NRHP – Significance 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 clement, 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 firms, 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 modem phase of the cement industry. However, these have not yet been documented as exceptionally significant and are thus considered non-contributory 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, vho 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, standout. 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 HistoricalSociety (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 anideal 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 this 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 interest in the cement works in the southeast part of the district to W.T. Van Tassell between 1887 and 1892; Van Tassell operated cement works at this location until c1904, when they were purchased by Consolidated Rosendale Cement.

Meanwhile, in 1861, Watson E. Lawrence reorganized once again and established a new cement works (Lawrence Cement Co.) outside of the historic district in Binnewater. Lawrence continued to operate cement works outside of the historic district (sometimes using the mines or kilns north of Route 213 within the district); however, all of Lawrence’s holdings in Ulster County were eventually sold to the Consolidated Rosendale Cement Co. in 1902.

Upon William Beach’s death in 1881, David Scott was elected president of the Lawrenceville Cement Co. A short time later, Beach’s son, William N. Beach II took control of the company. Under his supervision, the new Beach Cement Works were constructed in the northeast part of the district between 1892 and 1898. Unlike the other cement works in the district, the Lawrenceville Cement Co. (at the Beach location) was not connected to the D & H Canal, but, rather, used railroad transportation via the Wallkill Valley Railroad (completed in 1876), on its eastern border. There were several rail sidings that connected various parts of the Beach mill with the railroad line. The Beach Cement Works included a mill, storage buildings, cooper shops and engine house. Lawrenceville Cement sold its interest in the Beach Cement Works to Consolidated Rosendale Cement Co. in 1902. The latter company operated them until they were destroyed by fire in 1913; the kilns and mines, not affected by the fire, were acquired by A.J. Snyder II in the late 1920s and the kilns were subsequently used by Century Cement.

During the last decade of the nineteenth century, the reign of natural cement seemed unshakable. Yet, work was already underway that would bring about its decline. In 1871, David O. Saylor, a manufacturer of natural cement in the Lehigh Valley, Pennsylvania, received a patent for the manufacture of Portland cement and became the first to manufacture Portland in the United States. The Portland cements were less expensive to manufacture and they were faster setting. Between 1900 and 1910, the production of natural cement declined from nearly ten million to less than one million barrels annually. By 1905, the number of natural cement plants had decreased to 58 in 16 states, nearly half of which were in the Rosendale district. On the other hand, production of Portland cement had reached 35 million barrels by 1905 and 76 million by 1910. Natural cement was never to recover its dominance of the market; however, it continued to be produced.

As a center for production of natural cement, the Rosendale district was particularly hard hit by this precipitous decline. In 1902, in an effort to effect economies of scale, Samuel D. Coykendall merged all of the cement companies, with the exception of Andrew J. Snyder and Sons and the New York Cement Company, into a new firm called Consolidated Rosendale Cement Company. Combination, however, did little to halt declining sales, and the new company soon went into receivership. By 1918 the Snyder plant was the only one still operating in Rosendale.

The Snyder Family

The Snyders moved from Dutchess County to the Rosendale area in 1755. Jacob Snyder first purchased land near the intersection of Cottekill Road and Saw Dust Avenue in what is now known as Cottekill. Jacob Snyder and his sons were involved in farming and added to their land holdings between 1755 and 1800 until they owned large tracts of property between High Falls and Rosendale along Rondout Creek. Originally these holdings were on the eastern boundary of the town of Marbletown, southern boundary of the town of Hurley and the western boundary of Esopus. The town of Rosendale was carved out of these towns in 1844.

By 1809, Jacob Lowe Snyder, Jacob Snyder’s twenty-one-year-oldgrandson, had married. His parents, Christopher and Deborah LoweSnyder, commissioned a home for the young couple overlooking the Rondout Creek; at some point, a grist mill was constructed on the creek itself. Snyder farmed lands north and west of the house. Theconstruction of the Delaware and Hudson Canal in cl825-8 had a greateffect on the area. What had been an agricultural region became thecenter of America’s natural cement industry. In 1825, Jacob L.Snyder signed a cession of property with John B. Jervis, chiefengineer of the Delaware and Hudson Canal, allowing the canal to bebuilt across his property with the stipulation that the companybuild a canal slip and a bridge between the canal and the grist millfor Snyder’s use (Original cession document, collection of CHHS).

By 1809, Jacob Lowe Snyder, Jacob Snyder’s twenty-one-year-old grandson, had married. His parents, Christopher and Deborah Lowe Snyder, commissioned a home for the young couple overlooking the Rondout Creek; at some point, a grist mill was constructed on the creek itself. Snyder farmed lands north and west of the house. The construction of the Delaware and Hudson Canal in c1825-8 had a great effect on the area. What had been an agricultural region became the center of America’s natural cement industry. In 1825, Jacob L.Snyder signed a cession of property with John B. Jervis, chief engineer of the Delaware and Hudson Canal, allowing the canal to be built across his property with the stipulation that the company build a canal slip and a bridge between the canal and the grist mill for Snyder’s use (Original cession document, collection of CHHS).

