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History of Mining in Orleans County

The construction of the Erie Canal (1817-1825) not only created the first transportation system between the eastern seaboard (New York City) and the western interior (Great Lakes) of the United States but also revealed vast amounts of high-quality stone. After the canal was built, the piles of dolomite along the canal became an excellent source of building materials.  The modern history of mining in New York began in the southeastern part of the state. As European settlers spread inland, into the Hudson Valley and Adirondacks and westward through the Mohawk Valley to western New York, mining activities accompanied them.

 

By the early 1900's, there were an estimated 50 stone quarries in Orleans County. The peak of quarrying occurred in 1904, when over 12,000 men were employed by some 50 working quarries throughout the county. These quarries became known for their durable, fireproof and unique grey, brown and even pink-toned “Medina sandstone.”  Medina sandstone was originally discovered in the 1820’s during the construction of the Erie Canal. The stone was used extensively in some of the most architecturally significant churches, homes and buildings throughout Western New York and all over the world.

 

Medina Sandstone can be found in about three-quarters of the stone used in public and residential buildings throughout Western New York. Some prominent local buildings made of this precious stone include Albion’s First Presbyterian Church (1874), St. John’s Episcopal and St. Mary's Roman Catholic churches in Medina, Buffalo’s 280,362 square foot Connecticut Street Armory (1899) and the top of Buffalo’s St. Louis Catholic Church, which is the tallest (245 feet high) open-work spire ever built completely of stone in the United States and is also believed to be the only remaining open-work or pierced spire in the United States. Built from 1886-1889, St. Louis is considered the “Mother Church” of the Diocese of Buffalo and features Gothic Revival design.

 

The state Capitol steps in Albany contain Medina Sandstone, as does the Brooklyn Bridge and London's Buckingham Palace. 

 

Orleans County's contribution to notable architecture around the world is unsurpassed. The quarries in Orleans County once made this region one of the richest sources of stone and building materials in all of New York State. Today, only two quarries exist in Orleans County.

St. Mary's RC Church

Medina, NY

Lockport Dolomite Formation

Whirlpool State Park, NF, NY

Brooklyn Bridge

New York, NY

Buckingham Palace

London, England

Buffalo Armory

Buffalo, NY

Buffalo Psychiatric Center

Buffalo, NY

First Presbyterian Church

Albion, NY

St. Johns Episcopal Church

Medina, NY

Sources | nysam.org & rasny.org,, Wikipedia, Medina Sandstone Society, Orleans Hub

St. Louis Church

Buffalo, NY

Photo credit | Tom Rivers, Orleans Hub