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Full text of "Mineville, New York : a concrete industrial village in the heart of the Adirondack forests"

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PENNSYLWNIA. 
LIBRARIES 







MINEVILLE, NEW YORK: A CONCRETE INDUSTRIAL VILLAGE 
IN THE HEART OF THE ADIRONDACK FORESTS 



Ann-Isabel Friedman 



A THESIS 



in 



The Graduate Program in Historic Preservation 



Presented to the Faculties of the 
University of Pennsylvania in Partial Fulfillment of the 
Requirements for the Degree of 



MASTER OF SCIENCE 
1990 



VA-O 



\ Y,-4=Jex-<-^w~ 



Samuel Y. Harris, P.E., Adjunct Associate Professor, 
Historic Preservation, Advisor 




Join Milner, R.A., Adjunct Associate Professor, 
Historic Preservation, Reader 




{e Group Chairman 



CONTENTS 



ABSTRACT . 



IV 



ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS V1 

CHAPTERS 

I . INTRODUCTION 1 

The Significance of Mineville's 

Tailings Block Houses 1 

A Technological Assessment of Tailings 
Block 4 

II. HISTORY OF MINEVILLE, MORIAH, NEW YORK 8 

Iron Ore Mining and Settlement in Moriah, 
1808-1876 8 

Witherbee Sherman Company's Housing 
Construction, 1870's-1918 14 

Chronology of Decline of Witherbee Sherman 
Company, and Iron Ore Mining in Moriah, 
1924-1957 3 3 

III. TAILINGS BLOCKHOUSES, 1903-1910 46 

Survey and Description of Houses 4 6 

Size, Location, and Number of Tailings 
Block Houses in Study Group 49 

Architectural Features and Landscape 
Elements 52 

IV. ANALYSIS OF TAILINGS BLOCK AS A BUILDING 
MATERIAL 70 

Material Properties of Concrete 
Manufactured with Iron Ore Tailings 
Aggregate: Compressive Strength, 
Absorptive Properties 7 

Contemporary Arguments for the Use of 
Tailings Block 76 



li 



Brief History of Concrete Block; 
Its Use in Domestic Construction; 
Contemporary Applications 7 7 

Is Tailings Block a Good Domestic 

Building Material? 93 

The Use of Tailings Block in the Heart 
of the Adirondacks: The Selection of 
Cement Block by Mining Management 96 

V. Tailings Block Houses Today 105 

A Survey of Houses in Study Group: 

Typical Alterations 105 

A Survey of Houses in Study Group: 
Typical Condition (Exterior) , Including 
Types of Deterioration and Causes 112 

VI. Conclusion: Mineville Preservation 119 

Recommendations for Future Maintenance 

and Repair of Housing 119 

Possible Sources of Funding for Housing 
Preservation 125 

Mineville Preserved: The Tailings Block 
Houses as Monuments to the 19th Century 
Industry which Caused the Development of 
this Region 131 



BIBLIOGRAPHY 134 



APPENDIX 



E.L. Conwell & Co. - Results of Compression 

and Absorption Tests, Lab No. 461464 144 



ILLUSTRATIONS 14 6 



111 



ABSTRACT 

This study examines the history of a turn-of-the-century 
company town, concentrating on the mining company's use of 
cement block in the construction of workers' housing, 
placing this use of block in the context of contemporary 
concrete construction, and assessing the mining company's 
use of iron ore tailings as aggregate in the manufacture of 
concrete block. Within the complex of turn-of-the-century 
company housing, a core area was selected, and the 
twenty-five tailings block houses within this area surveyed 
from the exterior. This survey provided clues about the 
construction of the houses, while an assessment of the 
design of each house provided a means of comparison between 
Mineville's tailings block houses and other, contemporary 
company housing developments. In order to evaluate the 
material properties of the tailings block, laboratory tests 
were conducted on samples of the material, and the results 
were compared with those of tests conducted at the time of 
manufacture. The study concludes with a brief description 
of the present condition of the houses within the survey 
group, and recommendations for the future repair and 
preservation of tailings block houses. 

A survey of contemporary trade literature, in both the 



IV 



concrete and iron and steel industries, constitute the 
primary documents. In addition, oral interviews were 
conducted, and local archives examined. Secondary sources 
were consulted to provide background on the development of 
the mining community and the history of the Witherbee- 
Sherman Company. 

When the study was initiated, the Witherbee-Mineville 
community, and particularly the tailings block houses 
themselves, were suffering from the results of twenty-five 
years of economic depression, neglect, and obscurity. More 
recently, industrial archaeologists have initiated a study 
of the mining history of the region; the county, with 
assistance from the state, has conducted a survey of the 
historic resources of the town of Moriah, including the 
tailings block houses; and several real estate development 
schemes have been proposed for this hilly lakefront 
community. It is hoped that both this scholarly attention 
and the projected economic development will help this 
struggling community survive into its second century and 
beyond. 



ACKNOWLE DGMENTS 



My Introduction to Mineville 

In August of 1978, exactly ten years before I began to 
research the history of Mineville' s tailings block houses, 
I met Marcy Vaughn Porter: my personal ambassador, mentor, 
and guide to the joys of Moriah, motherhood, and 
"old-timey" music. Perhaps our meeting under the masonry 
arches of one of Cornell's gothic arcades was auspicious: 
eight years later we would continue our friendship as 
working colleagues, actually making a living by inspecting 
the masonry of academic buildings. Marcy grew up in Port 
Henry, and with her parents, Peggy and Charlie Porter, 
introduced me to the mining history of the area. Peggy, 
with a vast archive of early photographs of Moriah, and an 
equally vast network of friends and acquaintances within 
the community — local historians, librarians, former miners, 
Mineville residents — made many phone calls and personal 
introductions, without which I would never have had an 
opportunity to meet and interview former miners and 
residents of the tailings block houses. Charlie served as 
host and expert fishing guide, helping to keep my husband 
busy fishing while I spent days in the Essex County 



VI 



archives, or photographing the tailings block houses. 

The Porters introduced us to Julia Hammond, who provided 
fantastic breakfasts and a comfortable bed, conveniently 
located near Mineville, between Port Henry and 
Elizabethtown. Pat Farrell, Bob Brennan, the Grays and the 
Martins, all provided invaluable information about 
Mineville's history and the tailings block houses. Pat 
Farrell provided an introduction to Joe Java, who supplied 
me with samples of tailings block. Jim Kinley and Mary 
Bell at the Essex County Historical Society were extremely 
helpful, allowing me free use of the museum copy stand as I 
pored over their map and photograph archives, and 
introducing me to Bill Johnston, director of the Essex 
County Planning Office. Bill generously shared with me the 
draft manuscript of the August 1989 Reconnaissance Level 
Survey of Historic Resources in the Town of Moriah, New 
York . 

Thank you to Sam Harris and John Milner for being the first 
ever advisor and reader-by-correspondence, to Seth, Inge, 
and Davi-Linda for giving me occasional pushes, and to 
Gladys for keeping Sophie happy and healthy and out of the 
study. 



VII 



CHAPTER I: INTRODUCTION 

The Significance of Mineville's Tailings Block Houses 

The tailings block housing of Mineville and its sister 
village of Witherbee, built between 1903 and 1910 by the 
Witherbee-Sherman company, were a unique development in the 
design history of company housing. Built to house both 
miners and the mine's mid-level managers, the tailings 
block houses were built in a variety of sizes and shapes, 
ranging from block-like multifamily tenements to 
single-family, gambrel-roofed cottages. The houses were 
distinguished primarily by their construction material: a 
concrete block made using the by-product of iron ore 
extraction as the aggregate. The use of this recently 
developed building technology, hollow concrete block, in 
the Adirondacks, where wood-frame construction naturally 
predominated, is a phenomenon worthy of study. In the 
study which follows, we will examine this choice of 
tailings block over wood, by comparing Mineville's tailings 
block houses to contemporary company housing developments. 

Although concrete block was manufactured for several 
decades prior to the construction of Mineville's tailings 
block houses, its appropriate use in domestic vs. 
industrial construction was the subject of fierce debate. 



Contemporary trade literature often published letters to 
the editor from architects and concrete manufacturers, 
criticizing or promoting the use of concrete block in 
domestic construction. Poor quality control in the 
manufacture of block was seen as the major stumbling block 
to its acceptance as an appropriate domestic building 
material. Aesthetics were also a concern, and many 
articles were devoted to methods of improving the 
appearance of concrete block. 

Although much space in trade journals was devoted to the 
aesthetics of concrete block, enlisting architects as 
promoters of the material, the more fundamental concern of 
the trade journals was clear: to push concrete as an 
accessible building product, one which required little in 
the way of specialized knowledge or equipment to 
manufacture or to use. The journals appealed to the high 
and low end of the real estate markets at once: simple 
industrial buildings and small workers' cottages of 
concrete were highlighted with the same frequency as 
churches or large suburban homes. Within this spectrum, 
the tailings block houses of Mineville rank somewhere in 
the middle. As our survey and description of twenty-five 
of the tailings block houses will show, the builders of 
Mineville's tailings block houses made conscious attempts 
to vary the appearance of the tailings block, even in the 



humblest of multifamily tenements. The block was 
manufactured on-site, at the separator shaft which was the 
source of aggregate, by workers with no previous experience 
in the manufacture of concrete products. The houses were 
constructed by workmen of varying expertise in masonry 
construction, and as our examination of the present 
condition of the houses will show, by builders 
experimenting with the material to achieve decorative 
effects, with varying levels of success. 

The tailings block houses are significant as a monument to 
a developing building technology. Their construction: for 
the most part without steel reinforcement, employing 
experimental decorative techniques, expresses the ultimate 
in vernacular concrete block construction for the period 
1903-1910. Aesthetically, the tailings block houses 
compare quite favorably with other workers' housing 
illustrated in Concrete-Cement Age between 1912 and 1914, 
the first years for which an index is available. In the 
realm of contemporary company-supplied workers' housing, 
Mineville's tailings block houses also compare favorably 
with other workers' housing, but particularly well when 
compared with concrete company housing. Just after the 
construction of the tailings block houses, in 1912, a 
"concrete city" was constructed by the Delaware, Lackawanna 
and Western Railroad company at Nanticoke, Pennsylvania, 



a small town located in the center of Luzerne County, ten 
miles southwest of Wilkes-Barre on the Susquehanna River. 
This company town of poured concrete houses, built to house 
coal miners and their families, was touted in both building 
and industrial trade journals as a prototype of the modern 
company town. 1 With its spare, undecorated, unfinished 
exteriors and interiors — praised for the ease with which 
they could be flushed out with hoses to fumigate the houses 
between occupants — the Nanticoke development makes the 
tailings block houses, particularly the detached homes of 
similar size, appear warm and luxurious by comparison. 

A Technological Assessment of Tailings Block 

The use of iron ore tailings as aggregate is the one 
feature which distinguishes the block houses of Mineville 
from contemporary block construction. The use of 
aggregates other than gravel or crushed stone and sand is 
mentioned in contemporary trade journals, but it is never 
made clear that the choice of aggregate is dictated by 
availability. For the Lackawanna houses, coal cinders were 
mixed with sand to create the concrete mixture. The 
cinders were criticized for producing concrete of poor 
compressive strength, necessitating the use of more cement, 
but its ready availability presumably outweighed the 
additional cement costs in the case of the Lackawanna 



housing. 

Blast furnace slag, employed by railroads and roofers 
during this period as ballast, was another material readily 
available to the allied iron, steel and railroad 
industries. The slag was praised for producing concrete of 
light weight and superior compressive strength. Iron 
ore tailings, also a by-product of the iron and steel 
industry, likewise produced concrete of superior strength; 
a 1:5 mixture of cement : tailings block was praised as at 
least equal to coarse sand, being equal in compressive 
strength to a 1:3 mixture of cement: fine sand. Unlike 
slag, however, the use of tailings increased the weight, 
and therefore the labor cost, of concrete construction. 
Ultimately, the engineering assessment of a particular 
aggregate was much less important than its low-cost 
availability. The iron ore tailings were absolutely free 
to the mining company, requiring no special loading or 
transportation to the site of block manufacture. The fact 
that the tailings, already crushed and graded as part of 
the ore extraction process, cost nothing to the mining 
company offset any additional labor cost due to the weight 
of the resultant block. 

The choice of iron ore tailings was more an economic one 
than a choice dictated by the technical advantages of 



tailings over more conventional aggregate. However, the 
increased strength and weight of the tailings block over 
conventional block has had one unforeseen, and ironic, 
result. The tailings block houses of Mineville have proved 
almost invincible to demolition, or even alteration. Built 
as housing for miners at a time when the iron ore was 
already half exhausted, the tailings block houses of 
Mineville have long outlived the mines themselves. 



CHAPTER NOTES 

"A City of Poured Houses: Model Dwellings for 
Wage Earners," Scientific American Supplement No. 1895 
(April 27, 1912), 260; Frederick Squires, "Progressive 
Architectural Construction," Architecture and Building 4 6 
(June 1914) , 233-5. 

2 W.A. Aiken, "Slag as an Aggregate in Concrete," 
Railway Review (August 15, 1914) , 199-200, publication of 
paper read before the 17th annual meeting of the American 
Society for Testing Materials, Atlantic City, N.J., June 
30-July 3, 1913. 

3 0swald C. Hering, Concrete and Stucco Houses: 
The use of plastic materials in the building of country and 
suburban houses in a manner to insure the qualities of 
fitness, durability and beauty , (New York: McBride, Nast 
and Company, 1912), 15. 



CHAPTER II: HISTORY OF MINEVILLE, MORIAH, NEW YORK 



Iron Ore Mining and Settlement in Moriah. 1808-1876 

Mineville is what one would expect: a mining village. 
Today, Mineville and the nearby village of Witherbee are 
referred to collectively by local residents as 
Witherbee-Mineville. These company towns are a monument to 
the mining industry which dominated this region from the 
mid-19th century through World War II. The mining 
companies responsible for the construction of these 
communities, the Witherbee Sherman Corporation and the Port 
Henry Iron Ore Company, failed and dissolved in the 
1930's. Their successor, Republic Steel, pulled out of 
these communities, beginning in 1957. These companies left 
behind only their namesakes — the two small hamlets of 
company-built houses — and a 14 million ton mountain of 
tailings. No industry has stepped in to replace the once 
dominant mining companies. The communities struggle on, 
nestled in a valley, in the shadow of the "tailings pile," 
as it is known. 

Mineville is part of the township of Moriah, on the eastern 
edge of Essex County, in the center of the Adirondack 
region. The population center of Moriah, Port Henry, 

8 



fronts Lake Champlain, but Mineville is located about four 
miles inland. The road connecting Mineville to Port Henry 
is called Plank Road, after the road surface laid by the 
mining companies to aid in transporting ore to the harbor. 
The company-built housing of Mineville is located just off 
the Plank Road (See Fig. 1) . 

Moriah was incorporated in February 1808, carved out of 
townships to the north and south. Iron ore had been 
discovered in the area in the mid-18th century, and in 
1810, Deacon Sanford, an early Moriah settler commissioned 
a survey which began to identify the geological wealth of 
the region. This survey numbered various ore beds, 
labeling the iron-rich land in the vicinity of Mineville 
Lot Nos. 21, 23, 24 and 25, which would evolve into: "Ore 
Bed No. 21," etc. Through 1820, because fewer than a half 
dozen families had arrived, the area that would become 
Mineville remained largely forested. Other communities of 
Moriah were cleared and farmed earlier, however, with the 
overall population of Moriah growing to 1000 by 1820. The 
lumbering and potash-producing businesses that had cleared 
Moriah east of Mineville then expanded, clearing the hilly 
area of present-day Mineville by about 1830. The first 
attempts at mining the ore were not made until 1824. The 
first "mercantile business" was established in Moriah in 
1810; previously, settlers were reguired to travel as far 



as Albany or across Lake Champlain to Vermont for 
provisions. Between 1820 and 1830, the population of 
Moriah tripled, reflecting both the established lumbering 
and early mining activity. 



