Unknown Stories of WNY: Medina Sandstone

MEDINA, N.Y.- Buckingham Palace, The Brooklyn Bridge andBuffalo's Richardson Complex.have a connection that is rock-solid, and that connection goes back nearly 2 centuries to fields across Orleans County.

"It was discovered when the Erie Canal was dug through Medina here in 1824", says Orleans County Historian Bill Lattin.

We are talking about Medina Sandstone. Lattin goes on to say, "By the mid to late 19th century, most of the quarries were actually in the Albion, Hulberton, Holley part of the county, but the first commercial quarry to open was here in Medina, started by John Ryan in 1837."

"We're not the only ones, it happened to be quarried here first, so naturally, it became Medina Sandstone," adds Bob Waters, the President of the Medina Sandstone Society.

And once you start noticing its tell-tale look, you'll see it everywhere, in its many colors; brown, pink, even grey. In fact, 3/4 of the stone used in public and residential buildings in the Buffalo area is Medina Sandstone. You'll find it in just about every old church in Buffalo, New York City's famous Brownstones, even London Bridge.

Lattin says though "The least of the output from the quarries was in the form of architectural products, but that's what remains with us today as the most significant remnant of the quarry days."

What was the most common use? Well, take a quick ride around the First Niagara Center and your car's shock absorbers will give you the answer, paving stones.

Lattin says, "Civil engineers particularly liked it because it always had grit, it didn't wear smooth like granite. So as paving blocks in streets, horses didn't slip on it." Medina Sandstone could be found paving the streets of Buffalo, Cleveland, even as far away as Havana, Cuba.

Sandstone also built a tremendous economy in Orleans County. By the turn of the 20th century, 43 quarries were operating throughout the county, employing over 2,000 men. The entire "Million Dollar Staircase" at the state capital building was pulled from the grounds of Orleans County. But within 20 years, it was the beginning of the end. By the 1920's, cement had become a popular, inexpensive substitute for stone and the quarries soon started shutting down. Despite the fact that there is still plenty of Medina Sandstone out there, this is the only surviving quarry and even it is rarely used.

But the impact this industry had is still evident in the architecture. It is an impact the Medina Sandstone Society hopes to celebrate and carry-on through education and outreach. They also install historic markers, made of, of course, Medina Sandstone. Markers that celebrate a material formed in the Silurian Period more than 400 million years ago. One that sat under these rural fields just waiting to be discovered, putting Medina on the map, creating an economic boon, and now being rediscovered, as one of the Unknown Stories of Western New York.


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