Rock of ages: Dennis man builds a life out of stone

By M. Scott Morris/NEMS Daily Journal

It’s lonely work at a quarry, breaking chunks of sandstone free from walls of rock.
“It’s labor intensive. I do it all by myself. I don’t think you could find anyone to do that kind of work anymore,” said Bob Gresham, a 62-year-old Dennis resident. “It truly is manual labor.”
His father and uncle worked at the quarry for a time when he was young. Later, Gresham and his father spent years farming together.
“I went back to the quarry about 10 years after he passed away,” he said.
The sandstone deposit near Tishomingo State Park stretches beneath rows of pine trees. Gresham doesn’t know how far the rock goes into the surrounding hillside; he’ll never reach its end.
“This is a humbling place down here. This work is hard. It will just wear you down to nothing,” he said, standing on a smooth slab of hard ground that once supported sandstone that would’ve easily covered his head.
He has no idea how much rock he’s removed over the past 20 years, but he’s created an impressive void by steadily working with wedge and hammer.
Gresham sells some of his product to landscapers and builders by the “dipperful from my backhoe,” he said. A handmade hydraulic guillotine cuts stone into decorative bricks suitable for a walkway or the front of a house.
He picks certain slabs to turn into durable benches and picnic tables, but utility is only one of stone’s attributes. It’s also a medium, a tool for self-expression.
“The art started with just people requesting things, basically,” he said.
He creates owls and frogs, and makes stone toadstools that double as birdbaths. His most popular items are the crosses that have gone to homes across the Southeast.
“He’s sold all the way to people in Florida, but you have to come get it,” Clemmie Gresham said.
“I don’t deliver,” her husband replied with a shake of his head.
“A lot of people come by on vacation. They visit family and friends, who bring them here,” she said. “In that way, our products go to a lot of people.”
The Greshams are happy to have visitors, but appointments are appreciated.
“One thing I like about my job is I meet a lot of interesting people and make a lot of friends,” he said.
Garden club members from around Mississippi and Alabama regularly come by to check out the native plants that grow on nature trails near the quarry.
“They go on walking tours,” Gresham said, “and hopefully, they stop by the quarry and buy something.”
Hard facts
Gresham’s calling isn’t an easy living, and it’s getting harder to break the sandstone loose. He doesn’t have the stamina he once had. The heat and the cold affect him more than they did.
“I used to enjoy it. I’ve gotten so old that I don’t enjoy it as much anymore,” he said with a smile.
Those hard facts have to be balanced with Gresham’s unique way of life. True, he doesn’t have a company retirement plan to fall back on, but he’s his own boss at Gresham Stone and sets his own hours.
“I’m used to working for myself,” he said. “I enjoy that. That’s big for me. It was like that with farming, too, and now this.”
And there are worse ways to spend a day than working in the fresh air while his three dogs, Buddy, Doozy and Peppy, run free around him.
“They go every day with me,” he said. “Every day, they stay with me.”
It’s old-fashioned work, the kind done for thousands of years. Gresham wonders about other men who worked with wedges and hammers in the service of far grander schemes than he’s imagined.
“I’d love to go see the pyramids, the Great Pyramids of Egypt,” he said. “This is amazing to me, how they did that. They had copper tools. How’d they cut stone with copper? They had 60-ton beams. How did they get those up there?”
Gresham’s patch of sandstone remains in Tishomingo County, in the northeast corner of a state not known for its rock formations. Even now, when spirit and body aren’t quite as willing as they once were, he’s devoted to taking what the ground has to offer.
After freeing stone with hammer and wedge, three slabs can be turned into a bench, or another chunk of rock can be transformed into a cross. The lonely work continues.
“I have no intentions of retiring,” he said. “Just keep plugging on, that’s what I do.”
scott.morris@journalinc.com