By 1822, a blast furnace had been built in Port Henry, 
processing ore from several nearby beds into pig iron, 
which was sent to Troy for manufacture. In 1827, this 
furnace was converted to a stove works, but in 18 3 6 the 
blast furnace was revived. Three years later, the furnace 
was purchased by Horace Gray of Boston, who formed the Port 
Henry Iron Ore Co. in 184 0. Gray had leased or purchased 
rights to ore from the Cheever mine, located north of Port 
Henry on Lake Champlain. The Cheever mine predated the 
Mineville beds, reportedly providing Benedict Arnold with 
iron for cladding Revolutionary War ships. Gray built a 
second furnace in 1847, producing a total of about ten tons 
of iron per day. Gray's enterprise failed the same year, 
and his company changed hands several more times until it 
was acquired by Witherbee, Sherman & Co. (with others) in 
about 1883. 3 

Meanwhile, it was not until 1846 that miners at Bed No. 21 
reached the "body of ore," thirty feet underground. 4 A 
modest quantity of ore, about one thousand tons, was mined 
between 1846 and 1853. In 1853, the American Mineral 

10 



Company built a processing plant in the area of Mineville, 
to separate phosphates, or apatite, from the ore. The 
American Mineral Company planned to export the resulting 
mineral to England. An 1858 map of Essex County 
indicates the American Mineral Company, along with their 
three separators (See Fig. 2) . This map also outlines the 
area of Mineville, but designates only individual 
structures and their owners, indicating that the name 
"Mineville" was not yet in use. The American Mineral 
Company did not long survive their appearance on the 1858 
map. After significant investment, the company's use of a 
"crude magnetic separator" failed to extract phosphates 
pure enough to be sold as fertilizer. In the early 1860's, 
mining operations were assumed by the Port Henry Iron Ore 
Company. 

Between 1820 and 1860, various ore beds in the vicinity of 
Mineville changed hands approximately every ten years, with 
investors consolidating holdings. Along with the Port 
Henry Iron Ore Company, Witherbee, Sherman & Co. emerged as 
major shareholders in Ore Bed 21. The two companies shared 
board members in common, creating a dynasty which would 
dominate the development of Moriah for the next sixty 
years. Writing a history of Essex County iron mining in 
1906, Frank S. Witherbee called the period 1860-1870 the 
"height of iron mining in the County." 7 Actually, growth 

11 



of this mining community peaked in 1880, when Essex County 
was the second-ranking iron producing region in the 
country, and the Sanford Bed at Mineville was the fifth 
most productive iron ore mine in the United States. Also 
in 1880, the region ranked first in the nation in the 
production of bloom iron, the soft iron used to make 
wrought iron, producing 84 per cent of the national output 
of this commodity. According to census data, Moriah's 
population reached its apex in 1880 at 7,379. 8 

Ironically, 1880 also marked the beginning of the end for 
Adirondack iron production. Valerie Rosenquist, in "The 
Iron Ore Eaters," explains that "bloom iron demand shrank 
nationally as Andrew Carnegie and his followers rapidly and 
consistently developed ways to use lower quality ore to 
make higher quality steel." 9 Slow to adopt this new 
technology, the Witherbee Sherman Company continued to 
transport their high-quality ore to Albany or Pittsburgh 
steel manufacturers, and were thus more susceptible to 
market fluctuations and competing steel corporations with 
more integrated operations. 10 After the 1880 peak, 
Moriah's population, along with its iron production, 
declined gradually, numbering 5,124 in 1980. 11 

Although Witherbee does not mention it, the rapid growth of 
Mineville in the 1860's and 1870's was no doubt due in part 

12 



to the industrial demands of the Civil War. Railroad 
development during the same period sustained this boom in 
iron production. A county atlas of 187 6 indicates that the 
population of Essex County doubled between 1860 and 1875, 
from a population of 3,466 to one of 7,898, about 1000 of 
whom are listed as employed by the county's six mining 
companies. * A large proportion of these workers, 250 to 
300 in 1869, were employed in or around Mineville, on Ore 
Bed 21 and the adjacent beds, No. 2 3 and No. 24. Winslow 
C. Watson, author of an 1869 county history, commented on 
the "quiet, discipline, and regularity" of the mine 
workers, concluding: "It is said that laborers prefer a 
situation in these mines to toiling on a farm or in 
lumbering occupation." It is ironic that these 
cheerful workers had not yet had the benefit of company 
housing. 

The 1876 Atlas is the first published map to use the name 
Mineville. This Mineville map shows two active mines at 
the center of town, several stores to the west, a church, a 
school, and a hotel. In addition, the map indicates 
approximately seventy individual buildings or lots, 
including both homes and mining structures (See Fig.'s 3 
and 4) . The Atlas includes illustrations of important 
homes and institutions, including a Roman Catholic church, 
St. Peter and St. Paul, located in Mineville (See Fig. 5). 

13 



Also illustrated in the Atlas is the residence of J.G. 
Witherbee, not located near his mines, but situated on the 
more genteel lakefront lots of Port Henry, the commercial 
center of Moriah. The Atlas also depicts a commercial 
building, located in the center of Port Henry (See Fig. 
6) . This large commercial block, Lee House, was no doubt 
built by John A. Lee, an early partner of George Sherman 
and S.H. and J.G. Witherbee, whose mining firm was formed 
in 1851. In 1862, the Witherbees bought Lee's interest in 
the firm, creating Witherbee, Sherman & Co. Unlike Lee's 
prosperous brick commercial block in Port Henry, the 
Mineville buildings illustrated in the Atlas, including the 
simple Gothic church and the nearby Italianate rectory and 
barn, are of wood. This wood church, built in 1870 in a 
simple style more typical of 1840 than 1870, was abandoned 
as mining operations shifted, and a new brick church was 
built to replace it in the northeast corner of Mineville, 
at the intersection of the Plank Road and Bartlett Pond 
Road. 



Witherbee Sherman Company's Housing Construction, 
1870's-1918 

As Mineville grew, stores, hotels, churches and schools 
were built to service the mining community. A general 

14 



store was established by G.T. Treadway in 1866. Treadway 
apparently purchased the store from the Port Henry Iron Ore 
Company; various mine owners had operated some kind of 
store, from the inception of mining operations at Ore Bed 
No. 21. From 1866 onwards, however, the mine owners were 
no longer involved in selling merchandise to their 
employees. A second privately operated store, Alan & 
Sherman, established a branch of their Port Henry store in 
Mineville in 1880. A third store, owned by Charles A. 
Butler, was also established in the 1880's, selling tinware 
and other home furnishings. Additional independent 
establishments included Empire House, a hotel, built by 
Dennis Hayes in 1873, and Cusal's House, another 1873 
hotel, fronting "Union Square." 14 The 1876 atlas 
indicated a third hotel proprietor, J. Keough. 

It is possible that one or more of these hotels served as 
boarding houses for some of the three hundred miners who 
arrived during the boom period of the 1860 's-70 's ; perhaps 
for the mine's managers. Certainly, the rapid increase of 
Mineville 's population during this period strained existing 
housing resources. The mining company responded with its 
first housing for workers in the 1870 's. This housing was 
built near present-day Mineville, particularly on "Tracy 
Hill." Houses were of wood frame construction. This 
housing is not distinguished from other structures in the 

15 



1876 Atlas, so it is difficult to offer detail about 
appearance, size, or occupancy. One contemporary observer 
of Mineville offers this insight into its appearance: 



The churches, houses, and public buildings are built 
anywhere and everywhere, back to back, sides to 
fronts, at all angles to the roads or streets, and 
with the carelessness of structures temporary . The 
experience of a decade [1875-1885] has shown the 
villagers that at any moment it may become necessary 
to seek a living elsewhere, which has bred a 
consequent disregard of solidity, comfort, and 
neatness. There is a griminess and roughness over 
the whole place, and not even the gorgeous summers 
of the mountain can hide them. 15 



These wooden houses would eventually be replaced, beginning 
with a mining expansion in the early 1890's, just before 
the 1893 Depression, and in the interim, were allowed to 
decay. Only eight of approximately thirty workers' houses 
built by the Port Henry Iron Ore Company c. 1865-70 survive; 
all of wood-frame construction and significantly altered, 
located on Broad Street, Curtis and Maple Avenues. Twenty 
more two-story, clapboard, two-family houses survive, built 
by the Port Henry Iron Ore Company c.1870 to the northwest 
of the Mineville houses, in the area which would become 
Witherbee. Approximately thirty examples of earlier, 
modest, vernacular wood-frame workers' housing, built 
privately in Mineville c. 1845-65 survive. These include 
one and one-half story single-family homes and two-story 
boarding houses, located in the residential area on and 



16 



just to the west of the Plank Road, between Broad Street or 
Hospital Road to the north and Joyce Road to the South. 16 

By 1880, Mineville supported three churches: two of wood; a 
Presbyterian church, built on the Plank Road in 1875, and 
originally Congregational; Emmanuel Mission, an Episcopal 
Church, built in 1879; and the Roman Catholic Church, Sts. 
Peter and Paul, which was the brick predecessor to an 
earlier church of 1870. Although its population demanded 
three churches, the Presbyterian church had to share its 
minister with a Port Henry congregation, while the 
Episcopal and Roman Catholic congregations were subsidiary 
to Port Henry parishes. This lack of full time pastors 
might indicate either a lack of funds or a lack of trained 
ministers willing to brave Adirondack winters, but was 
primarily a result of the secondary status Mineville held 
in relation to the neighboring hamlets. Despite the fact 
that Mineville 's population exceeded that of Port Henry 
from the 1820 's through the 1870 's, the poverty of the 
mineworkers, dependent for employment on the volatile iron 
market, precluded its establishment as a separate 
parish. 1 

By 1892, the "permanent" population of Witherbee and 
Mineville had grown large enough to support a new public 
school. A public school had been established twenty-five 

17 



years earlier in the more residential and mercantile 
population center of Port Henry, while small district 
schools were also run from the 1860 's at the Cheever Mine, 
at Lots 21 and 24 in Mineville, and other locations, 
established within a total of fifteen "districts" 
throughout Moriah. The school established in 1892 and 
chartered a year later was part of an effort on the part of 
the district school boards — dominated by Witherbees and 
Shermans — to centralize, eliminating some of the scattered 
district schools to increase efficiency. 

The Mineville and Witherbee Union School was chartered in 
1893. Eventually, the Witherbee Sherman Company would 
build a ten-room, concrete building to house the school. 
Initially, classes were held in an existing meeting 
hall. The establishment of a public school in 
Mineville coincided with the second expansion period in 
mining operations. During this period just before the 
Depression of the 1890' s, the company recruited immigrant 
laborers, Italian and Eastern European, many of whom 
arrived in Mineville with their families. In addition to 
the new school, new housing was needed to meet the needs of 
this immigrant population. 

Just preceding the arrival of new immigrants in the 1890 's 
was the failure of the Cheever community, the mining 

18 



operation located just north of Port Henry which had seen 
activity since Revolutionary War days. From the 184 O's 
onwards, Cheever, which was owned and operated 
independently of the Witherbee-Sherman interest, provided a 
home and source of employment for hundreds of Irish 
immigrants. When Oliver Presbrey, owner of the Cheever 
mines in the 1880's and 1890's, failed in his efforts to 
interest either Witherbee Sherman or other regional iron 
mining companies to enter into partnership with him, in 
order to provide distribution contracts and capital 
investment, he was forced to shut down operations 
completely. Skilled, second generation Irish miners, along 
with second generation Irish merchants who provided 
services to the Cheever community, were forced to abandon a 
ghost town of sixty tenements, ten years before the 1893 
Depression. Many of the miners would become managers for 
Witherbee Sherman, and occupy the some of the nicest of the 
company housing which would be built in the first decade of 
the 20th century. A few of the merchants would establish 
branches of their Port Henry stores in the rapidly 
expanding residential community of Mineville, providing 
goods to the new waves of Italian and Eastern European 
immigrants. 

In 1896, the Witherbee Sherman Company issued a "Report on 
Facilities," containing an inventory of company-owned 

19 



buildings. In addition to those buildings directly 
involved in mining operations, the facilities included a 
barn, a warehouse, a sawmill and a carpenter's shop, all of 
red brick, with metal roofs. Over the next twenty years, 
company carpenters would be employed in the construction of 
worker's housing, in addition to their work on the mill 
buildings housing mining machinery. 

As a result of the 1893 Depression, the population of 
Moriah dropped sharply between 1890 and 1900: from 6,787 to 
4,447. When the mines curtailed production, not only 
miners, but tradesmen and other secondary producers were 
forced to leave the area to look for work. However, 
production was again expanding by the late 1890 's, and by 
1910, Moriah 's population had climbed back to at 
6,754. 21 Apparently anticipating a period of sustained 
growth following the 1893 Depression, the Witherbee Sherman 
Company had constructed tenements to house 84 workers by 
1898. These tenements were all of wood, and most were 
double tenements, with four or five rooms for each family. 
The Port Henry Iron Ore Company, by now just a 
stock-holding entity of the Witherbee Sherman Company, 
"owned" additional tenements. 

In 1900, the Witherbee-Sherman Company underwent 
reorganization, as the Lackawanna Steel Company acquired 

20 



the Sherman interest, along with the now bankrupt Cheever 
mines. 22 Between 1900 and 1910, as mining operations 
again expanded, profits from ore sales were channeled into 
the construction of new housing for immigrant workers. By 
1914, company housing had grown to 238 tenements, housing 
six hundred working men and their families. Writing about 
Mineville housing in 1915, chief engineer S. Lefevre 
described the company as "in the same position as the old 
woman who lived in the shoe." Those workers with families 
had then over a thousand children, five hundred of school 
age, necessitating an additional classroom and teacher, on 
average, each year. 

In 1905, a tenement was constructed to house 60 Italian 
immigrants, all male employees of the mine. The company 
followed a practice of segregating workers by race and 
nationality. Lefevre describes this practice 
matter-of-factly in his 1915 article: 



Houses have gone up a few at a time wherever a clear 
space could be found and the slopes were not too 
steep. This has its advantages, as it separates the 
dwellings into various groups, which makes it 
possible to segregate the different nationalities; 
thus we have an an American quarter, an Italian, and 
a Polish-Slavish-Hungarian district. 24 

In part, the mining company is recreating a contemporary 

urban pattern of ethnic neighborhoods, where immigrants of 

like backgrounds dwell in their own small communities. In 



21 



addition, immigrant families living together performed a 
recruitment function for the mine: 

Each family is a recruiting center, for when more 
men are wanted, they write their friends to come and 
get work and board with them. 25 

What is not mentioned in Lefevre's article is that 

Witherbee-Sherman actually set up a padrone system, paying 

a family of Italian immigrants who had arrived in the 

1890 's to recruit Italian labor in New York City. 

Eventually, this system, which elevated earlier immigrants 

over newer ones, contributed to the labor unrest which 

resulted in strikes in 1913. 26 By then, the padrone 

system had become widespread graft, practiced and abused by 

members of all immigrant groups, with petty bosses 

reguiring payoffs before granting new jobs, or threatening 

2 7 

to fire workers unless a certain payment was received. 

