Medina Sandstone's place in history celebrated by local group

May 30, 2017

From Buckingham Palace and Buffalo's Richardson Olmsted Complex - to the streets of Havana - the New York State Capitol - and the iconic towers of the Brooklyn Bridge - these are just some of the things made with Medina Sandstone. And now there's a local group busy identifying and "celebrating" structures made with the once popular building material.


On a recent visit to Medina, 45 miles northeast of Buffalo, I stopped by a large rose colored building that dates to 1909.  Etched in stone above the entrance: City Hall.

The Village of Medina's "City Hall"
Credit Chris Caya WBFO News

"Medina's not a city. It's a village. But in those days it was identified as an up and coming metropolitan area that would probably grow tremendously to be one of the major cities on the route between Albany and Buffalo along the canal," said Don Colquhoun. He's a member of the Medina Sandstone Hall of Fame, along with David Miller.
    
"The type of thing that we look for when we have a nomination, we go to visit the building, we look for spectacular buildings and functional buildings that are still being used," Miller said.  

The Hall of Fame, inside the City Hall, was formed in 2013. Inductees include the First Presbyterian Church of Buffalo, the Medina Armory, St. Bernard's Seminary, in Rochester, and the former Delaware-Asbury Church - now called Babeville.
    
"One of the reasons that we inducted that building into the Hall of Fame was that it had been so beautifully restored and re-purposed," said Jim Hancock. He's the president of the Medina Sandstone Society and says an outstanding feature of the stone is its durability and longevity.

"Some of these buildings have been constructed for over a hundred years. And when you look at it there's no wear, there's no erosion," Hancock said.

(L-R) Jim Hancock, Don Colquhoun, David Miller
Credit Chris Caya WBFO News

And it comes in a variety of colors.
    
"It's not just grey. We have a white, brown, red and brown like a rose color," Hancock said.

Various textures from rough to smooth were available. And Miller says, a main selling feature was that it's fireproof.
    
"St. Paul's Episcopal Church in Buffalo, which was one of our first inductees, actually had a gas explosion in 1888, I think. And the entire interior of the building was destroyed in the fire. But the beautiful sandstone structure itself was totally intact. So they were able to save the church essentially by rebuilding the interior," Miller said. 

Credit Medina Sandstone Hall of Fame

Buffalo's Connecticut Street Armory also survived a big fire in 1982. Colquhoun points out that the Hall of Fame includes smaller structures.
    
"For example, there is a building in Holley which is a cemetery chapel. It's a very unique structure. There's also a tower in the cemetery in Albion," Colquhoun said.

There's also private homes including Martin Manor on Linwood Avenue in Buffalo.
    
"We also inducted Sonnenberg Gardens, in Canandaigua, last year. And the Flower Taylor mansion, in Watertown, which is another magnificent structure, which was originally built by the governor of New York state, Governor Flower," Colquhoun said.  

By the early 1900s, the 50 quarries in and around Medina employed about 1,200 people. Miller says, demand was so great,  for many years, the quarries couldn't keep up.   

Workers are dwarfed by sandstone in a quarry near Medina, NY during the industry's boom years.
Credit Medina Sandstone Hall of Fame

    
"It's probably important to remember that most of the sandstone that came out of the quarries was used for sidewalk, flagstones, curbs and the cobblestones that were used early on to pave the streets," Miller said.

That's because it doesn't polish and get slippery.
    
"The horses and wagons that were on the street at that point got a firm grip on the Medina Sandstone. And the constant traffic didn't polish the stone to make it smooth over a period of time. The same reason really that the steps in the New York state capitol are made out of Medina Sandstone because again the foot traffic never wears or polishes the steps," Miller said.

But by the 1930s it was losing its appeal because it was expensive to quarry and transport.

Credit Medina Sandstone Hall of Fame

"And people started using concrete instead of sandstone. And of course sandstone was much more durable. But concrete was cheaper," Hancock said.  

The quarries are all closed. But now the committee's looking for new nominations.
    
"Anyone that has a building that they believe is Medina Sandstone they can nominate it simply by going to our website, SandstoneSociety.org, click on the Hall of Fame button, and a nomination form will pop up," Hancock said.   

The 2017 class will be inducted into the Medina Sandstone Hall of Fame in October.