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The Delaware and Hudson Canal: An Engineering and Entrepreneurial Challenge, D & H Canal Historical Society
Rosendale Natural Cement (Virginia Lime Works)

Sketch map showing the location of my Rosendale study area, just SW of Kingston in the central Hudson Valley of SE New York State. This area is historically significant as one of the primary sources of some of the highest quality natural (hydraulic) cement in the world during the 1800's. (Source: Kurtis Burmeister)
Rosendale, NY, USGS topo (1.5 mb file of northeast section of quadrangle)

Rosendale Cement

The Rosendale natural cement industry can claim many connections with important 19th Century personalities. Hugh White, in whose honor the Rosendale hamlet of Whiteport is named, was one of these leaders. Canvass White, Hugh White’s older brother, discovered a type of limestone suitable for the manufacturing of a hydraulic cement while working on the construction of the Erie Canal. Canvass obtained a patent in 1820 for his “Water Lime Cement”. After the completion of the Erie Canal, Canvass White continued as an engineer in the construction of many other canal projects. It is said that Henry Clay, when asked to recommend an engineer for the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal, said “Get Canvass White; no man more competent, no man more capable. And while your faith in his ability and fidelity increases, your friendship will grow in affection.”

Hugh White's Rosendale Cement, The Century House Historical Society

For nearly a century, miners in the Rosendale area persistently quarried rocks suitable for the production of natural cement. So proficient was their pursuit of these rocks that the long-abandoned remains of their efforts are ubiquitous in the region’s dark and overgrown corners. Despite the dangers and arduous labor of cement mining, the abundance and quality of the area’s raw materials sparked an explosion of local industry, elevating the Rosendale Consolidated Cement Companies to one of the foremost cement producers in North America. Indeed, the Rosendale area owes much of its very existence to this economic boom, but why did it happen here? Why are the “cement rocks” so plentiful along the banks of the Rondout Creek and in the rolling hills of the Helderberg Plateau?...

...These ‘cement rocks’ are actually a type of sedimentary rock called Dolostone. This hard, gray rock was traditionally referred to as waterlime by miners and was used exclusively in the production of natural cement. During construction of the Deleware & Hudson Canal, engineers discovered amounts of dolostone on the property of A. J. Snyder. It was this discovery that initially attracted the attention of entrepreneurs in the mid 1820s.

Like most other sedimentary rocks, dolostone slowly accumulates in thick piles of flat, laterally extensive layers of sediment. Layers of sediment that will eventually become dolostone are deposited in the warm, clear, near-shore waters of shallow oceans. The accumulating sediment often buried the shells of organisms living on the sea floor, leading to their preservation as fossils. Fossiliferous dolostone isn’t the only sedimentary rock near Rosendale. Other sedimentary rocks in the area include conglomerate, sandstone, limestone, and shale.All of the sedimentary rocks the vicinity of Rosendale were originally flat, deposited in the sun-drenched, coastal environments of a sea that once extended off to the southwest. However, when examining the rock formations near Rosendale today, we see layers that are twisted, buckled, and fractured into complex jumbles resembling a rumpled rug. These contorted and broken rocks record the effects of immense geologic forces generated during the collision of entire continents.

Mountains belts are born from such collisions. When continents grind together, originally flat-lying rock layers are faulted, folded, and uplifted thousands of feet into imposing ranges spanning thousands of miles. Such is the case near Rosendale, where a series of ancient collisions between North America and the landmasses of Europe and Africa deformed originally flat-lying sedimentary rocks into the rock formations we see today.

The faulted and folded rocks exposed throughout the Shawangunk Mountains, the Rondout-Esopus and Wallkill River Valleys, and the Helderberg Plateau are all part of the sinuous Appalachian Mountain Range that stretches from Nova Scotia to Alabama. It is important to recognize that the Appalachian Mountains as we see them today are merely deeply eroded remnants of a once grand mountain range. At their prime, the Appalachian Mountains would easily match the height and extent of the great Himalayan Mountains of Asia.

Burmeister, Kurtis C. Mines of the Rosendale natural cement region: windows into ancient mountains for a graduate student from the Midwestern plains. (Article submitted for publication in "Natural News," the newsletter of the Century House Historical Society, January 2003)

Left Title page, catalog, c. 1910. Middle Seal of the Consolidated Rosendale Cement Company. Photo courtesy of the Century House Historical Society Collection. (Source: Kurtis Burmeister) Right A sketch of various aspects of the natural cement industry in the vicinity of Rosendale during the 1800's. Shown from top to bottom are: cross sections of mines; the cement works at William's/Fifth Lake; cross section of a cement kiln; a cement mill; the cement works at High Falls; a row of cement kilns; and a cross section of a rock crusher. (Scientific American, 1883)

 

The remnants of mining activity are ubiquitous in the Rosendale region. Miners tenaciously followed any economically viable dolomite-bearing unit they could find... and considering the complex structural geology of the region - they were amazingly efficient in this process. Mines follow the structures as far into the ground as possible. Above is a photo taken near Quarry Hill showing a mine cut into the steeply dipping limb of a fold. (Source: Kurtis Burmeister)
Photograph taken in an active quarry (thickness of unit being mined suggests that it is the "lower cement" or Rosendale Member of the Rondout Formation. Photo courtesy of the Century House Historical Society Collection. (Source: Kurtis Burmeister)

 

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