Whether they were recruited through the padrone system, or 
arrived in Mineville by their own means, it is 
understandable that single male immigrants would prefer to 
board with friends and family than to live in the five 
large boarding houses, each accommodating fifty men. 
Families living in two or four family tenements, with three 
or four bedrooms, took in as many as five or six boarders. 
This meant that workers boarding with families were 
actually more crowded than those in the three story, 

22 



thirty-bedroom boarding houses. Families with boarders 
must have compensated for this by offering better food, a 
less institutional atmosphere, and perhaps, lower rent. At 
the time Lefevre was writing, 1914, the large boarding 
houses were rented by the mining company for $2 5/month to 
two families, who in turn operated the boarding house and 
collected rent for their services. Renters of each unit of 
the four-family tenements, in contrast, were charged 
$5.50/month. 28 

It is probable that the immigrant mine workers arrived 
unskilled, and therefore were restricted to the more 
laborious, lower paying jobs. This may explain why the 
multiple family dwellings were reserved for foreign 
workers, while single family houses, with front lawns and 
gardens, were the domain of "American families." Rental 
rates were calculated based on number of rooms per house, 
with single-family houses renting for $8 or $9/month in 
1914, or about one and a half times the cost of the four 
family tenements. Lefevre, writing for an audience of 
mine owners and managers, noted proudly that each tenement 
was separated by a space of thirty to forty feet, had a 
small flower garden for each family, and one or two double 
barns with "accommodations for a cow, chickens and a pig," 
and privies "built in a corner of the barns." Lefevre 
concludes: 



23 



This general arrangement avoids a nondescript 
collection of shelters in each back yard. Prizes 
given for the best-kept lawn, flower bed, and window 
box have stimulated interest and pride in 
appearances, and have added greatly to the 
attractiveness of the village. 30 

In the trade literature of company housing, house to lot 

ratios, sanitation, and appearance were preoccupations. In 

an era of epidemics, industry leaders took care to 

distinguish their company housing from squalid urban 

tenements. 

It was not just the threat of epidemics which stimulated 
the Witherbee Sherman Company to provide new housing, 
gardens and other amenities to its workers c.1910. Like 
many other industries during this period, the Witherbee 
Sherman Company was subject to intense scrutiny by the New 
York State Labor Department. Valerie Rosenquist writes 
that in the period just following the devastating Triangle 
Fire, both the state and local labor organizations were 
compelled to develop and campaign for minimum health and 
safety standards. Because iron mining was one of the most 
hazardous occupations in the country, with employment of 
unskilled immigrants, its use of explosives, danger of 
cave-ins, and occupational lung diseases, it invited more 
careful study than other industries. In 1912, after being 
targeted by labor organizations, newly organized local 



24 



unions in Mineville threatened a general strike. As part 
of the state mediation which followed, the State Department 
of Labor sent an inspector to Mineville to conduct a survey 
of housing conditions. She found conditions 
overcrowded, due to the number of boarders kept by many 
families. She found that outhouses were under-maintained 
and "vile," that "livestock, such as cows, pigs, and 
chickens, were allowed to roam about at the very doors of 
homes," that the water supply was inadequate and 
inconvenient, and that "garbage and refuse was gathered in 
heaps around the kitchen doors." When the state 
published this report in 1913, the Company responded 
positively, with the results, if not the stimulus behind 
improvements, summarized in Lefevre's 1915 article on 
sanitation at Mineville. 

Mineville housing may have been kept tidy and blooming 
through the company's incentives program, but a lack of 
accessible running water meant that very few homes were 
built with indoor plumbing. Lefevre's article detailed the 
obstacles to installing a sewer system: lack of an 
available stream or reservoir as water source; prohibitive 
expense of burying sewer pipes in a valley covered with "a 
combination of boulders and hard pan;" and the scattered 
location of the housing over four miles of streets. 
Instead, the company established a system for the 

25 



collection and incineration of wastes, costing about 
l$/tenement per month to operate. Custom-made, sealed 
privy boxes were collected weekly by horse and wagon, and 
their contents burned in a central incinerator. Refuse 
lumber from the company sawmill, including concrete forms 
left over from housing construction, fueled the 
incinerator. The company also installed several concrete 
septic tanks. Twenty-one homes did have indoor toilets and 
baths; presumably, these were the same homes that employed 
septic tanks. Those homes with indoor plumbing included at 
least one of the large, fifty-men boarding houses, in 
addition to several of the nicer one-family homes. The 
cost of installing the plumbing and fixtures for an indoor 
washroom and laundry, as well as steam heat, was $1000, 
while construction of the entire boarding house, minus 
plumbing, cost only $4000. 

Of the 238 tenements owned by the mining company in 1914, 
88 were of concrete block. Of these 88, approximately 50 
were built between 1903 and 1906. The remainder were built 
by 1910. The use of tailings block lasted only seven 
years, but during that time eighty-three one, two, and four 
family structures, and five large rooming houses were 
built. Each of the rooming houses was designed to house as 
many as fifty men (See Fig. 7) . In addition to their use 
of concrete in company housing, the mining company also 

26 



used the relatively new and experimental building 
technology of "monolithic reinforced concrete" in the 
construction of an electrical power-house in Port Henry, 
and in the company office building and school in Mineville 
(all built from 1903 to 1906). 35 

Not all construction during this period was of concrete, 
however. In 1906, the Witherbee Sherman Company built 
Memorial Hall, a large, shingle-style building with a 
random-coursed stone base, as a memorial to the Witherbee 
family. Memorial Hall functioned as a sort of settlement 
house, with recreational facilities and meeting rooms for 
the use of mine workers and their families. The state 
Labor Department inspector who surveyed Mineville in 1912 
reported that "no social activities had been undertaken of 
any value or interest to the foreigners, although a large 
hall for social activities was available." Although 
company provided the hall, they did not immediately provide 
the means to fill it by providing money or instructors for 
either social or educational events or classes. 

The new school, also constructed in 1906, was located next 
door to Memorial Hall, and was of reinforced slab, rather 
than concrete block construction. Also adjacent to 
Memorial Hall, the company constructed a "lock-up" of 
tailings block, with an attached residence for a 

27 



company-paid policeman. 37 Presumably, this jail was used 
to isolate workers who were drunk and disorderly, or who 
had committed other minor offenses. 



The other buildings constructed in 1906, all of tailings 
block, provided housing for immigrant labor: a "Hungarian 
Boarding House," located across from the Change House, on 
West Street in Witherbee, near the mine itself; and six 
detached houses, on the west side of Norton Avenue (now 
Bridal Road) . The Change House was literally where the 
miners changed their clothes; it was an open shed lined 
with lockers, and was also constructed of tailings 
block. (See Fig. 8) 38 

Construction of tailings block housing, designed by company 
engineers, continued in 1907-8. Seven homes, all 
five-room, gambrel-roofed, single-family houses, were built 
on the north side of Joyce Road. On the south side of 
Joyce Road, two double tenements were built. On the 
north-south road connecting Joyce and Wall Streets, five 
more single-family houses were built. On one corner of 
this connecting road, a seven-room house was built. The 
tailings block used in these homes, manufactured by the 
mining company, was produced in both rough and smooth-faced 
blocks. Roofs were of slate. Many of the less luxurious, 
four-family homes, almost exclusively reserved for foreign 

28 



labor, were located a mile west of Mineville, in Witherbee, 
on Barton Hill. A few more elaborate houses were designed 
for department heads, including an L-shaped, six-room house 
with an elaborate front porch, facing Plank Road, and 
immediately next door to the south, a double house built 
for Mine Superintendent Alvin Cummings and his elderly 
father. The Cummings house was divided down the middle, 
with rooms arranged symmetrically on either side. In 
addition to these homes of tailings block built between 
1907 and 1908, three houses of wood-frame and stucco 
construction were built on Wall Street (in 1907) (See Fig. 
9). 39 

In about 1910, tailings block housing construction resumed 
with the building of several two-to-three family houses, 
all double gabled, on Wasson Street in Witherbee. 
These houses marked the last use by the mining company of 
tailings block for housing construction. 

In 1910-12, a sixteen-bed hospital was established in an 
existing red-brick building, the former blacksmith shop, 
dating from the 1870' s. The mining company offered heavily 
subsidized surgery and hospitalization to its employees 
(typical room and board, $2/day) . Because transportation 
to Burlington, Vermont, or other "nearby" hospitals was not 
yet practical during this period, the hospital was a 

29 



necessity, and not mere paternalism. 1 The hospital also 
performed a community health function, sending a trained 
nurse on welfare visits. The nurse would report to the 
company any unsanitary conditions or cases of illness 
found, and provided advice to workers' families on the care 
and feeding of infants and children, as well as other 
health issues. 2 

In 1913 and 1914, there was no new housing construction but 
the Mineville community did face several crises, including 
a miners' strike, and several fires. The causes for 
the strike are detailed by Valerie Rosenguist; ironically, 
housing conditions were improved by the company in 1913 in 
response to a threatened strike in 1912, but the workers 
struck anyway as the company failed to meet demands for 
improvements in wages, worker safety, shorter hours, and 
the elimination of institutionalized graft. The company 
acted brutally to crush the strike, evicting union leaders 
from their new company-built, company-owned homes in the 
midst of the Adirondack winter. The fires were related 
to the labor unrest. The first fire, in June of 1914, was 
described in local papers as having been caused by a spark 
from the stack of a mine shaft; within a half hour of the 
discovery of the fire, two separators, the shaft house, and 
a cobbing plant were destroyed. The company was insured 
against this $300,000 loss, but production was severely 



30 



A R 

hampered while rebuilding was underway. J As described 
by Valerie Rosenquist, however, "selected company 
buildings" were burned in the summer and fall of 1914 by 
newly arrived Italian immigrants, members of a local Black 
Hand group, which actually met in the company-provided 
facilities of Memorial Hall. This arson was a protest 
against working conditions which had not been improved by 
the strike. 

A second, unrelated fire took place in September of 1914 in 
Mineville's commercial center, destroying several stores. 
The local paper called the fire "the most destructive 
conflagration in the history of Mineville," but must have 
exempted the fire at the mine itself, since damage was 
assessed at $75,000. A clothing store, a wholesale 
cigar store, a jewelry store and a barber shop, all owned 
by immigrant merchants independent of the mining company, 
were lost, but firemen were able to save nearby housing 
from damage. This fire may have been a result of arson as 
well, a protest by the have-not workers of the Black Hand 
against the now-prospering earlier immigrants. 

The severity of these two fires should have confirmed mine 
executives reliance on the fire resistance of tailings 
block, much touted in the trade literature at the time of 
their construction. Instead, the housing built in the 

31 



years immediately following these fires was of wood frame 
construction. There is a store extant in Mineville, 
fronting Plank Road, built independently from the mining 
company. The two-story, post-office/store, with residence 
above, was constructed c. 1910-20 entirely of tailings 
block, but it is not clear whether it was built before or 
after the 1914 fires. 

In 1915-16, a company-built High School was established, 
augmenting the existing elementary-eighth grade school 
established twenty years earlier. In 1917-18, the 
Witherbee Sherman Company resumed housing construction, 
building two single-family and approximately six 
double-family houses built on Park Street. Like the homes 
built on Wall Street in 1907, these new homes were of 
wood-frame construction with wooden shingle or stucco 
exteriors. These houses were designed for administrative 
or managerial staff. The dead-end road on which they were 
built was provided with a grass strip down the center, 
distinguishing Park Street houses from earlier workers' 
housing (See Fig. 10). 48 The construction of these homes 
marked a third period of increased production, stimulated 
by World War I. These were the last homes built by the 
company until a fourth period of booming production which 
would arrive with World War II. 



32 



Chronology of Decline of Witherbee Sherman Company, and 
Iron Ore Mining in Moriah, 1924-195 

Much of the early success of the Witherbee Sherman Company 
had been due to a prudent investment in new technologies. 
In the 1850 's, Witherbee, Sherman & Co. began experimenting 
with the new technology of magnetic separation for refining 
magnetite ore. Thomas F. Witherbee, partner in the mining 
company in the 1860's, was among the first furnace managers 
in the United States to employ a chemical laboratory in the 
regular operations of his blast furnace. In 1870, the 
company was among the first in the United States to adopt a 
closed top on its blast furnace, adapting the stack and 
tunnel of its Fletcherville blast furnace for the use of 
anthracite because it was readily available. The company 
lapsed in its search for new refining technologies in the 
late 19th century, relying instead on its dominant position 
in national iron production of the 1870's and 1880's. By 
the time the company returned to investing in new 
technologies, they had lost their market dominance. In 
1915, while facing fire losses and labor unrest, the 
company completed a new concentrating plant which was the 
largest of its type ever built, with a capacity for 
treating 1400 tons of crude ore in nine hours. 49 It was 

33 



this revived willingness to invest in new technologies that 
facilitated the construction of tailings block housing at 
Mineville, but the capital improvements of 1915-1925 
occurred to too late to recapture market position lost to 
Carnegie and the national steel monopolies. 

In the 192 O's, Louis Francis, who had married into the 
Witherbee family, was president of the Witherbee Sherman 
Company. In 1924, Francis borrowed heavily to build a new 
blast furnace, to replace outdated furnaces built by the 
company years earlier in Port Henry. Following this 
expenditure, the company could not meet its tax obligation, 
nor support its debts, as the furnace did not prove cost 
effective. Over the next decade, this poor investment 
sent the Witherbee Sherman Company into an irreversible 
decline, accelerated by the onset of the Depression. 

By the mid-1930 's, the Witherbee Sherman Company, which had 
managed to rule the mining company dynastically for over 
seventy years, had failed, and was placed in receivership. 
In 1937, the Republic Steel Corporation stepped in, leasing 
Witherbee Sherman holdings from the Bank, first for 
twenty-five years, then extending this to forty years, and 
finally acquiring the company outright. With the arrival 
of Republic Steel, the Witherbee/Sherman families withdrew; 
there were no heirs involved in mining operations from the 

34 



1930 's on. The transfer of management in 1937 included 
the gradual transfer of all company-owned housing deeds 
from Witherbee-Sherman to Republic Steel. 51 

By 1942, Republic Steel owned all Witherbee Sherman 
housing, then totaling 470 employee dwellings in Mineville, 
Witherbee, and Port Henry. The average rent in 1942 was 
$10/month, 2 which still represented a subsidy to 
workers. With lucrative government contracts and a 
war-stimulated production boom, Republic Steel added to 
this housing stock, constructing an entirely new community 
of spare, wood-framed bungalows in Mineville, dubbed Grover 
Hills. Houses were sited much closer together than the 
earlier, ad-hoc housing construction had allowed, making 
the provision of services easier. By the mid-forties, 
after nearly twenty years of hard times, the older 
Mineville houses were considered barely habitable by the 
new workers recruited to meet the war-time expansion in 
production. Evidence that the company failed to maintain 
its turn-of-the century workers housing is found in this 
remembrance by a miner's wife: 



We moved into one of the company houses in 1944. It 
had originally been a boarding house, and then a 
four-family house. The section of the house that we 
rented was only two rooms. The upstairs was used 
for storage by another family, the same family that 
was raising chickens in the part we rented. I don't 
think the company knew about it. What a mess. All 
the old flooring had to be torn up and I scrubbed 

35 



and bleached the boards underneath. It was a poorly 
insulated, run down dump. The company offered us 
the use of the upstairs, but we moved out. 53 

As World War II stimulated production, housing needs once 

again exceeded supply, and two or three families were 

crowded into space intended for one family. The never 

popular boarding houses were subdivided into four-family 

tenements. Lefevre's strict sanitation rules regarding 

livestock were abandoned, and no care was given to the 

maintenance of the tailings block houses. Instead of 

renovating its existing, turn-of-the century housing stock, 

upgrading systems, and providing general maintenance, the 

company seems to have adopted a policy of abandoning it in 

favor of new, smaller wooden houses. A new community of 

company housing, Grover Hills, was constructed southeast of 

Mineville, just off the Plank Road. Of course, the company 

continued to rent out space in the older houses when it 

could. 

