The History of this 309 Year Old American Small Business is Chiseled in Stone


(A July 4th tradition, first published on SmallBusiness.com on July 3, 2014)


Founded in 1705, 71 years before the signing of the Declaration of Independence, The John Stevens Shop in Newport, RI, continues to design and hand-letter one-of-a-kind inscriptions in stone, practicing a craft and using methods and tools that date back to the Romans. Nicholas Waite Benson, 49, has been the owner and creative director of the business since 1993. A MacArthur Fellow (sometimes called, “the genius grant”), Nick began working at the shop at age 15 with his father, John Everett Benson. In turn, John Everett Benson learned stone carving from his father, John Howard Benson, at the age of 15. 


How to keep a business running for 309 years

The work of Nick Benson and his staff will be around for centuries. It seems only appropriate that the company creating that work has been around for centuries as well. After John Stevens founded the shop, it was maintained by six generations of Stevenses, until Nick’s grandfather, a printer, artist and stone carver, bought it in the 1920s. It is one of the oldest continuously-operated business in the U.S..

According to Nick, he wasn’t all that interested in the family business during his childhood. “I began carving lettering in 1979, but I didn’t give it much thought until I got to college, and that’s when I realized what an interesting place the shop was,” he said in a 2013 interview with American Spirit magazine. His family’s reputation helps his business secure major jobs like national memorials and famed architectural work. “My grandfather’s Iwo Jima Memorial designs helped my father get involved with the JFK Memorial in Arlington Cemetery, which is how I got involved with the World War II Memorial.”

“If you devote yourself to producing the highest standard of work, the business will follow. Never compromise on standards,” he told SmallBusiness.com.

The work of the John Stevens Shop

Some of the monuments and memorials where you can see the hand- lettering of the craftsmen of the John Stevens Shop:

  • Iwo Jima Memorial, Arlington, Virginia
  • The John F. Kennedy Memorial, Arlington National Cemetery, Arlington, Virginia
  • The Civil Rights Memorial, Montgomery, Alabama
  • The Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial, Roosevelt Island, New York, New York
  • The Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial,  Washington, DC
  • Gravestones for Tennessee Williams, Lillian Hellman and George Balanchine
  • The Boston Public Library, Boston, Massachusetts
  • The National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC
  • The Dallas Museum of Art, Dallas, Texas
  • The Chicago Mercantile Exchange Center, Chicago, Illinois

Featured Photo: (L-R) John Benson and his son, Nicholas Benson. Photo via: JohnStevensShop.com)

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