom of lugging scuba gear up there. At the quarry, ice still covered some of the water. But the entry access looked pretty easy and doable, we could sit on the edge of a granite block, put on our fins and slip into the water.

But this would not be like approaching Long Cove Quarry. The first two thirds of the way up Mt. Waldo was wicked steep, although on an almost road-like path. That steepness might be a deal-breaker with some of our divers. Besides, they might reason, what would people toss in there after having to haul it up a mountainside? Good question.

With graffiti-covered walls in back, Mid-Coast Maine Aqua-Nuts Nancy Snodgrass and Alexander Doyne-Ditmas enter the Mt. Waldo Quarry on our exploration expedition dive. Photo by Charles H. Lagerbom

We went back a few weeks later with the local writer, some Belfast Marine Institute students and the BMI’s ROV or remote operating vehicle. Sporting a 4k UHD camera and lights on a 100-meter tether, the robot can be operated by someone’s iPhone. How cool is that?!

So we put it to use and got some good underwater video, which helped convince us we needed to actually dive the place and explore it further. We also used an aerial drone that day to get some shots from above. All this just further whetted our appetites for the actual dive day.

What clinched the deal was when it was arranged for us to have the locked gate open, so we could drive our vehicles two thirds of the way up and over the steepest part of the trail. Then we would only have to lug the gear the final third of the way.

It was still a grueling lug of gear — we actually went up and down twice so we weren’t carrying everything at once. A photographer tagged along taking pictures of us hauling gear. We all took a breather at the top and I surveyed the graffiti that covered many rocks. I also got a little creeped out looking at the water and thinking about what might be down there.

We slowly got into our gear and slipped into the water. My trepidation vanished and instead the dive became like an industrial tour of the 19th century. There were all kinds of cables and equipment from the quarry days, big wheels and buckles and strands of iron cable twisted every which way.

Machinery remnants below Mt. Waldo Quarry waters. Photo by Charles H. Lagerbom

For animal life, we saw plenty of toads, frogs, salamanders and such. Someone told me there were blood-suckers there too, but I learned they only appear during the warmest times of the year and then not for very long. Still…yuck! I was surprised to see some small fish in the Mt. Waldo quarry. How the heck did they get up here?

An old satellite dish did catch my eye; there were some tires and a rusted barrel. I tried to move the large barrel, but it was still filled with something and wicked heavy. Now, I think back and wonder what or who might have been in it. Still, the dive was a unique great experience. We even got featured in Down East Magazine about it.

The infamous Mt. Waldo Quarry barrel we discovered…full of something…. Photo by Charles H. Lagerbom

Quarries are exotic locales; some have even been adopted by locals who frequently visit. Mt. Waldo Quarry is now a stop on the Quarry Trail, a 3.9-mile out-and-back hike near Frankfort, considered moderately challenging. It can take a little over two hours to finish.

There is even a Long Cove Swim Club group as well as a Friends of Long Cove Quarry, both on Facebook. The place has even been someone’s muse — the Bowdoin Museum of Art has in its collection an oil painting on masonite by artist Lois Dodd entitled “Long Cove Quarry.”

Of course, in both quarries, in addition to items purposely discarded, you also come across the remnants of items lost while swimming or jumping into the water. Sunglasses, a flip-flop, Go-Pros, watches, lots of coins and rings dominate the area. By far the most numerous items are beer bottles and bottle caps. We even found a beat up CD of Bob Seger’s Greatest Hits! Wow, Roll Me Away!

Charles Lagerbom teaches AP U.S. History at Belfast Area High School and lives in Northport. He is author of “Whaling in Maine” and “Maine to Cape Horn,” available through Historypress.com.