By the mid 1950's, Adirondack magnetite mines were reaching 
a depth at which it was no longer very profitable to 
operate them, particularly in comparison to newer mines in 
the Lake Superior region. Republic Steel, in the beginning 
of a gradual withdrawal from the region, began to curtail 
its operations in Mineville, and elsewhere in the region. 
In 1955-6, Republic Steel sold all of its company-owned 
housing, along with building lots, to the Mineville Housing 

36 



Co. , a real estate corporation owned by the Galbreath 
family. The Galbreaths were, according to former mine 
supervisor Patrick Farrell, "an outfit that travelled 
around the country, buying up company-owned housing, and 
turning it over to tenants or other buyers for a profit. 
Originally, Republic Steel was going to sell the housing 
itself; instead, Galbreath's Mineville Housing Company, 
Inc. sold them for a lot more than Republic Steel would 
have asked for them. Many mining employees were surprised 
at the cost." The Galbreaths also bought housing at Lyon 
Mountain, another Adirondack iron ore mining company, from 
Republic Steel. 54 The Galbreath Company did in fact 
specialize in the disposal of company town properties 
across the country. Based in Columbus, Ohio, John W. 
Galbreath and Company was heralded in a 1958 article for 
turning "company towns into home towns." At Morgan Park, a 
U.S. Steel Corporation company town in the Lake Superior 
mining region, buyers of company houses in 1942 voiced 
complaints about the Galbreaths similar to those made by 
Mineville residents. In Mineville, the Company had ceased 
to provide routine maintenance of company houses during 
World War II, ten years prior to the sale of the houses to 
residents, so Mineville residents were angry mainly over 
price gouging. In Morgan Park, the buyers were unprepared 
when the Galbreaths promised but failed not only to 
maintain their houses, but to provide services like snow 

37 



removal and heat and light to public buildings. 55 

Sale prices for the Mineville houses varied widely, from 
$500 to $5200, with an average price of about $3000. The 
variety can be accounted for by differences in size and 
condition of the houses: a double tailings block house 
fetched the highest price; but since the houses were sold 
primarily to resident mine employees through competitive 
bidding, prices also reflected the ability and willingness 
of various residents to pay for them. The average price of 
a company home in adjacent Witherbee was much less than in 
Mineville, or approximately $1400, because the majority of 
Witherbee homes were the multiple-family residences built 
in close proximity to the mine itself. Community 
resentment was engendered by the fact that after years of 
providing subsidized housing as a benefit, the company had 
not protected its long-time employees from real estate 
gouging. Many of these employees had raised several 
generations in the same house; company housing had become 
family homes. Barbara Denton, who grew up in the 
community, wrote in 1981: 



By selling the houses, the company relinguished one 
of its more unprofitable obligations, leaving the 
responsibility of maintenance and desperately needed 
remodeling to the individual owners. These houses 
were once valuable because they were close to work, 
but when the industry shut down, the houses lost 
their. . .value. 57 



38 



Republic Steel followed its sale of company houses almost 
immediately with a severe curtailment of mining operations 
at Mineville. Although some mining continued through the 
mid-1960 's, the company employed successively fewer and 
fewer people, down from a peak of three thousand employees 
during World War II. The increasing depth of the mines 
over the years increased the cost of transporting the ore 
to the surface. Open pit mining, common elsewhere in the 
country, provided cheaper ore, as did international 
sources, both increasingly exploited by Republic 
Steel. 58 The mines were finally closed in 1971. Since 
then, every five years or so, a chemical extraction scheme 
will be proposed to recover various minerals from the 
remaining tailings, and former Republic Steel property 
changes hands from one metallurgical corporation to 
another. 59 Economic hopes are revived at least briefly 
in a community which in 1977 had a per capita income of 
$5,225. 60 No corporation, thus far, has fulfilled these 
hopes. One community resident with whom I spoke felt that 
until these hopes of a revival of mining were finally put 
to rest, no new long term industry would be able to 
revitalize this once thriving community. The ARC 
(Association for Retarded Citizens) began leasing or buying 
space in Moriah from group homes and sheltered workshops 
for retarded adults in the late 1970 's, and is now a major 
employer in the town. Within the last year, a state prison 

39 



facility has been constructed in Moriah, providing a "boot 
camp" for young offenders. This facility does not provide 
as much employment or local investment as the ARC, but the 
young residents of the "Shock Incarceration Center" do 
perform work-camp duties locally: clearing brush, repairing 
roads. Lately, proposals have been made to develop the 
Lake Champlain waterfront of Moriah as a year-round 
resort. However, without the infrastructure — highway 
access, waste treatment, fresh water — to attract a 
developer, this isolated community of long hard winters may 
remain in economic limbo. 



40 



CHAPTER NOTES 

■"-Winslow C. Watson, The Military and Civil History 
of the County of Essex. New York; and a general survey of 
its physical geography, its mines and minerals, and 
industrial pursuits (Albany: J. Munsell, 1869), 391, 
395-96; and H.P. Smith, ed. , History of Essex County 
(Syracuse:D. Mason & Co., Publishers, 1885), 566, 570-71, 
577, 607-609. 

p , 
Valerie Beth Rosenquist, The Iron Ore Eaters: A 

Portrait of the Mining Community of Moriah, New York Ph . D . 

dissertation, Duke University, 1987 (Ann Arbor, MI: 

University Microfilms, 1987), 9. 

3 

Frank S. Witherbee, History of the Iron Industry 
of Essex County. New York ( [Keeseville, New York]: Essex 
County Republican, 1906), 1-29; Floy S. Hyde, Adirondack 
Forests, Fields, and Mines (Lakemont, New York: North 
Country Books, 1974), 147-48. 

4 Watson, 395. 

5 Witherbee, 29-30. 

6 Watson, 395-96. 

7 Witherbee, 1. 

Q 

Rosenquist, 9. 

q 

Rosenquist, 17; from John R. Moravek, "The Iron 
Industry as a Geographic Force in the Adirondack-Champlain 
Region of New York State, 1800-1971," Unpublished Ph.D. 
dissertation, University of Tennessee, 1976, 118. 

Rosenquist, 17. 

i:L Rosenquist, 9. 



41 



12 O.W. Gray & Son, New Topographical Atlas of 
Essex County. New York (Philadelphia: O.W. Gray & Son, 
1876) . 

13 Watson, 397. 

14 H.P. Smith, 608. 

15 John Talbot Smith, A History of the Diocese of 
Ogdensburg (New York: John W. Lovell Company, c.1885), 339; 
cited in Rosenquist, 22. 

16 Patrick Farrell, Interview with Author. 
Mineville, Moriah, New York, 1 August 1988; and Unpublished 
Manuscript, "History of Iron Mining in Adirondacks from 
Pre-Revolutionary Times to the Present." Note: The mining 
company may not have built housing for workers until the 
1870's, but in 1915, Lefevre describes some of the wooden 
tenements as dating from the 1850's (See note 23, below). 
It is possible that the company acquired some existing 
houses in addition to constructing new tenements in the 
1870's; Jessica Smith, et. al., Reconnaissance Level Survey 
of Historic Resources in the Town of Moriah. New York. 
Prepared for the Essex County Planning Office . 
(Elizabethtown, New York: Essex County Planning Office, 
August 1989) , 150. 

17 Smith, 608, and Rosenquist, 28. 

18 "Mineville and Witherbee Public Schools," 
Manuscript dated Nov. 18, 1916, Mineville Collection, 
Brewster Library, Essex County Historical Society. 

19 Rosenquist, 19-27. 

? o • ... 

Farrell, "History of Iron Mining in 

Adirondacks. " 

2 ■'•Rosenquist, 9. 
22 Rosenquist, 24. 



42 



S. Lefevre, "Housing and Sanitation at 
Mineville," Mining and Metalurgy Bulletin 98 (Feb. 1915), 
231-33; and Farrell, "History of Iron Mining in 
Adirondacks. " 

24 Lefevre, 227. 

25 Lefevre, 233. 

26 Rosenguist, 72-73. 

27 Rosenguist, 51, 53. 

28 Lefevre, 235-6. 

29 Lefevre, 234, 237; and Frederic F. Lincoln, "A 
Concrete Industrial Village: Mineville, New York, in the 
heart of the Adirondack forests is being rebuilt in 
concrete. Wooden buildings fast disappearing. Low first 
cost, fire protection and small cost of repairs responsible 
for the change," Cement Age 9 (September 1909), 160. 

30 Lefevre, 238. 

31 Rosenguist, 45-50. 

32 Albany State Department of Labor, 12th Annual 
Report of the Commissioner of Labor . Albany, NY: 1913, 14 6; 
cited in Rosenguist, 50. Hereafter cited as Report of the 
Commissioner of Labor. 



33 Lefevre, 227 



34 Lefevre, 2 36, 



35 Lincoln, 159,161, 



43 



36 Report of the Commissioner of Labor , 146; cited 



in Rosenquist, 50-51, 



37 Lincoln, 163. 



38 Farrell, "History of Iron Mining in 
Adirondacks. " 

39 Farrell, "History of Iron Mining in 
Adirondacks. " 

40 Farrell, "History of Iron Mining in 
Adirondacks. " 

41 Farrell, "History of Iron Mining in 
Adirondacks. " 



42 Lefevre, 231. See Rosenguist, 61-2, for 
description of how this Polish-speaking, company-sponsored 
district nurse played a role in breaking the 1913 strike, 
acting as interpreter and carrying company's threats to 
miners' wives. 



Farrell, "History of Iron Mining in 
Adirondacks. " 

44 

Rosenguist, 45-69. 

45 "Witherbee, Sherman & Co. have $300,000 Fire 
Loss," The Essex County Republican . Friday, 19 June 1914, 
Keesville edition. 



Rosenguist, 74 



47 "$75,000 Conflagration Destroys Mineville 
Stores," The Essex County Republican . Friday, 25 Sept, 
1914, Keesville edition. 

4 R . ... 

Farrell, "History of Iron Mining in 
Adirondacks. " 

44 



49 Hyde, 221-3. 

50 Farrell, "History of Iron Mining in 
Adirondacks. " 

Ji Farrell, "History of Iron Mining in 
Adirondacks. " 

52 Farrell, "History of Iron Mining in 
Adirondacks. " 

3 Barbara Denton, "The Social and Economic Decline 
of a Mining Community," Undergraduate Sociology Paper, 
Plattsburgh State University (November 10, 1981), 11. 
(Based on interviews with 21 former miners and their 
families, among other sources) . 

S4 . ... 

Farrell, "History of Iron Mining in 
Adirondacks. " 

Arnold R. Alanen, "The Planning of Company 
Communities in the Lake Superior Mining Region," Journal of 
the American Planning Association 45:3 (July 1979), 270. 

Based on analysis of 60 Deeds recorded January 
1, 1957, Essex County Courthouse; in Grantee indexes 343, 
pages 435-599, and 344, pages 9-105. 

57 Denton, 12. 

58 Rosenquist, 201. 

"Has Mineville Reached a turning point?," The 
Times of Ticonderoga , 9 September 1986. 

Essex County Rural Development Planning Project, 
"Directions for Development: Planning for Essex County in 
the 1980's," December 1979-December 1980; in Denton. 



45 



CHAPTER III: TAILINGS BLOCK HOUSES, 1903-1910 



Survey and Description of Houses 

Of the eighty-eight tailings block houses constructed 
between 1903 and 1910, the majority of those built in 
Witherbee, nearest the mine itself, were multiple-family 
dwellings. Witherbee was the location of the majority of 
Witherbee-Sherman & Co.'s industrial buildings: separator 
sheds, power plants, sawmills, repair and machine shops. 
Witherbee was also the site of two public schools and of 
Memorial Hall, the community center. As discussed in the 
previous chapter, the multiple-family tenements and large 
boarding houses were almost exclusively designated for 
immigrant workers and their families. Therefore, the small 
commercial enterprises and social institutions which 
catered to this immigrant population were also located in 
Witherbee. Built independently of the mining company, but 
nonetheless of tailings block, a commercial building on 
West or Back Road in Witherbee, c.1910, housed a grocer, a 
barber, and a cobbler. Also built of tailings block c.1910 
was St. Michael's, a Roman Catholic Church, located near 
the large "Italian" and "Hungarian" boarding houses (See 
Fig. 11) . 



46 



Witherbee 's immigrant tenements were clustered near the 
mine, while Mineville's more exclusive housing was oriented 
along the Plank Road, well east of, and on an incline 
above, the mine's center (See Fig. 12) . However, Mineville 
was not exclusively residential, but, like Witherbee, 
contained a mix of residential, commercial and industrial 
buildings. At the time the tailings block houses were 
completed, in 1910, Mineville was the site of the hospital 
and chemical laboratory operated by the mining company, as 
well as many privately operated establishments: two hotels, 
a post office and drugstore, and by 1916, a movie house. 
The Presbyterian Church, dating from the 1870's, was 
located along the Plank Road, as were a general store, 
butcher and barber shops, a variety store and several 
livery stables and auto shops. A 1916 Sanborn map shows 
that except for the tailings block building, built in 1909 
and housing the post office, the drug store, and a barber, 
all of the commercial buildings were of wood (See Fig. 13). 

It is likely that many of the stores and the hotel along 
the Plank Road in Mineville were the successors of earlier, 
similar establishments of the 1860's-1880's, and therefore 
older than comparable stores in Witherbee, which were built 
of tailings block between 1903 and 1914. 1 Witherbee, 
although home to many concrete buildings, also contained 
earlier, wood-frame workers' housing. Neither Witherbee 

47 



nor Mineville were industrial villages that appeared 
overnight; they were built over a period of many years. 
The tailings block buildings comprise only one chapter of 
an ongoing, evolving construction history. 

Although the majority of buildings in Mineville and 
Witherbee in 1910 were of tailings block or wood, there 
were a few brick buildings in each community. Mineville 
contained the mining company's hospital and laboratory, 
both in brick buildings dating from the 1870 's, and a Roman 
Catholic Church, St. Peter and St. Paul's, which was built 
of brick in 1872 and "remodeled" in 1882, with a bell tower 
added in 1887. The only other use of brick in Mineville 
was in the construction of several engine houses operated 
by the Witherbee Sherman and Port Henry Iron Ore companies, 
which are shown on the 1916 Sanborn map but which were 
probably constructed prior to 1900. Two other industrial 
buildings, built by the Witherbee Sherman Company c.1910, 
combined brick with additions or wings of tailings block 
(See Fig. 14) . This combination of tailings block with 
brick was also used in one residential building: a 
four-family tailings block tenement in Witherbee was built 
partially of red clay brick; but this was exceptional. In 
both residential and industrial construction, brick 
buildings were rare in Witherbee-Mineville after the turn 
of the century. 

48 



Size, Location, and Number of Tailings Block Houses in 
Study Group 

All of the tailings block houses of Mineville were either 
one or two-family houses, and the majority of these were 
located on or between Wall Street and Joyce Road, just off 
the Plank Road. Because these homes are all within walking 
distance of each other, they have been selected as the 
study group or focus of this study. Although all but seven 
of these houses were built within a two year period, 
1907-1908, they present a variety of styles within a few 
town blocks. In addition, because these single and 
double-family houses are more detailed and architecturally 
complex than the multiple-family houses of Witherbee, they 
present more challenging preservation issues; i.e. How can 
cracked decorative elements of unreinforced concrete be 
preserved? What original decorative and landscape 
elements: porch trim, door and window surrounds, and 
perimeter fences, for example, might be easily restored? 
Altogether, sixteen single-family houses and nine 
two-family houses were surveyed (See Fig. 15) . 

The twenty-five houses surveyed are all two stories in 
height. For the purposes of this study, the three 

49 



different types of single-family houses and the three 
different types of double-family houses have each been 
assigned a number: 

T ype One consists of seven identical single-family 
homes, c.1907, all facing south-southeast on Joyce 
Road, and four identical single-family homes, all 
facing east-northeast on Foote Street, c.1908. 
These six-room homes are L-shaped in plan, with 
gambrel roofs capping both wings. Interior floor 
area measures 425 square feet on each floor (See 
Fig. 's 16 and 17) . 

