New Hampshire Glossary: Soapstone

Soapstone bowl found on a farm in Goffstown c1848. Gift of Nancy Barr, Manchester NH 1888; New Hampshire Historical Society Collection

A Native American soapstone bowl/kettle found on a farm in Goffstown c1848. Gift of Nancy Barr, Manchester NH 1888; New Hampshire Historical Society Collection

Soapstone is a metamorphic rock, usually called Steatite by mineralogists, that formed from 300 to 400 million years ago under intense heat and pressure. Because of its ability to be cut or carved easily, from ancient times this stone was used to create sculptures. Due to its tendency to both resist and retain heat, it has often been used for cooking, heating and serving food.

Soapstone is also known as soap-rock, black talc, and lava stone. From the fact that it has in years past been used–particularly by the aboriginal tribes–for making rude pots, it has also received the name potstone.

Photo of Francestown NH soapstone quarry. From collection of the blog editor.

New England colonists early used soapstone for stove-backs, inkstands, sills, door steps, bed warmers, foot warmers, tombstones, and griddles. Later it was used to create wood stoves, wash tubs (sinks), water pipes, mantles and for industrial purposes. Soapstone is still used today as kitchen island tops, cook tops, oven floors, hearths, masonry heaters,  fireplace liners, shower areas, and more.

The primary areas where soapstone has been found in New Hampshire include: Francestown, Canterbury, Orford, Haverhill, Warner, Keene, Lancaster, Weare, Richmond, and Swanzey.  Reportedly the first New England soapstone deposit to be discovered was that at Francestown, New Hampshire. For many years it was considered the best soap stone quarry in New England. It was discovered in 1794 and was quarried by Daniel Fuller in 1802.  The quarry closed in 1891.

June 1868 notice in the Farmer’s Cabinet newpaper about the Francestown Soapstone Works own by David Gillis.

As early as 1810 advertising can be found in the New Hampshire Gazette, of Portsmouth New Hampshire, for “Soap-stone Backlogs.”  The Bangor Daily Whig & Courier (Bangor ME) on Friday May 22, 1874 printed the following story:   “A bachelor remarked to a young lady that soapstone was excellent for keeping the feet warm in bed. ‘Yes,” said the young lady; “but some gentlemen have an improvement on that which you know nothing about.’–The bachelor maintained a wistful silence.”

New Hampshire Historical Marker #23, placed in Francestown in 1964, commemorates the soapstone quarry. The marker is located on Route 136 about 1/2 mile east of the center of Francestown center. The wording on this marker: “A large deposit of highest quality was discovered early in the 19th century at a northerly section of Francestown by Daniel Fuller. During the heyday of its popularity, various common uses of this non-metallic mineral (steatite), when quarried were for sinks, water pipes, stoves, hearths, warming stones, mantels, and industrial purposes.”


*Additional Reading*

-History of Francestown NH: Soapstone Quarry

-Wikipedia: Soapstone

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2 Responses to New Hampshire Glossary: Soapstone

  1. Hi, I work for a company that makes soapstone countertops (as well as Granite countertops), and I was always curious about the exact qualities of soapstone. This article is very interesting 🙂 I learned a lot about soapstone, and now I’ll remember this article during my job. Thank you.

  2. Pingback: New Hampshire Glossary: Quarry | Cow Hampshire

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