by Chris Clemens
The six and a half acre quarried rock park in Saugerties, New York that is Opus 40 has long since been on my list of things to see after discovering photos years ago. Featuring a Quarryman’s Museum, gift shop and tons (literally) of rock formations all hand crafted by one single dude, Opus 40 is nestled just barely inside the northeastern edge of the Catskill Mountain range in Ulster County.
The former quarry site was purchased in 1938 by Harvey Fite, who was working as an art professor at Bard College at the time. As a sculptor, his hopes were to use the rock himself in his work, though at the time I don’t believe he knew his most famous piece would ultimately be the quarry itself.
Over the course of four decades, Fite single-handedly cut the bluestone pieces from the earth using dry-key stone techniques he inherited from studying the Mayans. While his dedicated wife, Barbara, would oversee the project and offer design input, Fite methodically created a series of ramps, walkways and sculptures that if we didn’t know better, might say were created by a species from out of this world.
While the entire property surrounded by lush forest under the watchful eye of Overlook Mountain itself is majestic, the most iconic view is probably the piece known as ‘Flame’, which is a 9-ton vertical centerpiece to meandering ramping walkways. Completed in the 1960’s, Fite used winch and prop methods just like the Egyptians did to create the pyramids. In fairness to the Egyptians, Fite also used a pick-up truck, but in even greater defense to Fite, Opus 40 was literally created by one guy!
While he never had a name for the permanent installation, he caved after some pressure from peers. Joking that composers didn’t have to name their pieces anything other than “Opus 1” or “Opus 2”, he finally settled on “Opus 40” to represent the number of years it took him to create the landscape.
Fite later added another 70 acres to the property, adding to existing quarry where he had built a home and then later a museum in the 1970’s dedicated to telling the story of a quarryman and all the tools used to hone the craft. After he passed away in 1978, a not-for-profit organization was started to look over the management and preservation of the piece and opened it to visitors.
I’d say it’s now written in stone that Harvey Fite’s legacy of Opus 40 should be top on the list of anyone passing through the Saugerties area!
Chris Clemens is the Founder/Publisher of Exploring Upstate. From his hometown in Rochester, he spends as much time as possible connecting with the history, culture, and places that make Upstate New York a land of discovery. Follow him on Twitter at @cpclemens