Type Two consists of three identical single-family 
homes, c.1908, all facing south-southeast on Wall 
Street. These six-room homes are also L-shaped in 
plan, with gable roofs capping both wings. The 
volume of these houses is listed in a 1909 
periodical as "11,561 cubic feet," 3 or slightly 
under 400 square feet on each floor (See Fig. 18) . 

Type Three consists of two single-family houses, 
c.1908, both facing east-northeast on Foote Street; 
one on the northwest corner of Joyce Road, and the 
second on the southwest corner of Wall Street. Both 
are rectangular in plan, with large barn-like 



50 



gambrel roofs. These houses contain four rooms per 
floor instead of three, or approximately 600 square 
feet per floor (See Fig. 19) . 

Type Four consists of seven two-family homes, 
c.1910, three facing east-northeast on Sherman Road 
and three directly opposite. The seventh house is 
around the corner from Sherman Road, on the 
northwest corner of Wall and Foote Streets. Divided 
evenly down the middle, four of these homes feature 
hipped roofs, providing a full-height second story. 
The other three also feature full height second 
floors, with conventional pitched roofs punctuated 
by peaked gables centered in front facades. Each 
half of these double houses contained approximately 
500 square feet of floor area per floor (See Fig. 
20a and 20b) . 

T ype Five consists of one two-family home, c.1908, 
facing north-northwest on Joyce Road, opposite Type 
One . This house features gambrel roofs and open 
porches at either end of the front facade, and is 
oriented horizontally, with most of its width 
oriented along the street. This double house 
contains approximately 600 square feet per floor 
(See Fig. 21) . 

51 



Type Six consists of one two-family home, c.1908, 
facing east-northeast on the Plank Road. This house 
is similar in size and shape to Type Five , with 
gambrel roofs and open porches, but features more 
decorative masonry. Each half of this double house 
contains approximately 700 square feet per floor 
(See Fig. 22) . 

The architectural features of each of these house types 
will be discussed in more depth in the section which 
follows. 



Architectural Features and Landscape Elements 

Architectural Features 

Monotony was a common criticism leveled against workers' 
housing of this period, while at the same time, concrete 
block was routinely rejected by architects as a 
structurally poor and visually monotonous material, 
inappropriate for residential construction. Aware of 
the criticism of concrete block in contemporary trade 
literature, and perhaps of their role as innovators, 
Witherbee Sherman engineers made conscientious attempts to 

52 



add variety and detail to the tailings block houses. In 
his address to the American Institute of Mining Engineers, 
Lefevre wrote: 

The secret of avoiding the sameness of appearance 
which spoils the effect of most concrete-block 
structures is in selecting the materials to put in 
the face of the mold. If the face of one block is 
of moderately coarse material and the next one is 
all fine, when they are laid in the wall side by 
side the monotony is broken. 5 

This subtle exposure of the aggregate was just one of the 

methods used by company engineers to avoid monotonous 

concrete facades. Different block molds were used within 

one building: rough-faced block would be accented with 

smooth-faced block in quoins or string courses; gables or 

window lintels were laid up in tailings brick rather than 

block. The more important the resident, the more varied 

were the architectural elements employed in the 

construction of the house. Even within houses of one type, 

lined up in an unbroken row on identical-shaped lots, 

subtle variations occur in the addition or omission of 

string courses or keystones. This indicates that company 

engineers probably drew only schematic floor plans and 

elevations, leaving company masons free to embellish 

individual homes. Predictably, the stature of the resident 

was reflected in the degree to which the masonry of his 

home was embellished. 



53 



Housing Type One appears at first glance to consist of 
eleven identical single family homes, all six-room homes, 
L-shaped in plan, with gambrel roofs capping both wings. 
Closer examination reveals subtle differences, however. As 
originally built, the four houses along Foote Street 
featured attached, wood-framed privy sheds. The seven 
homes along Joyce Road had no attached outhouses. Privies 
for these homes were located in the rear barns, at least 
forty feet from each house. This distance would have 
caused considerable hardship during the long Adirondack 
winters. Like most of the tailings block houses, these 
homes lacked indoor plumbing and heating. The kitchen 
stove provided heat to the rooms adjacent to the chimney, 
but this must have left the front sitting room and bedrooms 
extremely cold (See Fig. 17) . 

Among the seven houses along Joyce Road, masons and 
carpenters executed subtle variations in facade 
decoration. All seven homes featured some wood siding 
immediately under the roof line at each gambrel end. This 
siding extended halfway down the second story windows on 
four of the houses: numbers 472, 474, 480 and 484. This 
siding stopped just above the second story window at 
numbers 476, 478, and 482. Number 472 has plain masonry 
lintels and a single projecting sill course just above its 
foundation. Number 474 features keystoned lintels at first 

54 



floor and basement windows, and a large "picture" window 
fills two-thirds of the first floor facade. Numbers 476 
and 478 lack keystones, but have three projecting belt 
courses: at the level of first floor lintels and sills, and 
just above the foundation. Number 480 is the most 
embellished, with a double belt course above first floor 
windows, a projecting sill course just above the 
foundation, and smooth-faced quoins at both exterior and 
interior corners. In addition, at least the lower portion 
of the roof is of slate, while all other Type One roofs 
were originally shingled. The original wide-board siding 
of the second story has been replaced with a more 
decorative fish-scale shingle. Number 482 is identical to 
476 and 478, while number 484 is identical to number 474. 
The differences between these homes is subtle, but does 
relieve some of the monotony of their parallel siting and 
identical floorplans (See Fig.'s 23-29). Not surprisingly, 
it was the fanciest of these homes, Number 480, which was 
photographed for Lefevre's article (See Fig. 16) . 

The three Type Two houses combine the use of rough-faced 
tailings block with a smooth-faced tailings brick. The 
brick is limited to the second story of each home, just 
under the gable ends, and extending midway down the second 
story window. Each house features a double window in the 
front sitting room, and a wooden entry porch with simple, 

55 



square columns and a plain pediment or shed roof. All 
originally had slate roofs. As originally built, the three 
houses were identical, with what appeared to be masonry 
lintels with projecting keystones at all windows, 
fifteen-over-one light windows, and simple, pedimented 
entries with adjacent shed-roofed porches. No decorative 
columns originally supported porch or entry pediment; 
utilitarian metal posts are used (See Fig. 's 49 and 50). 
Not surprisingly, two of the three porches have been 
enclosed, while the third, 446 Wall Street, has had a 
substantial wooden porch added. 446 Wall Street has 
retained its original multi-light windows, but has lost its 
masonry lintels, due to an inherent design flaw which will 
be discussed in Chapter IV (See Fig.'s 30-32). 

The two Type Three houses, large and rectangular in plan, 
with barn-like gambrel roofs, display some of the same 
simple decorative elements as the Type One and Type Two 
houses, but this decoration is swallowed up by the larger 
facades. Each has one gabled dormer centered on its second 
floor, south elevation. Each originally featured an open 
entry, or grade-level porch, both of which have been 
enclosed (See Fig.'s 51 and 52). The southernmost of the 
two, at the corner of Joyce Road, has its material 
indicated as "cement," rather than "cement block," on the 
1916 Sanborn Map, 6 but employs rough-faced tailings block 

56 



in projecting quoins at both inner and outer corners of the 
building. At some point after 1916, this house was 
re-faced with vertical wood siding, perhaps to cover a 
failed or scaling stucco coating. The northernmost of the 
two T ype Three houses, at the corner of Wall Street, is of 
rough-faced tailings block, and retains both the lower 
portions of its slate roof and several of its original 
twelve-over-one-light, double-hung windows. Both houses 
feature keystoned masonry lintels. Both houses employ 
several double windows, perhaps an attempt by a carpenter 
to compensate for the flat, barn-like expanse of the 
facades (See Fig.'s 19 and 35). 

The seven Type Four houses were also large and rectangular 
in plan. Although the floorplans are identical, the three 
houses on the east side of Sherman Road featured center 
gables, while the three on the west side and the one double 
house on the north side of Wall Street featured hipped 
roofs. The seven houses, with their rectangular plans, are 
very plain, but do not look awkwardly large or barn-like. 
With their hipped or center-gabled roofs, symmetrically 
placed windows, projecting string courses, lintel blocks 
(two blocks per lintel rather than a single rectangular 
lintel), and quoins, often of contrasting texture to the 
surrounding face block, these double houses present an 
imposing appearance, reminiscent of contemporary Georgian 

57 



Revival housing design. Although pleasing in proportions, 
the Type Four houses were essentially simple workers' 
tenements, and lacked the decorative detail of 
contemporary, commercially developed domestic 
construction. Other than the string courses and quoins, no 
masonry decoration was used, and no attempt was made to 
subtly vary the facades of these identical double houses. 
The fact that six of the houses were built in straight rows 
lining both sides of a short street tends to emphasize the 
fact that they were two-family, and therefore more modest, 
homes than those of Type One , Two or Three (See Fig.'s 20a, 
20b and 34) . The Type Four houses do compare favorably 
with the four-family tenements of Witherbee, which were 
twice as long and lacked the hipped roofs of the Type Four 
houses (See Fig. 35) . 

The single Type Five and single Type Six home were 
virtually identical in plan and roof line, with open 
porches at either end of each front facade. The Type Five 
house, unlike the double houses of T ype Four , employed both 
rough-faced tailings block and smooth-faced tailings brick, 
while the Type Six house used both rough-faced tailings 
block and smooth-faced block. Like the Type One houses 
directly across the street, the Type Five house employed 
keystoned lintels and projecting, smooth-faced sills. The 
most unusual facade embellishment of the Type Five house is 

58 



a decorative band course between first and second floors, 
consisting of three courses of tailings brick laid at a 
forty-five degree angle, creating a saw-toothed pattern. 
Each gable end of the T ype Five house was laid up in 
smooth-faced, running bond tailings brick, and its fr'nt 
elevation featured four sets of double windows with 
fifteen-over-one light windows. The T ype Five house was 
featured in several contemporary periodicals, which termed 
it "well-designed," and described its original occupants as 
"machinists, etc.," i.e., skilled workmen. 

Although very similar to the Type Five house, the Type Six 
house was unique among double tailings block houses in that 
it was built specifically for a mine superintendent, who 
shared the double house with his father (See Fig.'s 21 and 
22) . The importance of its original occupant is indicated 
by subtle masonry embellishments, by the addition of a 
large stable at the rear, and by its siting along the Plank 
Road. To enhance the exterior masonry of the Type Six 
house, a variety of molds were used to create tailings 
block elements with different shapes and surface textures. 
Even the basic building element, rough-faced block, was 
cast in different sizes, with square units forming porch 
columns, and rectangular units cast with rough faces on 
both stretcher and header, to create a variant of Flemish 
bond. Windows were framed with smooth-faced block quoins, 

59 



while arched lintels were constructed of tailings brick. 
Cast concrete elements, like the porch roof slabs, were 
scored on exposed edges to mimic brick. A cast concrete 
egg-and-dart sill course was included just above the 
foundation. A tailings block stable, with gambrel 
roof, graced the back yard, instead of the usual 
wood-framed barn. A coal-fired furnace provided steam heat 
to both house and stable, by means of underground pipes 
connecting the two buildings. The original roof was of 
slate, and even gable vents in the front facade were 
decorative: each vent was a round window, echoing the round 
cast concrete finials of the porch directly below. All of 
these elements combined to differentiate the status of the 
resident of the Type Six house from that of the 
volumetrically similar Type Five house (See Fig.'s 36-43). 
Along with architectural detail, landscape design, or the 
lack thereof, was also an indicator of the status of 
residents of the tailings block houses. The landscape 
surrounding Mineville's tailings block houses will be 
explored in the section which follows. 



Landscape Elements 

According to S. Lefevre, chief engineer for the Witherbee 
Sherman Company, the tailings block houses were built "a 

60 



few at a time wherever a clear space could be found and the 
slopes were not too steep." 8 Unlike many other 
turn-of-the-century company housing developments, in which 
formal landscape or site planning preceded construction, no 
site or overall street planning preceded construction of 
the tailings block houses. This lack of site planning or 
landscaping is consistent with the construction of company 
housing in a pre-existent company town. Often, when new 
housing was built in an existing company town, no master 
plan governed construction. Instead, varying types and 
quantities of housing were built at different times, to 
meet the needs of a periodically expanding work force. 9 

At the time the tailings block houses were built, the 
inadequacy of workers' housing was widely criticized, both 
in the popular press and in contemporary social science 
journals. The housing provided in remote mining 
communities was found particularly lacking, probably 
because of the finite life-span of most mining 
installations. The huge influx of immigrants and the 
resulting overcrowding of urban tenements during this same 
period also fueled the movement for the reform of workers' 
housing. Some turn-of-the-century captains of industry 
were sensitive to vilification by the press, and responded 
by hiring professional designers to plan new company towns, 
or to tidy up existing housing. In industry, where skilled 

61 



workers could leave one factory for another which provided 
better services, there was an added incentive to provide 
more than adequate housing, schools, and recreation 
facilities for workers' families. 10 Proud of their 
accomplishments, leaders of both manufacturing and 
extractive industries presented papers on their exemplary 
housing and social programs to meetings of their trade 
associations. Chief engineer Lefevre presented his paper, 
"Housing and Sanitation at Mineville," to a meeting of the 
American Institute of Mining Engineers in 1915. The paper 
was then published in the Institute's periodical, 
illustrated with sketches of a company-designed 
incinerator, as well as floor plans and photographs of five 
types of tailings block houses. 

Although engineering innovations, including the use of the 
tailings block itself, earned the tailings block houses 
publication in several contemporary journals, no 
architects, planners, or landscape architects were engaged 
by the Witherbee Sherman Company to supervise their design 
or construction. This lack seems most evident in the 
unimaginative siting of the houses in straight rows along 
perpendicular streets. The naturally hilly terrain added 
some interest and views to an orthogonal street plan, but 
rows of identical houses were routinely oriented in exactly 
the same direction; even a simple mirror-image variation in 

62 



plan was not attempted. The garden-city movement, imported 
from Britain and first applied to American workers' housing 
contemporarily with the construction of the tailings block 
houses, does not seem to have influenced their design. 11 
The only evidence that the Witherbee Sherman Company was 
cognizant of this popular landscape movement appears in 
Lefevre's 1915 article, in his description of 
company-sponsored contests for the best-kept gardens, lawns 
and flower boxes. 

Little visual evidence of these gardens survives. 
Photographs taken between 1909 and 1913, for publication in 
mining and construction journals, show sparse evergreen 
plantings on otherwise stark front lawns. Some flowering 
shrubs do appear in photographs of single family houses 
taken from 1913 to 1915. Gardens are visible in one 
photograph accompanying Lefevre's 1915 article: low plank 
fencing has been installed in front of four-family 
tenements, marking off individual gardens. Home-made, 
ladder-like plant stands emerge from tenement windows, 
supporting potted flowers. At least one whitewashed picket 
gate is visible (See Fig. 44). Because these gardens did 
not appear in earlier photographs of the Witherbee 
tenements (See Fig. 35), it seems apparent that decorative 
gardens and shrubs were an afterthought; adeguate housing 
for its workers was of tantamount importance to the mining 

63 



company . 

