Natural Cement Historic District


This is an excerpt of the National Register of Historic Places Registration Form for The Snyder Estate / Natural Cement Historic District


 

 

This nomination is the product of a collaboration:

Preliminary draft nomination prepared for a National Historic Landmark proposal in June 1978 (the NHL process was not completed ); draft prepared by:

Ralph J. Christian and George R. Adams
American Association for State and Local History
1400 Eight Avenue South
Nashville, Tennessee 37202

Primary research undertaken and revised and expanded draft nomination prepared for the State and National Register nomination proposal in January 1992; draft prepared by:

Gayle Grunwald and Dietrich Werner
Century House Historical Society
The Snyder Estate
Rosendale, New York 12472-0150

State and National Register evaluation, technical review, revision, editing and typing of the State and National Register nomination proposal completed by staff of the New York State Historic Preservation Office in January-March 1992; project staff:

Michael F. Lynch, P.E., R.A., Historic Sites Restoration Coordinator
Kathleen LaFrank, Historic Preservation Program Analyst
NY State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation
Agency Building 1, ESP
Albany, New York 12238

 


Boundary Justification

The district boundary was drawn to include all of the contiguous parcels owned by the four major cement companies that operated at this site during the period of significance. Discontiguous parcels were of minor importance and were not included. The boundary was determined by a combination of deed and map research as well as by on-site inspection to determine the presence of historic features and their integrity. The district is generally bounded by Saw Dust Road on the north (area north of Saw Dust Road was not used in the cement industry), Tan House Brook on the west (there was no quarrying west of Tan House Brook), the Rondout Creek on the south, and Binnewater Road on the east (cement companies east of Binnewater Road were clearly separated from those to the west).

Summary

The Snyder Estate Natural Cement Historic District is significant under criterion A in the area of industry for its long and significant association with the production of natural cement, for its role in the development of the natural cement industry in America and for its association with several individuals of importance in the development and promotion of this industry. The historic district falls within the larger Rosendale Natural Cement district, a thirty-square-mile area that was among the earliest locations of natural cement production in America. The Rosendale district was one of the nation’s major producers of this popular building material throughout the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, supporting nearly thirty cement companies during its peak years, and the site of numerous technological achievements and innovations that influenced the cement industry.

The 275-acre historic district includes over one hundred architectural and industrial resources relating to the four major cement manufacturing companies within the Rosendale district: Lawrence Cement Works and successor firm, Beach Cement Works and successor firms, Snyder Cement works and successor firms and the Century Cement Company. Within the nominated district are a large number of extant industrial features, above-ground ruins and archeological sites (the latter are unevaluated; see discussion in text); features and above-ground ruins include mines, kilns, mills, storage facilities, worker housing facilities, a worker cemetery, offices and stores, fuel storage facilities, transportation facilities, canal and rail related resources, and various shops, stables and sheds that were used in the production and distribution of cement.

Collectively, this is the largest and most significant concentration of historic resources associated with the Rosendale cement industry between 1825 and World War II. As cement production in the district actually continued until 1970, the district also retains a large number of resources developed after the period of significance that were important in the modern phase of the cement industry. However, these have not yet been documented as exceptionally significant and are thus considered non-contributing due to age.

The significance of the district in industry is enhanced by its association with a number of individuals of major importance in the history of the natural cement industry; in particular, Watson E. Lawrence, who is credited with the invention of the continuous draw kiln, and A. J. Snyder II, who revitalized the cement industry in the early twentieth century, stand out. Because of the number of individuals associated with this district who may have made contributions to the cement industry, their contributions are documented collectively under criterion A, rather than individually under criterion B.

