The Robert M. Vogel Prize for 2010 is awarded to Dennis E. Howe for his article “An Archaeological Survey of the Whiteport Cement Works” which appeared in IA Vol. 33, No. 1 (2007) pp. 5-26. From the discovery of natural hydraulic cement in 1825 until the closure of the company in 1902, the Whiteport Cement Works, and its product Rosendale cement, was the recognized standard for natural cement in the US. The company supplied about half the demand for hydraulic cement in the country.
In his article, Howe takes us through the geology and occurrences of natural cements. Due to fortuitous circumstances, the large deposits of dolomite in the Rosendale area, just west of the Hudson River, about halfway between Albany and New York City, were perfect for the production of natural hydraulic cement. The author then describes how the demand for natural cement was driven by canals, military fortifications and other public works at the beginning of the nineteenth century. Canvass White, a brilliant young engineer working on the construction of the Erie Canal, patented a method of producing natural cement in 1822, but left the development of this product to his younger brother, Hugh White. The Rosendale site, which first supplied cement for the construction of the Delaware and Hudson Canal, was bought by Hugh White in 1838 who then resold it to the Newark and Rosendale Lime and Cement Co. in 1848. The company made new investments which raised production from 450 barrels to over 1 000 barrels of cement a day. The cement mill was changed from water to steam-power in the late 1860s. With the development of horizontal rotary kilns in the 1890s, the production of Portland cement became viable, which started a series of changes. However, it was the adaption of Portland cement as the construction industry standard around 1900 that was the death blow to natural hydraulic cement industry. The company closed in 1902 and the site was abandoned soon afterwards. The Whiteport property was never redeveloped which makes it a rich archaeological site.
Howe takes us on a surface archaeology survey of the extant remains of the site. He is able to identify 15 different structures or structural complexes including a battery of four limestone kilns, various cooperages (including one that was water-powered), which produced thousands of cement barrels a year, a large steam-powered cement mill, two large storehouses as well as a number of ancillary buildings. Also recognizable is a large millpond which once provided power to the cement mill, a long stone embankment and dam. The roadbed of a horse-drawn railway, which moved the cement barrels from the mill to the storehouses and then down to Eddyport for shipment on barges, is also visible.
Howe provides a description of the remains of each structure plus probable dates and uses. This is verified against insurance maps and other sources of information. He then relates these structures to what is known about the manufacture of cement which comes from textbooks and state publications at the beginning of the twentieth century.
This article successfully integrates the history of natural cement, the biographies of Canvass and Hugh White, the histories of Rosendale and other nearby communities, the Whiteport Cement Works and insurance plans with an archaeological survey of surviving remains.
Dennis Howe’s article is an important contribution to our understanding of how natural hydraulic cement was made and its role in the construction of public works in the nineteenth century. The research on the Whiteport site itself leads to a better understanding of how natural cement was actually made, how manufacturing components worked together and the evolution of the site. All these lines of research lead to a much better understanding of the importance of Rosendale cement and the Whiteport site.