Gardens and flowers were added several years after 
construction of the tailings block houses was complete; 
between 1909, when the first journal article appeared, and 
1915, when Lefevre wrote about the company-sponsored garden 
contests. Photographs taken for a 1913 article show vines, 
flowers, and large trees surrounding a "concrete block 
house occupied by clerks and foremen" (See Fig. 45) ; a 
fence but no plantings bordering "double concrete block 
houses occupied by machinists, etc. "(See Fig. 46); and an 
ungraded, grassless yard with one lone shrub decorating the 
front of a four-family tenement (See Fig. 35). By 1915, 
ivy had grown up along the porch of the "concrete block 
house occupied by clerks and foremen," a rocking chair and 
additional flower pots graced the front porch, and 
additional flowers softened the foundation (See Fig. 47) . 
As the years passed, renters and, eventually, owners of the 
tailings block houses would add trees and flowers, fill in 
porches, and use siding and paint to differentiate their 
homes from adjacent look-alikes. 

The engineers who designed the tailings block houses for 
the Witherbee Sherman Company had neither an open nor a 
partially forested site to work with. The former, an empty 
building site, might have inspired a more geometrically 

64 



regular community, while the latter, a forested site, might 
have led to a more gracefully landscaped development. 
Instead, tailings block houses were built on former forest 
land which had been almost entirely denuded of trees. In 
addition, the tailings block houses were not all built in 
the same place. Although rows of four or six identical 
tailings block houses were built, they were not always 
linked to other rows of tailings block houses. Instead, 
the new houses were sometimes squeezed between existing, 
mostly wood-frame, industrial, commercial, and residential 
buildings which had been built in Mineville over the 
previous forty years. 

For cohesiveness, the tailings block houses had their 
construction material and their detached barns in common. 
For landscaping, the company provided some shrubs and 
fencing. One fencing design, which combined rough-faced 
tailings block posts with "waste wire rope," was termed 
"novel" by Cement Age , 12 but inevitably corroded and was 
demolished. Perhaps under-maintained after the company 
sold the tailings block houses, a second fencing design, 
which combined the same posts with cast iron pipe, also 
eventually corroded and was demolished. 13 Although stark 
rather than elaborate, this tailings-post fencing seems to 
have been reserved for the more elaborate single or double 
houses (See Fig.'s 46 and 48). The even less durable plank 

65 



fencing, which surrounded tenement gardens c.1915, has also 
disappeared. 

At the same time that fences and original roofs have 
deteriorated and disappeared, owners have added coats of 
paint, shingles and siding to their tailings block houses, 
in part in an attempt to obscure the block itself. The 
results have been mixed. With their parallel siting, the 
tailings block houses look as identical as ever, despite 
differences in color and texture. Landscape elements like 
flower beds and fencing, added by the company in the years 
immediately following construction to enhance community 
pride, have disappeared at the same time that owners have 
attempted to differentiate their houses by obscuring their 
common construction material. With the loss of these 
connecting elements, Mineville has lost some of its feeling 
of continuity and community. 



66 



CHAPTER NOTES 

■••For description of stores in Mineville, 
1866-1885, see H.P. Smith, ed. , History of Essex County 
(Syracuse: D. Mason & Co., Publishers, 1885), 607-8; for 
Witherbee's tailings block stores, see Fig. 13. Proving 
that many of the wooden commercial buildings of Mineville 
predate the tailings block commercial buildings of 
Witherbee is difficult, since most of Mineville's 
commercial buildings no longer exist. However, the 
rambling floor plan of the Crystal Hotel of Mineville, as 
shown on the 1916 Sanborn map, indicates that it was 
probably built in the 1870 's or 1880 's and added on to in 
subsequent decades. Similarly uneven footprints indicate 
the pre-1916 lineage of other wooden commercial buildings 
on the Plank Road: the triple building housing a butcher, 
a barber, and a clothing store, for instance. 

2 Smith, 608, Rosenquist, 31. See Valerie 
Rosenquist, 27-33, for history of Catholic church in 
Moriah. Irish Catholic immigrants had established 
themselves in Mineville with the first great Irish 
immigration, in the 1840's, two generations prior to the 
arrival of Italian and Hungarian immigrants. They founded 
a church in Port Henry in 1852, close both to the Cheever 
mines just to the north and to the commercial center of 
Port Henry, where second generation Irish immigrants were 
establishing stores. It was not until 1870 that the 
Catholic miners in the more remote Mineville, generally 
Irish immigrants who had not succeeded from mining to the 
mercantile trade, were granted their own church by the 
diocese, and St. Peter's and St. Paul's was built in 1872. 

Primary evidence that the Irish population was established 
prior to the construction of the tailings block houses is 
found in the local newspaper, as in this advertisement 
appearing in a "Moriah Supplement" to the Essex County 
Republican . Vol. LXVII, No. 13, Friday, November 24, 1905: 

J. J. O'BRIEN, MINEVILLE, 

Keeps a meat market and sells all kinds of 
Chicago and native meats at lowest possible 
prices. Why don't you patronize him? He is 
an honest dealer, who will give you a hundred 
cents' worth for a dollar every time you trade 
with him. 



67 



3 Frederic F. Lincoln, "A Concrete Industrial 
Village," Cement Age: A Magazine Devoted to the Uses of 
Cement (September 1909), 162. 

4 For a summary and critique of worker's housing, 
see Leifur Magnusson, "Company Housing," Encyclopaedia of 
the Social Sciences III, (New York: The MacMillan Co., 
1937), 115-118; for a critique of concrete block 
architecture, see Oswald C. Hering, "Concrete Block," 
Concrete-Cement Age (February, 1913), 77-8; and "Advancing 
the Architectural Appeal of Concrete Wall Units," 
Concrete-Cement Age (April, 1914), 195-7. 

5 S. Lefevre, "Housing and Sanitation at 
Mineville," Mining and Metallurgy Bulletin 98 (Feb. 1915), 
233. 

It is unclear whether this means the house was 
built of reinforced concrete, with the tailings block 
quoins built up first and the concrete forms framed to 
incorporate them, or if the house was stucco over block. 
The latter seems more likely, since, according to Pat 
Farrell, houses using stucco were built on nearby Wall 
Street in the previous year, 1907. Those houses were 
supposedly of stucco over wood-frame construction; but the 
fact that the Sanborn Map indicates that this house is 
"concrete" implies that the stucco was applied over block. 

7 

Lincoln, 162; "Witherbee, Sherman and Company, 
Mineville, N.Y.," Monthly Bulletin of the American Iron and 
Steel Institute I, 9 (September, 1913), 246. 

8 Lefevre, 227. 

For a summary of company housing types in the 
northeastern United States at the turn of the century, 
including housing built in a preexistent company town, see 
Leland M. Roth, "Three Industrial Towns by McKim, Mead & 
White," Journal of the Society of Architectural Historians 
XXXVIII (December 1979), 320-21. 

10 Magnusson, 116; Roth, 319. 



68 



For a discussion of the impact of the 
garden-city movement on architect-designed workers' housing 
in the northeast, 1910-1918, see Richard M. Candee and 
Greer Hardwicke, "Early Twentieth-Century Reform Housing by 
Kilham and Hopkins, Architects of Boston," Winterthur 
Portfolio 22, Number 1 (Spring 1987), 47-80. 

12 Lincoln, 162. 

William and Leah Gray, Interview and tour of 
house, Mineville, Moriah, New York, 3 August 1988. 



69 



CHAPTER IV: ANALYSIS OF TAILINGS BLOCK AS BUILDING 
MATERIAL 

Material Properties of Concrete Manufactured with Iron Ore 
Tailings Aggregate: Compressive Strength, Absorptive 
Properties 

The tailings block used in the construction of the 
Mineville houses was tested in 1909, just prior to the 
publication of an article on Mineville in Cement Age . The 
testing was performed by G.B. Dixon, Chief Chemist of the 
Glens Falls Portland Cement Company of Glens Falls, New 
York, which supplied some of the Portland cement used in 
the construction of the tailings block houses. 
Technically, the results of these tests apply only to those 
tailings block made with Glens Falls cement. However, for 
the purposes of this study, we can assume that all the 
tailings block used in the Mineville houses would have 
performed similarly. 

The Cement Age article states that the tailings block were 
manufactured using a cement mix of 1:5, Portland cement to 
tailings. No sand or gravel were mixed with the tailings, 
and this accounts for the production of a "very superior 
concrete block," according to author Frederic F. 
Lincoln. 1 No range of sieve sizes for the tailings 

70 



aggregate is given in the article, but it is mentioned that 
prior to mixing the more fine-textured tailings brick, the 
tailings aggregate was screened. A recent sampling of 
tailings found them to be fairly fine-textured, similar in 
color and appearance to a fine yellow beach sand. Somewhat 
oddly, the 1:5 mixture used in tailings block manufacture 
was not duplicated in Dixon's testing. Instead, Dixon 
tested the following mixtures: 



Mix Mix Time Compressive 

Ratio Contents Set Strength 



1:3 1 Part "Iron Clad" Portland 7 days 341 psi 
Cement to 3 parts iron 
ore tailings 

1:3 it ii ii ii ii ii 28 days 450 psi 

1:4.4 1 part "Iron Clad" Portland 30 days 1010 psi 
:9.42 Cement to 4.4 parts iron 

tailings to 9.42 parts 

broken stone 

1:4.4 " " " " " " " " 60 days 1273 psi 
:9.42 

1:4.4 " " " " " " " " 90 days 1428 psi 
:9.42 

1:4.4 " " " " " " " " 120 days 1528 psi 
:9.42 

1:4:4 " " " " " " " " 150 days 1653 psi 
:9.42 

1:4:4 " " " " " " " " 180 days 1686 psi 
:9.42 

Concrete block testing was not completely standardized 

until about 1925, although tests on Portland cement itself 



71 



were standardized by about 1900. After 1900, block 
manufacturers began to supply the results of their own, 
non-standard compression and absorption tests with their 
product literature. 2 Although it is extremely difficult 
to assess the results of turn-of-the century tests, which 
used different sample quantities, cement mixtures, and 
curing times, one can compare both the results of Dixon's 
tests and the cement block mixture described in Lincoln's 
article with test values described and mixtures recommended 
in contemporary industry handbooks. Several treatises 
devoted to the manufacture of concrete block, sponsored by 
Portland cement trade associations, were published between 
1905 and 1910: Spencer B. Newberry, the manager of a 
Portland Cement Company, published two in 1905; Harmon 
Howard Rice published an article on the subject in Cement 
Age in October 1905; Mr. Rice and William M. Torrance 
published a book on the subject in 1906 and Rice a second 
the same year; a pamphlet by Newberry was issued by the 
National Association of Cement Users in 1906; and in 1908, 
Charles Palliser published an illustrated volume: Practical 
Concrete-Block Making , based in large part on Newberry's 
1905 works. 

For the manufacture of concrete block, Newberry recommended 
mixing cement and aggregate in the following proportions: 
Cement 1: Hydrated Lime 1/2: Sand and Gravel 6. The 

72 



success of this relatively poor mixture depended on a 
properly graded aggregate, with the distribution of coarse 
and fine materials necessary to fill voids, creating a 
dense concrete. If interior walls were not furred and 
lathee 1 but plastered directly, then a richer and more 
water-resistant concrete was needed; Newberry recommended 
the following mixes: Cement 1-1/2: Hydrated Lime 1/2: Sand 
and Gravel 5, or Cement 1: Hydrated Lime 1: Sand and Gravel 
5. Newberry also mentions a 1:5 mix without lime, the 
mixture that, according to Cement Age reporter Frederic 
Lincoln, was employed in producing Mineville's tailings 
block. Elsewhere, the mixture used in the manufacture of 
the tailings block is guoted as 1:6. 

Dixon's tests of the Mineville block seemed to be skewed 
towards demonstrating the strength of tailings block even 
when formed with a very poor mixture: 1:13.82, cement to 
mixed stone and tailings. At 30 days, this concrete had a 
compressive strength of 1010 psi, which matches the minimum 
standard of 1000 psi for concrete block at 28 days set by 
the National Association of Cement Users in 1906. The 
richer 1:5 mixture used in the tailings block would have 
far exceeded 1000 psi. Newberry set the compressive 
strength of a block of 1:5, cement to sand and gravel, at 
over 2,000 psi at 28 days, and over 3,000 psi at one 
year. 5 

73 



In order to assess Dixon's 1909 results, and to compare the 
strength and absorption of turn-of-the century tailings 
block to standard 1980 's concrete block, compression and 
absorption tests were run on four large fragments of c.1910 
tailings block. Tests were performed by E. L. Conwell & 
Co., Engineers, Chemists, Inspectors, of Bridgeport, 
Pennsylvania, on November 6, 1989. The results of these 
tests are included in the Appendix to this paper, as 
Exhibit A. The tests found that for three samples of 
block, compressive strength ranged from 3290 to 4570 psi (a 
30% variation) , with density of the test block varying from 
145.9 to 150.1 pcf (insignificant variation). Absorption 
tests were run on a single sample, which showed 8.1% 
absorption after 24 hours of immersion. The source of the 
c.1908 samples was the site of a tailings block building 
demolished over ten years ago, so each sample block was 
broken into several pieces and weathered on all sides. 
Lacking the protection of surrounding masonry, the sample 
fragments appeared porous on the surface. Despite their 
exposed condition, the samples far exceeded modern minimum 
standards for compression and absorption: 



74 



Compressive 

Strength: 

Samples 



Compressive 
Strength: 
ASTM C 90-85 
(Hollow Load- 
Bearing emu) 



Compressive 
Strength: 
ASTM C 145-85 
(Solid Load- 
Bearing emu) 



SI 4570 psi 






S2 3790 psi 






S3 3290 psi 






Average of 3 
Samples: 


Average of 3 
Samples: 


Average of 3 
Samples: 


3883 psi 


Minimum 
700-1000 psi 


Minimum 
1200-1800 psi 



% Absorption: 
Sample 4 

8.1% 



% Absorption: 
ASTM C 90-85 

13 - 20% 



% Absorption: 
ASTM C 145-85 

13 - 20% 



In both compressive strength and absorption, Mineville's 
tailings block exceeds today's minimum standard 
specifications by a factor of 2 to 3 times. These tests 
prove that contemporary claims concerning the great density 
and strength of tailings block were not exaggerated, and 
emphasizes that the special material qualities of tailings 
block were not adequately exploited by Witherbee-Sherman's 
engineers, as will be discussed in the section which 
follows. 



75 



Contemporary Arguments for the Use of Tailings Block 

As discussed in the introductory chapter, contemporary 
trade literature praised the material properties of 
concrete manufactured with iron ore tailings aggregate. 
Oswald Hering, an architect and vocal critic of vernacular 
houses of concrete block, mentions the use of tailings 
block in his 1912 monograph: Concrete and Stucco Houses , 
stating that a 1:5 mixture of cement: tailings was equal in 
strength to a 1:3 mixture of cement: sand, due to the 
"sharpness" or hardness of the tailings aggregate. 6 
Frederic F. Lincoln, in his article on Mineville for Cement 
Age , goes even further, citing Dixon's tests and claiming 
that a 1:5 mixture of cement : tailings had double the 

7 

compressive strength of a mixture of 1:3 cement: sand. 
Despite variations among the contemporary assessments of 
tailings block, the unusual compressive strength of the 
material was noted by all. Despite this special property, 
a compressive strength which far exceeded the standard or 
required strength for concrete block building units, no 
attempt was made on the part of the builders of Mineville' s 
tailings block houses to exploit the special properties of 
the tailings concrete. For instance, given its higher 
strength, Witherbee Sherman engineers might have varied 
from the standard wall thickness, casting a narrower block 

76 



to carry the same load as a standard cement and gravel 
block. Mineville's blocks measured 8" x 8" x 20", the 
industry standard thickness. Although many city building 
codes required foundation walls to be 12" thick, 
Mineville's engineers might have experimented with the 8" 
block as the foundation unit, relying on the material's 
greater compressive strength to make up the difference in 
width. By taking advantage of the great compressive 
strength of the tailings block, Mineville's engineers might 
have built higher buildings: three stories of unreinforced 
block instead of two. Instead, claims of great compressive 
strength were made, but not exploited. The tailings were 
available, they were free, and they were therefore 
utilized. 



