by Grant Moser
Stone masons have been around since the beginning of civilization. They are the ones who have created many of the most famous buildings in history from stone, including the Taj Mahal, Easter Island statues, Egyptian pyramids, the Parthenon and St. Peter’s Church. So when Erdenheim stone mason Brian Corr, 47, needed a name for his business, he choose Stonehenge Masonry.
“I wanted something that people would remember, that would stick in their heads. A British name but an Irish company,” he explained. Born in Northern Ireland, Corr was raised during “The Troubles,” which refers to the long, violent conflict between Protestants and Catholics. He attended the University of Ulster, studying environmental science. During the summers, he came to America to find work because of the conflict and high unemployment back home.
He had some uncles in the Philadelphia area, and the first summer he did construction work for them. The second summer they didn’t have any work for him, so he found a job with Ken Fisher of Morning Star Stone Masons. Corr began as a simple laborer but soon found himself “on the wall.”
Corr worked with Fisher for three summers in a row before graduating. Corr stayed in Europe after graduation in 1988 and became a substitute teacher in London. He left London and bounced around, living in Jersey in the Channel Islands, Australia and San Francisco. In between trips, Corr always came back to Philadelphia to earn money.
In 1991, he drove across country in a VW Bus from San Francisco to Philadelphia and started working with Fisher again. “Stone work was a fallback. It was never something I wanted to get into, but it ended up turning into my career,” he said.
He found himself doing more and more side jobs until it reached the point where he had to go out on his own. In 1992, he founded Stonehenge Masonry. The company specializes in stone building and restoration. Corr has worked extensively in the local area as well as along the Main Line, and he volunteers with the Friends of the Wissahickon helping with historic restoration.
He and his son Garret, 14, helped restore the warming sheds in Valley Green. The hardest part, Corr jokes, was getting his son up early on a Saturday. But it was important to Corr to show his son the importance of giving back to the local community.
Restoration work on historical properties, as well as building additions for residential homes or businesses, requires an exacting eye for detail. The materials have to match, and that takes time and effort.
“The owners may have some stone, but mostly they won’t. There are a couple of places that recycle stone, so we can usually find something fairly close to that. That’s critical. And it has to be old stone, not brand new. The other thing is the grout. You may have the perfect stone, but if you don’t grout it right, it’ll be terrible … I usually end up mixing up about 20 samples and keep a log of what I’ve made. You have to let them dry and cure for a few days to see how they look.”
His team will gather at a homeowner’s site to study the original structure, pointing out characteristics used in its stone work and analyzing its pattern. Corr sometimes find that if he’s on a job for a long time that method has become second nature to him, and it’s hard to shake at the beginning of the next job.
The secret to stone work is “lifting the stone and not putting it back down again. Get it on the wall and move on to the next one,” Corr explained. They may have to knock a corner off or smooth out a side (dressing the stone), but it has to be done quickly.
The other trick is to have more stone around than you need. Laborers he works with often ask since he has plenty of rocks next to him, why does he need more? “I need a choice of rocks. I may only have this much stone to actually build, but I’ll need three times as much material because I have to select the ones that will fill the area the best,” he said.
Corr’s own house, of course, uses real stone. He and his family (wife Eileen, son Garret and daughter Orly) live in a 150-year-old barn that he refinished. They wanted to maintain the openness as well as the barn “look,” such as the beams, the stone and the structure. He even managed to incorporate the “Stonehenge” arch in his fireplace opening.
For more information about Stonehenge Masonry, visit stonehengemasonry.com.