The district is additionally significant in that it contains the Snyder family homestead, a group of residential buildings, agricultural and estate-related dependencies that served a large extended family whose occupation of the site for farming pre-dated its development as a cement-production facility. The Snyder family subsequently became active in the cement business by the mid-nineteenth century and remained a leader in this industry for over a century. The Snyder family estate properties include an 1809 residence with significant c1940 alterations, barns, carriage house, several residences for family members and a number of minor estate features constructed between 1850 and c1950. The estate buildings are all intact representative examples of their types (and are significant under criterion C in architecture) and some are associated with figures in the cement industry. Finally, the historic district is especially remarkable for the wealth of surviving primary documentation preserved on the site that documents many aspects of its long history.

Period of Significance

This nomination documents a period of significance from 1809, when the earliest feature with firm documentation of its date (the Jacob Lowe Snyder House) was constructed, until 1942, when the production of natural cement decreased dramatically. Although the Century Cement Plant increased production following World War II and went on to play a major role in a number of important post-World War II government construction projects (including the New York State Thruway and a number of other state highways, the St. Lawrence Seaway, and a number of dams), and although this district contains a number of industrial resources dating from the post-war period, the research needed to substantiate exceptional significance for these resources has not yet been done. Thus, these resources are considered non-contributing due to age alone. Documentation justifying exceptional significance in the post World War II period could, of course, be added to this documentation at a later date.

Level of Significance

This nomination documents the importance of this district at the state level because this site was the largest and most important source of natural cement in New York State during the nineteenth century (see discussion in text below). It is possible, even probable, that this district or the larger, inclusive Rosendale Natural Cement district (see discussion in text) will prove to be significant at the national level if a comprehensive survey is completed to identify all surviving features and if sufficient research is undertaken to document the exact histories of the various cement companies operating in the Rosendale district and their individual and collective roles in the nation’s history. This research is outside the scope of the current submission; however, an extensive archive in the collection of the Century House Historical Society (CHHS) exists and has yet to be thoroughly catalogued and evaluated. Futhermore, numerous other records and contextual information about the natural cement industry exists, should such a research project ever prove feasible.

Nineteenth-Century Cement Production

During the first quarter of the nineteenth century, limestone suitable for the production of natural cement became a desirable commodity in the United States, primarily because of the many canals constructed or planned during this period of increased trade and regional interdependence. Natural cement offered canal builders an ideal mortar for canal masonry, noted for its quality and permanence. In c1819, natural cement rock was discovered in the United States at a location in Madison County, New York; in the next few years, natural cement rock was discovered in a number of other western New York locations, including Onondaga, Cayuga and Erie Counties. During the planning and construction of the Delaware and Hudson Canal in New York and Pennsylvania (c1825-8), sources of natural cement closer to the canal site were investigated.

In c1825, natural cement was discovered in a region of Ulster County, New York that became known as the Rosendale district. Between this date and the late 1830s, a number of fledgling natural cement manufacturers established themselves in the eastern part of Ulster County, from Rondout on the Hudson River at the mouth of the Rondout creek, southwest to High Falls along the valley of the Rondout, an area of about thirty square miles that became known as the Rosendale district.

In 1828, Watson E. Lawrence built his first commercial cement plant approximately 800 feet east of Jacob L. Snyder’s canal slip (outside of the historic district), known as the Lawrence Cement Works (Sylvester 243). This first venture failed and by 1830, Lawrence reorganized and moved his cement works to a site that he leased on Snyder’s lands, in the southeast corner of the historic district. Lawrence’s lease allowed him to quarry cement rock and to construct and operate cement kilns. He also acquired an interest in the mill lot located between the canal and the Rondout Creek across from the canal slip (Original lease, collection of Century House Historical Society [CHHS]. During the next few years Lawrence not only put his firm on a profitable footing but “pioneered many of the technical improvements which were essential for the industry” (O’Connor 5), including draw kilns, which operated continuously and greatly increased output, and an improved milling process for grinding the burnt rock. Perhaps more important, Lawrence “did much to establish the reputation of the Rosendale product” by bringing it to the attention of government engineers and by furnishing high quality cement for projects like the Croton Aqueduct and the dry dock of the Brooklyn Navy Yard (Ibid.).