Brief History of Concrete Block; Its Use in Domestic 
Construction; Contemporary Applications 

The use of concrete block as both backup and facing 
material first achieved widespread popularity in the United 
States in the 1890 's. While concrete block building 
technology was pioneered much earlier, with U.S. patents 
for hollow-core concrete block dating from the 1860 's, it 
was not until the 1890 's that domestic production of 
Portland cement was established, helping to make concrete 



77 



block an even more affordable alternative to other 
masonry. ° The presence of local concrete producers 
meant the development of new trade networks, as the 
fledgling concrete industry formed trade associations, 
published journals, and generally promoted the use of 
concrete in all types of construction. After 1900, the new 
concrete industry increasingly lobbied for the 
standardization of building codes and insurance assessments 
governing concrete construction, and performed 
self-regulation by developing standard specifications for 
concrete manufacture and testing. 

Ann Gillespie, in her study of the Canadian manufacture of 
decorative or "artistic" concrete block, divides the 
history of the decorative block into two phases, spanning 
fifty years, from the 1870 's until about 1920: "the early 
or pioneering phase, characterized by the prevalence of the 
rock-face block, which lasted into the first decade of this 
century, and the transitional phase, characterized by the 
dressed stone block." The "rock-face" block is what we 
have termed "rough-faced" block in our description of the 
Mineville houses. Gillespie writes that the appearance and 
popularity of the two types of block were determined by 
developments in block manufacturing eguipment. Blocks 
could be cast in simple wooden boxes, but to produce large 
guantities of block of identical shape and size, durable 

78 



cast-iron molds were developed. 12 To speed the process 
of block manufacturing, mechanical molds were designed, 
with built-in tamping levers to compress shallow layers of 
concrete, built-in cylinders to produce hollow cores, and 
hinged sides to allow the release of the finished block. 
The machines were an improvement over hand-formed block, 
providing a denser block through even tamping, and a 
lighter block by creating hollow cores. The hollow core 
block also helped alleviate condensation, provided an air 
space for better insulation, and used less material to 
manufacture. 

Between 1870 and 1910, the type of block machine generally 
used was known as the "side-face" machine, consisting of a 
metal box with removable hinged sides, mounted on a 
convenient, waist-high stand. In 1902, the "down-face" 
machine was introduced by the Ideal Concrete Machinery 
Company of Cincinnati, Ohio. 14 The down-face machine 
featured a mold box mounted on a lever, with the face 
texture of the block determined by a cast iron bottom 
plate, which in turn was often cast directly from an actual 
cut and tooled stone. Once the mold box was filled with 
tamped concrete, the entire box, including bottom "face 
plate," was tilted up at a forty-five degree angle, 
allowing the hinged bottom and sides to be swung away, and 
the block to be released (See Figure 53). 

79 



With the side-face block machine, blocks were cast in an 
upright position, with a fairly dry mixture tamped into the 
box in at least four separate layers. The face texture of 
the block was determined by the texture of the hinged 
sides. Blocks could be cast guickly, as the dry mixture, 
and the hinged sides, allowed the block to be removed from 
the box almost immediately after being formed. The fact 
that the texture of the block face was determined by the 
side panels meant that the mixture used had to be 
homogeneous; it was not possible to use a different mixture 
to cast the sides vs. the center of each block. Attempts 
were made to segregate the sides or face mixture from the 
center mixture by means of separating plates, which were 
lifted out prior to removal of the block from the mold. 
However, this created a block with a built-in flaw or 
cleavage plane between the face and body. In order to 
create a strong block, a uniformly rough-textured mix, 
employing a coarse aggregate, had to be used. The use of 
this rough concrete created a block with a porous, pebbly 
surface texture, which could best be disguised by using the 
"rough-faced" casting plate. The uneven surface of the 
rough-faced block hid the flaws created by the coarse 
aggregate. 

With the development of the down-face machine, a one-inch 

80 



layer of finely textured concrete could be tamped in first, 
followed by the stronger mixture employing a coarse 
aggregate. This allowed the use of a variety of casting 
plates, including dress-faced stone designs with sharp, 
beveled corners, raised central panels, or even raised 
wreaths or garlands more typical of finely textured ceramic 
masonry units. 17 The use of a different facing mix also 
provided the opportunity for varying the color and texture 
of the face block by adding colored aggregates or mineral 
pigments to the face concrete. The extra expense of a 
crushed colored stone or mineral pigment was limited to a 
small quantity of material, encouraging experimentation. 
This allowed the production of block of various colors and 
textures, often more lively than the dull grey of Portland 
cement block, and enabled block manufacturers to mimic the 
colors of various natural stones. ° 

Whether produced from carved wood molds in a limited 
quantity, or cast in either of the two block machines, the 
newly manufactured blocks were placed on pallets to 
air-cure for seven to ten days, during which time they were 
sprinkled periodically. This sprinkling prevented rapid 
drying of the exterior of the block, and ensured even 
crystallization of the cement throughout the block. Cement 
block generally achieved maximum strength and was fairly 
stable from evaporation shrinkage by about one month, but 

81 



at least one turn-of-the-century manufacturing guide 
recommended a six month curing time. 19 

It is not clear whether Mineville's tailings block were 
cast in a side-face or a down-face machine. Frederic F. 
Lincoln, in his 1909 article on Mineville for Cement Age , 
writes that the tailings block were manufactured on a 
"Hercules Machine," manufactured by the Century Cement 
Machinery Co. of Rochester, New York, while the tailings 
brick were manufactured on a "Peerless" brick machine 
manufactured by a company of the same name in Minneapolis, 
Minnesota. Because no special facing mixtures were 
attempted, and because experimentation with tailings block 
was begun by mining management as early as 1903, it is 
likely that an earlier model, or side-face machine, was 
selected. With its one step removal process, the side-face 
machine allowed for faster block production. What is 
interesting to note is that the regional cement 
manufacturing industry was complemented during this period 
by the development of a regional block machine 
manufacturing industry. 

All technological developments in the manufacture of 
concrete block, from about 1860 through 1910, were aimed at 
producing a decoratively faced block which convincingly 
mimicked the appearance of natural, guarried, or cut 

82 



20 

stone. w Unlike reinforced, poured concrete, then known 
as "monolithic concrete," decoratively faced concrete block 
provided the building trades with a construction material 
which was familiar, as it was similar to brick or stone 
masonry units in size, shape, and weight. In contrast to 
concrete block, monolithic concrete could not be purchased 
in units of standard size. While the manufacturing process 
for concrete block was very similar to that developed for 
clay brick, monolithic concrete was mixed wet, poured into 
forms, and most often manufactured on site and in place 
within a wall. The successful use of monolithic concrete 
during this period required skill and experience, 
particularly in avoiding shrinkage of long sections of 
wall, while a relatively unskilled workman could 
manufacture block or lay up a concrete block 

p 1 

foundation. Concrete block, dressed stone, and brick 
could all be treated in the same way, and even easily 
combined within the same building, using existing masonry 
building technology. The use of block did not require a 
mason to purchase any special tools, nor did it require him 
to be trained in any special way. 

The education required before architects and buildings 
tradespeople could work with concrete in a new and 
sophisticated manner was discussed by Rolf R. Newman, a 
Riverside, California engineer, in a 1914 article in 

83 



Concrete-Cement Age . Rolf blamed the profusion of 
unimaginative, foursquare concrete block houses built 
between 1900 and 1910 on the innate conservatism of the 
building trades and design professionals: 

It is undoubtedly a fact that engineers have done 
more than architects in establishing "correct 
methods" and assisting in the "proper organization" 
of such work as applied to house construction, 
because they have approached the matter from other 
fields of experience in which they have used 
cement. Architects and builders are as a rule more 
bound by precedent in the matter of building 
materials—more closely related to and allied with 
the existing building trades — than engineers. For 
this reason the concrete house today is more a 
product of engineering than it is of architecture. 
For complete success it must, however, become both 
architecturally and structurally correct. 22 

The essentially conservative nature of decorative concrete 

block was both a help in its early marketing and a 

hindrance in sustaining its popularity. Increasingly, 

after the turn of the century, architects and building 

product manufacturers sought "honesty" in materials, 

bringing this discussion, and a critique of the decorative 

concrete block, to the editorial pages of building trade 

journals. The popularity of block as a vernacular building 

material persisted until about 1930, when the growing 

influence of modernism and of industrial architecture, 

contemporary developments in steel construction, 

improvements in "monolithic" or poured concrete technology 

and design, and the dissemination of new concrete 



84 



engineering methods within the architectural community 
eclipsed the lowly, and to modern eyes, dishonest, 
decorative concrete block. 

In the trade literature of the period 1912 to 1914, 
immediately following the construction of Mineville's 
tailings block houses, one issue dominated any discussion 
of concrete block: the objection, by the architectural 
community, to its use in domestic construction. To 
overcome the objection that concrete block, unlike the 
natural stone for which it substituted, presented a dull 
and monotonous appearance, the trade journals offered 
recipes for exposing surface aggregate by removing the 
surface skin of concrete to enhance the color and 
reflectivity of the block. Other suggestions included 
forming the block from casts taken from actual cut stone, 
prescribing the number of different molds necessary to 
produce an adeguate variability of wall texture. The more 
elite architect-critics denied that concrete block, with 
its unvarying standard-sized unit, would ever be an 
appropriate domestic building material, unless masked with 
stucco and used in combination with classical detail: 
capitals and balusters of specially molded or sculpted 
concrete. Freguent criticism was aimed at the artifice of 
the most common form of concrete block: the rough-faced 
block, which was found both false and monotonous. The 

85 



rough or rusticated face masked surface flaws and allowed 
the use of a larger aggregate, for increased strength, 24 
but never successfully imitated dressed stone. In defense 
of block, if not rough-faced block, one critic argued that 
while the rough-faced block failed as an imitation of 
quarried stone, the smooth-faced block, employing a colored 
aggregate, could be both honest; i.e., visibly of concrete, 
and attractive. 25 It was this current in the design 
community which would lead to the commercially successful 
production of concrete products known as "cast stone," 
which was extemely popular from about 1910 through the 
nineteen-twenties. Although it was most popular among 
architects in the art deco period, cast stone is still 
manufactured. Cast stone has been seen recently in the 
1980 's as designers have turned to richer, polychromatic 
materials to clad steel-framed buildings. Cast stone is 
also often specified in restoration projects as an 
affordable substitute for a particular natural stone which 
is no longer being quarried. 

Turn-of-the-century trade journals illustrate various 
applications for decoratively faced concrete block, but 
domestic, rather than industrial or commercial buildings, 
were pictured most often. This focus on domestic 
construction reflected the most lucrative market, then and 
now, within the building industry: new housing 

86 



construction. Of twelve articles illustrating concrete 
block buildings appearing in Concrete-Cement Age between 
February 1913 and April 1914, two articles featured 
churches with decorative concrete block trim and 
smooth-faced concrete block walls; two articles described 
smooth-faced concrete block workmen's cottages in Norfolk, 
England, featuring concrete tile roofs and floors, while a 
third article showed cow-stalls and pig styes, part of the 
same complex and built of the same materials; one article 
featured a smooth-faced, concrete block schoolhouse of two 
rooms, constructed in Wilmington, North Carolina, using a 
beach shell aggregate; one article pictured a castellated, 
architect-designed garage, built of two-toned, smooth-faced 
concrete block; and the balance, five articles, illustrated 
and provided floor plans for single-family homes of 
concrete block. These houses ranged in size from modest 
workmen's cottages, like the twelve six-room cottages 
constructed by the U.S. Portland Cement Company of Denver 
for employees at a cost of $1,500 each, to an 
architect-designed, thirteen-room mansion of "broken 
ashlar" concrete block, constructed at Scarborough-on — 
Hudson, New York, at a cost of $15,000. The article 
emphasized the special facings cast onto the concrete 
block, employing both black and white crushed marble 
aggregate, tinted red to resemble pink granite, and used in 
the trim as well: smooth-faced concrete guoins, sills, and 

87 



lintels, as well as cornice, specially cast ionic columns 
and balusters were all tinted to resemble bluestone. The 
article also emphasizes that even these special treatments 
were affordable; the concrete work accounted for only 
$1,162 of the $15,000 cost. 26 In each case, the articles 
represent not the norm, but the apex of concrete block 
design in terms of special aggregates, facing textures and 
materials, or the best designed, most economically feasible 
plans for constructing workers' housing of concrete block. 

From our survey of turn-of-the-century trade literature, we 
have a good sense of the application of concrete block to 
domestic construction. What the journals recommended and 
what was actually constructed, however, are two different 
things. While conducting historic sites inventories for 
state preservation offices in New England, the Midwest and 
the South in the 1970's and 1980's, J. Randall Cotton 
observed many concrete block survivors from the early 
1900 's. From his observation, the special aggregates and 
pigmented faces so touted in period literature were 
reserved for a very few, special buildings, such as 
churches. 2 

Found more commonly in Cotton's surveys were frame houses 
resting on concrete block foundations, with rock-face, 
cobblestone, panel-face and ashlar all popular face 

88 



designs. Another common application for concrete block was 
in the construction of new automobile garages in the 
1920 's; building codes reguired fire-proof construction, 
and concrete block provided an affordable material. A 
third common application for concrete block was in the 
construction of farm buildings. Cotton writes that Sears 
sold a "Farmer's Special" during this period, which 
produced segmental block for the construction of silos, a 
more elaborate application for concrete block than the 
rectangular British farm buildings illustrated in 
Concrete-Cement Age . Cotton found that concrete was an 
especially popular material for farm buildings in the 
Midwest, because "concrete block buildings were thought to 

■ ? 8 

survive tornadoes better than frame structures."* 
Cotton also found the use of concrete block most common in 
rural areas, for the commercial buildings of small town 
centers: feed stores, eguipment suppliers, and gas 
stations; churches, again often in very rural communities, 

29 

were also sometimes built of concrete block. 

The reasons for this prevalence of concrete block 
construction in rural areas were twofold: first, the 
fireproof ing value of concrete, and second, the fact that a 
rural area might have too small a population to sustain 
other building material suppliers and building 
tradespeople: local lumber or brickyards, or local guarries 

89 



and skilled stone cutters. As the Sears Catalog and other 
block machine manufacturers made block machines readily 
available, the use of block spread rapidly in the 
hinterlands, where there was often a regional supplier of 
concrete, but a dearth of manufactured masonry materials. 

Cotton's surveys did locate entire homes, as well as 
foundations, of concrete block, most built between 1910 and 
1915, at the same time as Mineville's tailings block 
houses, during what Cotton terms the "post-Victorian" 
period: 



Block houses were built in Bungalow, Colonial 
Revival (even Dutch Colonial!), and Foursquare 
styles, as well as plain Homestead and farmhouse 
types. The uniform, rectangular dimensions of block 
made it an ideal building material for the boxy 
foursquare houses of the period. 

Quite often, two-storey [sic] houses were cast 
block on the first floor, topped by shingled or 
clapboarded upper floor. Like foundations, the 
common face designs for house walls imitated stone. 
More ornate designs like egg-and-dart , "daisy belt," 
scroll, or rope-face were usually used as trim in 
water tables and belt courses, copings, cornices, 
and sills. Panel-face blocks could be used as 
corner quoins in conjunction with rock-faced walls. 

