Stories: Cement

The canal was finished, the coal started to flow down to New York, and the Rosendale cement industry had served its initial purpose. The canal people were no longer interested in making cement but Jake Snyder, the farmer, never did go back to grinding flour — he stayed with grinding cement. He was right on the canal, there was a good market for it, and the canal boats could come right to his cement-grinding mill and take it down to New York. And not only did Jake Snyder stay in the cement business, but his neighbors went into the cement business: Judge Lucas Elmendorf, Lawrence, and many others. So the cement business began to boom. And soon it was discovered that, not only was this limestone deposit down in the valley along the Rondout Creek, but it extended on this upper plateau all the way to Kingston: a narrow band of high-grade limestone, about three miles wide and about seven or eight miles long. Soon everybody in this area was in the cement business in one way or another. And after the Civil War the cement business here in Rosendale really began to boom. Here on the top of this plateau we had the Lawrence Cement Company, the Norton Cement Company, the Whiteport Cement Company — everybody was engaged in cement manufacture in one way or another. As a matter of fact, this was the biggest industry in the area, in the whole of Ulster County: the manufacture of cement, centered right here in Rosendale. The character of the town changed immensely. Instead of being a sleepy farming community with horses and wagons, and farmers milking their cows and plowing their fields with a team of horses, it became an industrial town. In the first place we had the canal going right through the heart of it, and in the second place we had this new cement industry. A lot of immigrant labor and new financial and social problems that the town and the area had not been accustomed to experiencing. So the people in this area petitioned the State Legislature, in 1844, to form their own geographical and political entity. That’s when Rosendale came into being as a township. It was carved out of four towns: parts of Marbletown, New Paltz, Esopus, and Ulster were formed into the town of Rosendale — basically where this cement deposit lay.

Through gradual economic evolution, there came into being fourteen huge self-contained mills, all making cement.In its heyday, the industry made four million tons of cement a year. Translated into bags, that’s sixteen millions bags of cement a year, year after year, for almost a century, starting in 1825. The industry died in 1910 and that’s a story in itself.

We lay claim to the use of Rosendale cement in many, many famous public structures. The most famous that we like to point to are the foundations and piers of the Brooklyn Bridge. But, in addition, the base of the Statue of Liberty, the Treasury Building in Washington, the Kensico Dam in the Croton Reservoir system, and a lot of other public works: canal locks, dams — the Ashokan Reservoir dam — were all made with Rosendale cement. In fact, the Brooklyn Bridge Centennial, in 1973, recognized the fact that Rosendale cement was used in that structure and they invited the Town of Rosendale to send two representatives to the centennial celebration. My wife and I were very pleased that Rosendale selected us to go to the centennial celebration and we had a great time!