Despite the fact that Lawrence repeatedly failed financially, his initial success encouraged others to construct cement works in the Rosendale district, an area about three miles long and fifteen miles wide. However, Rosendale’s natural cement industry did not pick up substantially until 1837, when a period of major growth commenced (1837-1843). Although product quality probably contributed most to the success of this industry, the Rosendale cement manufacturers also benefited from the inexpensive fuel supply and cheap transportation provided by the Delaware and Hudson Canal. The canal not only brought coal from eastern Pennsylvania to fire the kilns but provided easy access to the New York City market ninety miles away.

Until around the end of the Civil War, the Rosendale cement industry grew at a steady if not spectacular pace; but in the last three decades of the century it underwent a rapid expansion in an attempt to satisfy the nation’s almost insatiable demand for cement, until Rosendale cement “. . . came to dominate American production” (Condit 157). Between 1850 and 1870, the area’s cement production rose from 103,000 to 428,000 barrels annually, and by 1898 this figure had reached 3.5 million. In that latter year, Rosendale boasted fifteen cement plants employing nearly 5,500 men and produced 41.9 percent of all the cement manufactured in the country. In 1899, 29 of the 76 plants operating in the United State were in the Rosendale district.

By 1858, the Lawrence Cement Works had been re-organized as the Lawrenceville Manufacturing Co., and Lawrence’s rights to use had been given up (original release, collection of CHHS). Lawrence then acquired two lots adjacent to the canal slip (original deed, collection of CHHS). In 1861, the Lawrenceville Manufacturing Co. also failed and Lawrence’s interest in this area was taken over by the Lawrenceville Cement Co., William N. Beach, president. These works were then under the direction of John Spaulding, superintendent. Under Spaulding, the works were expanded to include an elevated tramway connecting mill, kilns and canal. Some time after Beach’s death (in 1881), Lawrenceville Cement sold its . . .

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. . . barrels per day. In 1954, 452,252 barrels of natural cement and an additional 190,000 barrels of masonry cement were shipped. Rosendale natural cement had found a small niche in the cement market. In addition to New York, four other states, as well as the United States government, adopted the Rosendale-Portland blend for certain construction jobs. During this period, Snyder’s cement was used in such large-scale projects as the St. Lawrence Seaway, the Chicago West-Southwest Sewage Treatment Works, the New York State Thruway and a number of dams for federal and state power projects.

In 1953, A.J. Snyder II started to explore the possibility of also producing Portland cement. At this time, Century Cement had two products, natural cement and masonry cement. The masonry cement, a combination of natural and Portland-, required the purchase of Portland from other cement plants on the Hudson river north of Kingston. Snyder hoped to be able to obtain Portland cement for this blend within his own operation and to sell a premixed blend of natural and Portland cements. He commissioned a geological survey of his land holdings to determine the extent of Becraft limestone, the principal limestone used for the manufacture of Portland cement by other companies in the Hudson Valley. This survey estimated that the total reserves of Becraft limestone were in excess of 17,000,000 tons. In 1958, Snyder purchased a Portland cement plant from a Swiss company, Von Roll, of Zurich, and by 1961, this plant had been constructed on the western side of the natural cement plant and was in operation. Early in the 1960s, however, a chemical was developed that, when added to Portland cement, duplicated the durability provided by the Rosendale-Portland blend and was less expensive to produce.

A.J. Snyder was 71 years old when the Portland cement plant was constructed. His chief chemist and plant supervisor were also both of advanced aged, having been in Snyder’s employ since the 1930s. The Portland cement plant had trouble getting the right mixtures of stone and additives to produce a suitable product.

In 1970, disheartened by the death or retirement of his staff, the miniscule market for natural cement and the problems encountered in trying to switch to the manufacture of the Portland variety, 81-year-old A.J. Snyder II closed the last cement plant in the Rosendale district, bringing to an end the 145-year-old industry.


 

Bibliography

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“Logs of Diamond Drill Holes on the Property of the Century Manufacturing Co., Rosendale, N.Y.” Report, December 1953.

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