In 1830, Watson E. Lawrence, who had started a commercial cement works just east of Jacob L. Snyder’s property, signed a lease agreement with Snyder giving Lawrence the right to quarry cement and to construct and operate kilns on Snyder’s property (Original lease,collection of CHHS). The agreement allowed Snyder to continue farming while Lawrence operated the cement business, a dual use of the property that continued through the nineteenth century.

Jacob Lowe Snyder died in 1834, and in 1836 his property was divided among his children, with his daughter Catherine Snyder receiving the 1809 residence (Original will, collection of CHHS) . At this time, the presence of natural cement on the Snyder property had yet to suggest industrial pursuits to this family; J.L. Snyder’s will did not mention a cement business. In 1837 (about the period when the cement business began its first period of major growth in the area, 1837-1843), Catherine Snyder began to purchase land from her brothers and sisters, commencing with a purchase of twenty-two acres to the east of the homestead from Christopher Snyder (Original deed, collection of CHHS). Catherine married Andrew Jacob Snyder I (a second cousin) in 1850; in the same year, A.J. Snyder I opened aquarry on his wife’s property. Snyder had gained his knowledge during the previous five years, having worked as quarry superintendent for the Newark and Rosendale Lime and Cement Co. at Greenkill (outside of the district, three miles northeast of Lawrenceville) (A.J. Snyder I obituary, Kingston Freeman January1902 [exact date of obit, unknown; Snyder died on the 10th]). A.J.Snyder I ran the quarry on the Snyder property for three years, but in 1853, he returned to agricultural pursuits. Between 1850 and 1860, Catherine and A.J. Snyder I added contiguous land to their farm. In 1860, after Lawrence’s lease had expired [in 1858], Snyder became involved in the cement business once again, building kilns and quarrying in the eastern portion of the Widow Jane Mine and the western portion of the Lawrenceville Mine; however, Snyder did not yet have a grinding mill and sold his calcined stone to other companies.

During the next twenty years (1860-1880), Snyder quarried and burned stone, selling the calcined cement rock to mills as far away as New Jersey for further processing (Account Books, A.J. Snyder and Sons, collection of CHHS). By the 1880s, A.J. Snyder’s sons (Lawrence 1857-1893, Charles 1869-1897 and Alva Dart 1873-1893) were involved in the cement business and the Snyder works became known as A.J. Snyder and Sons. During the period 1860-1890, A.J. Snyder and Sons experienced it greatest growth. After 1880, A.J. and Catherine Snyder purchased more land adjacent to their current holdings and expanded the cement works by building additional kilns. The company finally built its own mill in the area, just north of the canal slip, for the grinding of calcined stone in 1887 (Trial Balance Book, collection of CHHS).

After the construction of the mill in 1887, A.J. Snyder and Sons began to acquire a fleet of canal boats to ship cement down the D & H Canal to Rondout, providing access to larger markets via the Hudson River. Two boats were purchased in 1890 (A.J. Snyder and Christina) and two more in 1892 and 1893 (Cement Rock and Amelia). In 1891, the Snyder company purchased dock rights in Wilbur and in 1895, the company acquired a Hudson River barge (A.J. Snyder) . In 1896, the last addition to the fleet was made (Pau Puc) (Ibid.).

By 1892, Snyder had also constructed a number of buildings for the cement business, all in the area near the mill, just north of the canal slip; these included an office building in front of the 1809 homestead, storage buildings above the canal slip to receive coal and other supplies and to facilitate the shipping of cement, various other sheds and buildings for the cement works and a company store. By the same date, Snyder had also enlarged the family estate by the construction of a large barn and new homes for himself (A.J. Snyder I Residence), his two eldest sons, Lawrence (location unknown, out of the historic district) and Charles (Charles Snyder Residence) , and his daughter Minnie (Minnie Snyder Residence) (Ibid.; Sanborn map for 1892) .

While the cement company continued to grow, the Snyder family was depleted by a number of deaths: Catherine Snyder died in 1879, both Lawrence and Alva Dart in 1893 and Charles in 1897. A.J. Snyder I continued to operate and improve the cement works, however, adding electric lighting in the mill by 1900 (Letter, collection of CHHS) . By the turn of the twentieth century, A.J. Snyder and Sons cement works was a successful business, with large property holdings, a great reserve of stone, a mill that was close to both the canal and the quarry, a tram to move cement stone from the quarry to the kilns, and quarries that followed horizontal rather than vertical strata, a condition that made the process of extraction considerably less difficult and less expensive.

