The Washerwoman’s Genes

July 26, 2006

Review: New York State Bluestone

Filed under: Reviews — by WWG @ 7:50 am

Dennis Conors, et. al. New York State Bluestone. New Paltz, 2005.

Turns out, lots of people love New York bluestone.

“There is something so appealing, so magnetic, so charismatic.,” write the authors of Bluestone. “People do love it despite the fact that the stones are often heaved and uneven. After all, most of it was laid down about 150 years ago, and yet is beauty and function remain. To touch it and walk on it, you feel its age, its strength. In the dead of winter it soaks up and retains the heat of the sun. In summer it is cool on your feet” (5). They are speaking here of bluestone laid in slabs as sidewalk, but it is true of the irregular flagstone used for terraces and walkways as well.

The authors concede that its appeal is “something of a mystery. It’s just stone after all. A kind of sandstone, they say, not that common, mainly available . . . in Ulster County and beyond in a certain narrow range on a geological map” (3).

This small pamphlet both celebrates this unique stone and explains its history. A collection of brief essays interspersed with a few wonderful historical photographs, the book may possibly be a SUNY New Paltz student production: the graphic advisor is a faculty member. But the publication information is scant.

For the most part the book is well-written and elegant in its design; however, the several essays were not reconciled as to facts before publication: there are some small contradictions that distract from a reader’s flow through the information. Nevertheless, the book serves as a basic introduction to the bluestone industry in Ulster.

Commercial quarrying of bluestone began about 1830, perhaps “at Coeyman’s” in Albany County, and soon, perhaps in 1832, Ulster county’s first quarry opened, with Saugerties seeming the spot. West Hurley, Woodstock, and Hurley are all mentioned as sites of important quarries.

As many as 10,000 people were employed in the industry at its peak: top men, who cleared the soil down to the level of the stone; stone cutters and quarrymen who cut out the blocks; plus workers to raise the stone, cut it, load it, and transport it for shipment down to the towns and cities where it was used. And it was hazardous work, as is all mining; managing the movement of huge slabs of stone presented many dangers, and bluestone miners suffered from a lung disease analogous to black lung as a result of breathing the stone dust.

The industry was one of the several forces that transformed the Kingston area in the mid-nineteenth century. “In 1825, and for some years subsequent, there was no road along Rondout Creek from Twaalfskill in either direction, neither to the Strand (Rondout), nor to Eddyville in the other course” (19). “Before 1825, Rondout (now downtown Kingston) was farmland with a nearby dock for several Hudson River sloops that carried local produce” (11). The Delaware and Hudson Canal opened just as bluestone mining began in earnest, and soon, bluestone became ”a substantial part of [Kingston’s] commercial and residential buildings, and the Rondout Creek had become the largest distribution point for bluestone” (11).

But after not too long, Rosendale cement and Hudson River brick became more popular as building materials—newer, cheaper, and certainly easier to transport. The bluestone industry declined so that by 1902 bluestone production required only 150 men.

The pamphlet concludes with a brief bibliography, including a couple of books that focus on this stone. You have to ponder: how many rocks beside this unique, dense sandstone, formed about 375 million years ago in the Devonian era, have had their biographies written?



  1. I just googled the booklet to see if they were going to do another printing, and came across your review.

    “…the book may possibly be a SUNY New Paltz student production: the graphic advisor is a faculty member. But the publication information is scant.”
    If this is the book in question, then you were correct in assuming it was a production of a SUNY New Paltz student (now alumni).

    There are (at least) two different versions floating around out there. The original was a calendar-size layout, which served the images well but lacked sympathy for the text. My instructor was asked to put together a new design, but didn’t have the time to do it on short notice. He asked me to take on the task, and we had the book thrown together in nearly three days. This was last year, I don’t know if it exists in another form now.

    If there’s anything I can answer for you, feel free to drop me a line.


    Comment by Casey Hickey — September 11, 2006 @ 1:21 am |Reply

  2. Casey — I am so touched when people find my blog, so thank you for reading and commenting. I did so appreciate your work, and I’m pleased that an author now knows that. The calendar sounds like it was a fabulous use of the info and pics. I didn’t realize that the booklet only came out last year. Good luck with any future versions!

    Comment by washergenes — September 29, 2006 @ 10:06 am |Reply

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