Tim Arey becomes third generation stonemason

Published 12:00 am Saturday, July 2, 2011

By Katie Scarvey
In the 1950s, J.C. Arey lost his job at Spencer Shops and began working as a stonemason, like his father Joseph Calvin Arey Sr. before him.
And now, J.C.’s son, Tim, who recently took early retirement with the City of Salisbury, is treading that same path, making him the third Arey generation to work with stone.
Arey’s grandfather worked at Salisbury Marble and Granite from 1917 to 1950. He then struck out on his own, and his son, J.C., joined him in 1952. Joseph Arey Sr. died in 1962 from complications of silicosis, a lung disease caused by the inhalation of silica dust — an occupational hazard for those who work with stone.
Tim Arey was just a toddler back then so he doesn’t remember his grandfather, but he did work with his father in the summers and when he was off from school. His father’s stone masonry business was based at his Faith Road home.
His father, Tim says, kept busy, counting among his clients people like Paul Fisher, Elizabeth Dole and the Stanbacks.
Tim graduated from high school in 1978 and wanted to follow in his father’s footsteps.
But in 1983, the economy got bad, he says, and he and his father saw a stretch of three or four months without any work. He’d never seen business that slow.
With a heavy heart — and, he says, tears in his eyes — he told his father he needed to find a job that would provide a reliable source of income.
He ended up working for the City of Salisbury, starting out doing things like meter reading. He later became a field supervisor, and in 1992, a section supervisor in charge of the sewer lines.He eventually landed in the street department, working there from 2001-2011, when he was offered early retirement as a cost-cutting measure for the city.
Since his income would be dropping, he needed to do something to make up the difference, he said, and he naturally thought of stone masonry. He’d never really given it up — he’d always done projects on the side and at his own home on Yost Farm Road in Granite Quarry, where you’ll find plenty of his handiwork.
Like the Tennessee crab orchard sandstone fireplace in his basement.
His wife Aimee — who moved here from Texas after she and Tim met on the internet — says Tim’s work is like “putting puzzle pieces together.”
“It’s so meticulous,” she says. “You have to be a perfectionist and very patient. He’s very detail-oriented.”
Aimee told Tim that she wanted an outlet on the fireplace mantel, and so he installed outlets behind several of the blocks — which slide neatly in and out.
Tim continues to use many of the chiselling techniques used by his grandfather almost a century ago, but he also cuts stone with a diamond blade saw when he can.
He recalls that his grandfather was able to “read” the grain of granite — something he admits he can’t do, at least not yet.
These days, between sessions of cleaning out the home of his father, who died in March, he works to complete a granite wall behind his house. He’s been at it on and off for the past six years but expects that he’ll finish it soon now that he has real chunks of time to work on it steadily.
He shows how one of the antique tools — a square point chisel — can make a straight cut.
“That always surprises people,” he says, as he demonstrates a technique that would have been used 100-200 years ago. “The tools haven’t changed a whole lot.”
He’s hoping to eventually move back to his family’s home place on Faith Road, where there is much evidence to suggest that this was the home of a stonemason. His father did much of the home’s stonework, but Tim’s grandfather made the sandstone fireplace.
Tim points to chisel marks on one of the pieces of stone, explaining that as his grandfather worked to level the surface, he did not realize that the soft stone would retain the marks. For Tim, however, you get the idea that the small marks are not so much imperfections as simply part of his family’s history in this house.
Although the home Tim lives in now is beautiful, he wants to move back to his parents’ home because of his history there — he lived there until he was 41, he says.
A piece of concrete conjures up the little boy who scratched “TIM” into the concrete, which also bears an imprint of his hand.
Not far outside is a water fountain, at child level. That was so the kids wouldn’t have to be traipsing in and out of the house so much, Tim says.
In the back of the house is his father’s studio, and years after J.C. retired, big slabs of stone remain propped here and there, waiting to fulfill their destinies as patios or fireplaces.
Tim has saved a small gravestone that features the carving of a lamb in limestone done by his grandfather. He brought that from the Arey home place in Liberty, he says. Tim’s not sure why the headstone was never used, since it bears the name and dates of a child. Tim says he can recognize his grandfather’s distinctive style of carving when he visits area cemeteries.
Although Tim is missing his father, who died in March, he has big plans for the homeplace, and one gets the impression that he’ll make them all happen. He likes to keep busy.
“I love projects,” he says.
Tim can be reached at 704-636-0358 or 704-279-0723.