hill country observerThe independent newspaper of eastern New York, southwestern Vermont and the Berkshires


News September 2020


From Vermont’s marble quarries to the halls of D.C.

Maury Thompson


Redfield Proctor Sr., the 19th century Vermont politician, lawyer, marble industry executive and Civil War veteran, will soon find his place in 21st century sculpture.

The Rutland Herald reported in July that organizers of the Rutland Sculpture Trail have chosen Proctor to be the focus of the 10th sculpture on the trail, a public arts project that’s spread out over several blocks in downtown Rutland.

The sculpture trail, whose individual works have been commissioned by local philanthropists, celebrates Vermont history. An artist and design for the Proctor sculpture had not yet been determined.

But when the sculpture is finished, it would be fitting to invite at least one marching band to the dedication.

That would make the event reminiscent of the Benjamin Harrison presidential campaign rally that Proctor presided over in Burlington in late July 1888. About 20,000 people attended the rally, which featured a parade of 30 marching bands and drum corps and more than 100 Republican League clubs.

“The farmers of Vermont left their hayfields, the wage earners the shops and factories in the villages and among the hills, and the business and professional men their accustomed vocations, and rallied,” the Orleans County Monitor of Barton, Vt., reported on July 30, 1888. “The miners and iron workers from the Adirondacks, accompanied by bands of music, left the mines and furnaces for a day and crossed the lake to join.”

Proctor, who had been governor of Vermont from October 1878 to October 1880, and lieutenant governor and a state legislator before that, was catching momentum for a second stint in politics.
In June 1888, as chairman of the Vermont delegation at the Republican National Convention at Chicago, Proctor had convinced the delegation to unanimously back Harrison on all eight ballots.
After Harrison won the election that fall, he nominated Proctor to be his secretary of war, and the U.S. Senate quickly confirmed him in early 1889.

Vermont newspapers of course praised the choice, but some distant newspapers accused Harrison of political cronyism.

“‘Old Monopoly,’ alias Redfield Proctor, Secretary of War, is a man that few people outside of Vermont ever heard of before last week,” The Western Sentinel of Winston-Salem, N.C., wrote in an editorial on March 14, 1889. “He controls all of the marble quarries in Vermont and has thereby become rich, but nobody has yet been able to discover any good reason why he should have been made a Cabinet officer.”


Founder of a company town
Proctor, who founded the town of Proctor, just west of Rutland, was president of Vermont Marble Co., which became the largest supplier of marble in the world.

He got started in the marble industry in 1873, when he took over management of the Sutherland Falls Marble Co. and brought it out of bankruptcy. Sutherland and other companies consolidated to become Vermont Marble Co.

Proctor also raised Wembley Merino ewes and lambs, and he was a real estate investor.
He left Harrison’s cabinet in November 1891 to accept appointment to the U.S. Senate seat that became vacant when Sen. George F. Edmunds, R-Vt., resigned. Proctor subsequently was elected to the seat twice.

He was a confidant of President William McKinley and helped craft the gold-standard plank of the 1896 Republican platform.

Proctor “and a half dozen other friends of William McKinley worked together for nearly a week previous to the day the convention assembled and agreed upon a draft of the gold plank practically as it was adopted at the convention,” the Evening Times-Republican of Marshalltown, Iowa, reported on March 18, 1908.

In his role as an adviser to McKinley, Proctor traveled to Cuba on fact-finding missions just before and after the Spanish-American War.

Proctor was nearing his 77th birthday when he died while in office, on March 4, 1908, from pneumonia and resulting heart failure.

Newspapers across Vermont paid tribute.
“His rugged, honest personality has made itself felt on everyone with whom he has come in contact and few, indeed, were those in the Green Mountain State who did not feel that they possessed his friendship,” the Montpelier Argus wrote in an editorial.
The Rutland News wrote, “The oak has been felled, but only by the Omnipotent Axeman.”
And the St. Albans Messenger described his life this way: “Redfield Proctor was a politician, a very sagacious and level-headed politician, a politician popularly credited with having his own way in Vermont’s politics whenever he thought it worthwhile to exert himself to get it.”
Gov. Fletcher Proctor, Redfield’s son, appointed John Stewart, a former Vermont governor and congressman, as his father’s interim successor until the next election.

Political pundits at the time expected Fletcher to run for the Senate seat, but he finished his term as governor, returned to the private sector, and died in 1911.

Redfield Proctor Jr., another son, was Vermont governor from 1923-25.


Maury Thompson retired in 2017 after 21 years as a reporter for The Post-Star of Glens Falls. He now is a freelance writer focusing on the history of politics, labor and media in the region.