Towards the end of the 1890s, there was a strong push by several industrialists to consolidate the various cement companies between High Falls and Kingston; however, A.J. Snyder I rebuffed all offers made to him. The consolidation of other companies proceeded and by 1902, A.J. Snyder and Sons was one of few independent cement companies remaining. A.J. Snyder I died in 1902 and the company was operated by his daughter Minnie Snyder’s husband, William B. Snyder (who was also a relation, A.J. Snyder’s step-brother’s son), until 1910 (Company records, collection of CHHS).

During William Snyder’s eight years of supervision, the market for natural cement peaked and by 1910 had collapsed altogether, as the demand for cement shifted from natural to Portland. Although many of the other cement works in the Rosendale district between High Falls and Kingston lay idle, A.J. Snyder and Sons was able to hang on to a share of the cement market and stay in operation. In1911, a family disagreement over the distribution of business profits landed in the Ulster County Supreme Court; the dispute ended in the order to sell the property and business and divide the profits among the heirs of A.J. Snyder I (Records of Ulster County Supreme Court, copies in collection of CHHS).

In the same year, 1911, A.J. Snyder I’s grandson (Charles Snyder’s son) and namesake, Andrew Jacob Snyder II, reached the age of 21. At the court mandated sale, A.J. Snyder II was able to purchase all of his grandfather’s property and the assets of his company (Documents listing items sold and price, collection of CHHS) . By 1912, the younger Snyder had dismantled the 1887 cement mill and erected both a smaller cement mill and a lime mill on the same site (there are no above ground remains of this complex). Thus, by 1912, the Snyder kilns and quarries continued to operate after all the other local companies had ceased to exist.

Twentieth-Century Cement Production

When Andrew J. Snyder II purchased A.J. Snyder and Sons in 1911, it had a 300,000 barrel annual capacity. Because of the depressed market for natural cement, Snyder dismantled the older (1887) plant and built a new, smaller unit that could produce up to 300 barrels of cement and sixty tons of lime per day. Well into the 1920s, Snyder continued to operate on a small scale, producing mostly masonry cement and yearly sending out large quantities of brochures singing the praises of Rosendale Cement.

In 1927 a Snyder leaflet attracted the attention of a Cleveland industrialist named Kling, and the following year he and a group of investors reached an agreement with A.J. Snyder to lease a portion of his property with the right to quarry, build kilns and manufacture natural cement. Nearly a century had passed since Snyder’s great-grandfather had signed a similar agreement with Watson E. Lawrence. Kling established a new firm known as Interstate Cement Corporation, constructed a modern plant in the north-central section of the district, and hired Snyder to manage it. Shortly after it went into operation, however, the Great Depression began, and the company was soon bankrupt. After several attempts to reorganize (Century Cement Corp., 1932, Century MasonryCement Co. , 1934) , the Century Cement Manufacturing Company, Inc. was formed in 1935, owned entirely by A.J. Snyder II.

Also in c1935, a second important local industry developed in the historic district when A.J. Snyder II leased the unused Beach Mine to Knaust Brothers for the cultivation of mushrooms. The mine was ideal for mushroom growing due to its constant 55-degree temperature. The Knaust company, which operated a mushroom business until 1960, harvested over five tons of mushrooms per day in its peak years. The significance of the mushroom growing industry in the historic district has not yet been documented; however, should justification under the National Register criteria be forthcoming, this nomination can be amended to reflect it.

In the mid-1930s, Snyder’s extensive lobbying efforts for Rosendale cement began to pay off as chemists and engineers discovered, after intensive investigation, that structures using natural cement, or a combination of Portland and natural, particularly of the Rosendale variety, showed great durability. In this period, the company was one of few plants in the United States producing natural cement. A blend of twenty percent Rosendale and eighty percent Portland was developed that “combined the speed of Portland with the permanence of natural cement” (O’Connor 33). This blend was especially suited to highway construction, and some time after 1935, New York State adopted the Rosendale-Portland blend for road and bridge construction. Snyder produced natural cement for this blend until he closed the plant in 1970. The Century Cement Manufacturing Company’s shipments increased each year from 1935 until 1939, reaching a peak of 259,157 barrels in 1939 (Century Cement Co. records, collection of CHHS) . The dramatic resurgence of the natural cement industry in this period was almost entirely due to the consistent high quality product produced at the Century plant and to the dynamic and intense marketing of the product by A.J. Snyder II.

Shipments during World War II decreased and in 1945 only 40,000 barrels were shipped. The period of significance justified in this nomination ends just after the beginning of World War II (c1942) because exceptional significance in the modern period (post-World War II) has not yet been documented.

After World War II, the company’s shipments again increased. At the close of World War II, the demand for natural cement rose so that Snyder had to increase his production from 1,500 to 3,500 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 minuscule 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.