Business: Harwich Monument Maker Celebrates 150 Years In Business
By: Debra Lawless
HARWICH — It is a rare business that celebrates 150 years of continuous operations in the same building where it was established.
But so it is with Henry T. Crosby & Son Monuments and Memorials, founded in 1872 at 672 Main St. in Harwich. Thomas J. Blute has now owned the business that he cherishes for 33 years.
“It’s 100 percent been for me,” he says. “I don’t want it to end.” Blute, who is in his late 50s, says that he has no plans to retire. For him, the satisfaction comes when he asks himself: “At the end of the day, are you helping someone?”
And for Blute, that answer is a resounding yes.
Something about this place makes you feel you’ve traveled back in time. Today cars, rather than horse-drawn carriages, travel down Main Street, but today the newly-bereaved come here to order monuments for their departed loved ones just as they did a century and a half ago.
“I know how difficult it is to walk through that door,” Blute says, glancing at the open side door of his office. Outside, sunshine falls on a piece of marble that says “Crosby Monuments,” now used as a stepping stone. Just up the side street is Island Pond Cemetery.
Inside the office, Blute sits at this round table with family members who are sometimes “confused and dazed.” He discusses what cemetery the family has a plot in, how big the plot is. He asks them about their beliefs, and finds a way to personalize the stone. For a man involved with baseball, for example, letters will be sandblasted on a granite stone shaped like a baseball plate. When someone joins the long tradition of choosing and personalizing a stone for a loved one, “it’s all part of the therapy,” Blute says. The greatest compliment he receives is when people say, “you made that easier than I thought it would be.”
Blute grew up in Harwich, and then, eager to leave the Cape, went on to study business at Salve Regina College in Newport. While there, he met his future wife, Jodie. He embarked on a conventional career path selling securities, then working at State Street Bank out of Quincy.
“It was just not for me,” he says. When his father, Edward, told him that Weldon “Bud” Erikson, who was then in his 70s, was looking to sell the monument business, Blute came home to Harwich. After working with Erikson and his crew for about six weeks, Blute said he’d buy the business. That was in January 1989.
For Blute, working closely with the newly-bereaved was familiar. Edward, who died in 2015, was a funeral director who his son says exhibited a lot of compassion and empathy. “He knew how to handle people.”
For six years, Blute and Jodie lived in an apartment upstairs in the building that was erected in 1835 and began its life as a leather and saddlery shop. In 1872 Henry T. Crosby opened his monument business here. When Henry died in 1915, his son Bertram took over. And after his death, Erikson, who had learned his skills at his own father’s monument company in Quincy, bought the business. Today Blute works in the office with Janet Our, who has been here for 13 years; on Wednesdays his mother Mary Lou answers the phones.
Many years ago the granite capital was Quincy – the stone for the Bunker Hill Monument came from there – but today Quincy Quarries Reservation is a state park. Blute gets his stone from Barre, Vt., where several quarries make it “the hub of the northeast.” In Barre, the quarries sell Barre gray granite as well as granite imported from India and China. The quarries will saw, polish and cut the stone to shape. Blute’s orders are delivered to Braintree, where he drives twice a week to pick up his orders.
Blute also repairs and restores cemetery stones, and worked on about 25 stones in Chatham this year. Generally such repairs are financed through Community Preservation Act funds.
As well as cemetery markers and markers for pets, Blute creates municipal monuments. A plaque on a boulder honoring Chatham’s Revolutionary War soldiers was dedicated on Memorial Day; he is currently finishing a war memorial in the town of Eastham.
While many things about this line of work have not changed much in 150 years, a few have. Cremations have increased. Holy Trinity Church in Harwich has a columbarium that is over 310-feet long, and contains 975 niches that will each hold one or two urns of ashes. Every week Blute is called upon to do the lettering on the stones.
And in a technical improvement, carving and etching tools are powered with electricity and compressed air, rather than muscle. Electric – rather than manual – chain hoists are now used to lift stones. Swaddled in protective equipment, Blute works in a cutting shed next door.
While many of the old monument businesses have been handed down through the generations, Blute notes that Crosby “wasn’t gifted to me,” and he wants his three children to choose whether or not to enter the business.
“I’m fortunate to be where I love, doing a job that is so rewarding,” Blute says. “A lot of my passion is my work.”