Porches were commonly constructed of decorative 
block; special moulds could produce columns, 
capitals, bases, balusters, rails and under-porch 
"lattice." Sears sold a complete porch block kit 
for $57.25 in 1908, which included a choice of Ionic 
or "Gothic" capital moulds. 30 

Many of the architectural modes and motifs identified by 

Cotton in his surveys are echoed in Mineville's tailings 



90 



block houses. Mineville's houses were built in the first 
and second decades of the 20th century, the period Cotton 
labels "post-Victorian," and featured both Colonial Revival 
and Dutch Colonial details. Like the "boxy" homes 
described by Cotton, Mineville's houses are strictly 
perpendicular in plan, without curves or towers that would 
be difficult to execute in modular blocks. None of the 
tailings block houses within the study group were built 
with tailings block below and wood shingles above; perhaps 
to be consistent in the use of fire-proof, low-maintenance 
materials. However, the very first row of tailings block 
houses, "Bridal Row," built in Witherbee c.1907, did 
feature wood-shingled second story gables as well as wood 
columned porches (See Fig. 54). While none of the later 
tailings block houses shared this feature, the design of 
the Type One and Type Two homes, with a change in texture 
or module at the gable peak from rough-faced to smooth 
block, or from block to brick, was another form of this 
differentiation. Many of the gabled homes were eventually 
modified, with shingles or clapboard added to the gable 
peak, above the tailings block base (See Fig.'s 24, 25, 
27) . 

The elaborately detailed Type Six house, built for the Mine 
Superintendent at 511-513 Plank Road, featured many of the 
decoratively cast blocks and elaborate porch details 

91 



described by Cotton. Mineville's engineers probably did 
purchase special cast-iron plates, if not an entire "porch 
kit" like the one sold by Sears, in order to form the 
chamfered balusters, panel-faced quoins, and egg-and-dart 
sill course of this elaborately detailed home. The scored 
porch finials, the size and shape of melons, and the 
square, molded capitals of the porch columns would have 
been cast in individual box molds rather than block 
machines, and may well have been featured in a "porch" 
package sold by a block machine manufacturer. Other 
evidence for the use of a special "porch kit" is found in 
early photographs of 509 Plank Road (See Figure 45) . These 
show an L-shaped, gambrel-roofed house, similar to the Type 
One house in plan, but with a large front porch and a 
large, geometric stained glass window. Carrying the porch 
roof were two large, keystoned arches of segmental tailings 
block, with another arch at each return; porch columns were 
of tapered block, while the corner balusters were paneled, 
with squared-off but elaborate railing spindles. Arched or 
segmental blocks, like those carrying the porch roof of 509 
Plank Road, were among the "porch kit" details found by 
Cotton in c.1915, foursquare homes in both North Carolina 
and Indiana. The two highly decorated Mineville examples, 
509 and 511-513 Plank Road, represent concrete block at its 
most elaborate. After about 1915, with the decline in the 
use of concrete block in domestic construction, elaborately 

92 



decorated concrete block was no longer manufactured. 



Is Tailings Block a Good Domestic Building Material? 

As we have seen in the analysis of tailings block in the 
"Material Properties" section, above, the combination of 
iron ore tailings and Portland cement created an extremely 
dense and heavy block. As mentioned briefly in the 
Introduction, tailings block buildings have proved 
extremely difficult to demolish or alter. In an interview 
in the fall of 1989, one resident described his attempts to 
add a room to the rear of Number 430 Wall Street, a Type 
Four house. Although it was possible to saw-cut through 
joints, it proved impossible to cut a large opening through 
the block. A shed addition could only have been entered 
through an existing rear door, and would not have created 
the larger room desired. This same resident described a 
problem with heating the house: the lack of insulation. He 
was considering furring and insulating the house on the 
exterior, then cladding the entire facade with aluminum 
siding, although the expense of this work, along with his 
frustration in building an addition, indicated that he 
would prefer to move than to invest any further in the 

3 1 

house. x The technique of adding exterior insulation, 
accompanied by aluminum siding, has been applied to No. 509 

93 



Plank road, which is now not visibly of tailings block and 
was therefore not included in the study group (See Fig. 
55) . 

Also faced with the prospect of heat loss, the owner of one 
of the very large former boarding houses, located across 
from the Change House on Witherbee Road, formerly West or 
Back Road, in Witherbee, painstakingly removed the upper 
story of his house, block by block. 32 While the tailings 
block houses generally require less routine maintenance 
than their wooden neighbors, and while they have proved 
more fireproof, despite wood interior finishes, these 
values seem offset, to their occupants, by the material's 
weight and permanence, or its resistance to demolition and 
alteration. The problem of lack of insulation, however, is 
a problem endemic to older houses, and does not reflect on 
tailings block as a material. Residents interviewed did 
not seem to notice much insulating value in the thick 
masonry walls, although one house toured in August of 1988 
was comfortable on an otherwise steamy day. The relative 
coolness of the tailings block houses in summer is 
consistent with contemporary claims about the insulating 
value of hollow concrete block. 

Other ongoing problems have developed with the tailings 
block houses, which will be discussed in more detail in 

94 



Chapter V. Essentially, these houses have proven to be as 
durable as their original construction detailing and the 
skill of their builders allowed. Because of the relative 
newness of the material and the isolation of their 
location, Witherbee-Sherman's staff carpenters and masons 
had to have been inexperienced with the manufacture and use 
of concrete block. Evidence of their experimentation with 
untested methods is found in the deterioration of certain 
stucco applique details found on the houses. Rather than 
casting lintels and keystones of tailings block, for 
instance, the mining company's contractors employed a 
shortcut. The casting of lintels and keystones would have 
required the construction of special box molds and the use 
of steel reinforcing rods. Instead of reinforced masonry 
lintels, stacked wood planks were used. To this wood, a 
mixture of tailings cement was applied directly, and 
decorative keystones either built up or formed over wood. 
In time, this pastiche deteriorated; the false keystones 
sheared from the plank back-up, and the composite wood 
lintel was left exposed to the elements. In other 
locations, masonry lintels were formed, but without 
properly designed steel reinforcement. Movement and 
cracking of surrounding masonry have resulted from these 
built-in structural weaknesses. Porch construction was 
another area where inexperience with masonry construction 
caused deterioration. Many original tailings block or 

95 



tailings concrete slab porches have been largely replaced 
as they were filled in to create additional rooms. The 
original porches were built directly on the ground, with no 
damp-proof course and no ventilation. As a result of this 
practice, the highly decorative porch of No. 509 Plank Road 
deteriorated rapidly and was removed by the mining company 
for the present owners in the late 1940's. Other 
porches undoubtedly underwent similar deterioration, 
leaving occupants with no incentive to preserve the 
original porch configurations. The poor design detailing 
of the porches, combined with the difficulty in adding to 
the tailings block houses through exterior masonry walls, 
has led to their redesign and enclosure (See Fig.'s 30-33). 



The Use of Tailings Block in the Heart of the Adirondacks: 
The Selection of Cement Block by Mining Management 

The choice of tailings block as a building material by 
mining management was an unusual one. The most obvious 
reason for the choice was one of circumstance: Mr. S. 
Norton, the General Manager of Witherbee Sherman, had come 
to Mineville after working for a cement manufacturer. 
He, or those he worked for, may have had invested in the 
recently developed regional cement industry. Mr. Norton, 
as a reader of the newly organized cement trade journals, 

96 



may have realized the publicity value of the construction 
of a concrete village "in the heart of the Adirondack 
forests." 35 Articles featuring the tailings block houses 
were published in three journals between 1909 and 1915: 
Cement Age in September 1909; the Monthly Bulletin of the 
American Iron and Steel Institute in September 1913, and 
Transactions of the American Institute of Mining Engineers 
in February 1915. 

In the journals, the advantages of concrete block over wood 
frame construction are described as three-fold: reductions 
in routine maintenance (painting) ; protection against fire; 
and reductions in fuel costs due to the insulating value of 
the hollow block walls. The fact that the tailings existed 
as a free source of high-quality aggregate is also named as 
a reason for the choice. The construction cost of the 
tailings block houses is variously given as the same as 
wood construction ( Cement Age ) , or as 10% higher than wood 
construction ( Transactions ) , with the savings in 
maintenance paying the difference. Two other factors, not 
mentioned in the articles, contributed to making the choice 
of concrete block affordable: the depletion of local 
large-dimension lumber in the mid-19th century, and the 
establishment of regional Portland cement manufacturers in 
the 1890's: the Helderberg Portland Cement Co. of Home 
Cavern, headquartered in Albany, and the Glens Falls 

97 



Portland Cement Co. of Glens Falls, New York. 

Cement Age illustrates the Witherbee Sherman Company's Port 
Henry powerhouse, and Witherbee schoolhouse, both built of 
monolithic or reinforced concrete, along with pictures of 
the tailings block houses and tenements. The article does 
not explain why the choice was made to use block, rather 
than monolithic concrete construction, for the workmen's 
houses. The issue may have been one of cost, although the 
more elaborate of the block houses, which featured indoor 
heating and plumbing systems, cost 12 cents per cubic foot, 
and a block office building, with reinforced concrete 
flooring, cost 17 cents per cubic foot, as compared with 14 
cents a square foot for the "monolithic" school building. 
Cost for the more modest concrete block tenements and 
double houses, all without indoor plumbing, were much 
lower: from 6 to 9 cents per cubic foot. 36 The greatest 
savings, however, may have been in labor costs. The 
construction of reinforced or monolithic concrete buildings 
must have required the on-site supervision of S. Lefevre, 
the mine's chief engineer, or his immediate subordinates, 
whose chief responsibilities were elsewhere: engineering 
the safe removal of iron ore. The manufacture of the block 
and the construction of the block houses could be executed 
with much less supervision by less skilled workmen. 
Structural inadequacies in the construction of the block 

98 



houses, like the faux keystones, may have occurred through 
the unsupervised experimentation of workmen, not by the 
engineers' design. Evidence for this is found in the fact 
that the periodicals are quite specific about the use of a 
particular block or brick machine, the dimensions of blocks 
or the ratio of cement to tailings, but do not mention the 
use of stuccoed wood for exterior trim. 

Traditionally, housing for miners has been temporary in 
nature, and invariably of wood. The housing usually was 
built to match the life expectancy of the mines. When the 
mines were exhausted, the housing left behind was depleted 
as well; or, if of frame construction but well built, the 
houses could be moved to a new site. Mineville's tailings 
block houses were built when the local beds had been active 
for half a century, already a significant length of time. 
The mines would prove practical to mine for only a half 
century more. By an irony of their construction, the 
eighty-year old tailings block houses, constructed of a 
by-product of the mines, have already survived the mines by 
thirty years. 



99 



CHAPTER NOTES 

1 Frederic F. Lincoln, "A Concrete Industrial 
Village," Cement Age: A Magazine Devoted to the Uses of 
Cement (September 1909), 158. 

2 

^Sidney Mindess and J. Francis Young, Concrete , 

(Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey: Prentice-Hall, Inc., 1981), 
14; Theodore H.M. Prudon, "Simulating Stone, 1860-1940: 
Artificial Marble, Artificial Stone, and Cast Stone," APT 
Bulletin XXI No. 3/4 (1989), 87. 

-j 

J Spencer B. Newberry, Hollow Concrete Block 

Building Construction . (Chicago: Cement and Engineering 

News, 1905), 8-9; and S. B. Newberry, Concrete Building 

Blocks . (Philadelphia: Association of American Portland 

Cement Manufacturers), 7; S. Lefevre, "Housing and 

Sanitation at Mineville," Transactions of the American 

Institute of Mining Engineers (February 1915), 232. 

Charles Palliser, Practical Concrete-Block 
Making . (New York: Industrial Publication Company, 1908) , 
66. 



Newberry, Hollow Concrete Block Building 
Construction , 14 . 

Oswald C. Hering, Concrete and Stucco Houses: 
The use of plastic materials in the building of country and 
suburban houses in a manner to insure the qualities of 
fitness, durability and beauty , (New York: McBride, Nast 
and Company, 1912), 15. 

7 Lincoln, 159. 

8 J. Randall Cotton, "Ornamental Concrete Block 
Houses," The Old-House Journal XII No. 8 (October 1984), 
180. 



9 Lincoln, 160; Newberry, Hollow Block 
Construction , 12-13. 



100 



10 Ann Gillespie, "Early Development of the 
Artistic Concrete Block: The Case of the Boyd Brothers," 
APT Bulletin XI No. 2 (1979), 30; Sidney Mindess and J. 
Francis Young, "Historical Development of Cement and 
Concrete," Concrete . (Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey: 
Prentice-Hall, Inc.), 14. The two companies which provided 
the concrete for Mineville's tailings block houses, the 
Glens Falls Portland Cement Company of Glens Falls, Warren 
County, New York and the Helderberg Cement Company at Howe 
Cavern, Scoharie County, New York began operations in 1894 
and 1898, respectively, as described in Henrich Ries, 
Ph.D., "Lime and Cement Industries of New York, Bulletin of 
the New York State Museum No. 44 Vol. 8 (1901), 858, 866-69. 

10 Gillespie, 31. 

i:L Palliser, 38-43. 

12 Cotton, 182. 

13 Gillespie, 39. 

14 Cotton, 183. 

15 Cotton, 182; Gillespie, 35. 

16 Cotton, 183; Palliser, 43-45. 

17 "House of Concrete Block, Attractive as to Color 
and Texture," Concrete-Cement Age (June 1914), 297-98; 
"House Built of Concrete Block with an Interesting Facing," 
and ""Advancing the Architectural Appeal of Concrete Wall 
Units. " Concrete-Cement Age (April 1914), 167-170 and 
195-97; "House of Concrete Blocks and Stucco: A Design 
Involving a Combination of Materials Which Produce Very 
Pleasing Results," Building Age 36 (May 1914), 59-60. 

18 "Spraying Freshly Made Block," Concrete-Cement 
Age (January 1913); Palliser, 21-22. 



101 



19 Charles H. Doubler, "How to Produce Realistic 
Stone Facings," Concrete-Cement Age (December 1912), 55-57; 
"Concrete Stone Tooled by Machinery; Methods in Manufacture 
and Use of Products of the Onondaga Litholite Company," 
Concrete-Cement Age (February 1913), 61-65; "Concrete 
Products — Architectural Considerations; The Materials for 
and Treatments of Surfaces of Concrete Building Stone," 
Concrete-Cement Age (October 1913), 155-160. 

20 Newberry, Concrete Building Blocks . 11. 

21 Rolf R. Newman, "A Review of the Development in 
the Construction of Concrete Houses — 1907 to 1914," 
Concrete-Cement Age (April 1914), 168-170. 

22 Gillespie, 30, 37. 

3 

Oswald Hering, "Concrete Block [letter to 
editor]," Concrete-Cement Age (February 1913), 77-78; Frank 
A. Bourne, "The Development of Concrete Block [letter to 
editor answering letter by Hering cited above]," 
Concrete-Cement Age (May 1913), 244-45; M. Wetzstein, 
Oswald C. Hering, W. L. Rohrer, A. T. Bradley, Charles H. 
Doubler, "Concrete Block — A Symposium," Concrete-Cement Age 
(March 1913), 139-142; J. Frank Norris, W. M. Kinney, and 
A. E. Cline, "Objections to Concrete Block, and the 
Answers," and W. F. McGann, "Why are not more Concrete 
Brick Used [in comparison with clay brick]?" 
Concrete-Cement Age (August 1914), 71-73, 77-78; J. K. 
Harridge, "Objections to Concrete Block, and the Answers," 
Concrete-Cement Age (September 1914), 126. 



24 Hering, Concrete and Stucco Houses , 52-53. 

25 "A11 the Exterior Trim of the Broadway 
Presbyterian Church, New York City, is of Concrete," in 
"Concrete Stone Tooled by Machinery," Concrete-Cement Age 
(February 1913) 61-63; "St. Luke's Church, Chelsea, Mass.," 
and "Church of Epiphany, Dorchester, Mass.," in "The 
Development of Concrete Block," Concrete-Cement Age (May, 
1913) 244-45; "Concrete Block Cottages Built in England," 
Concrete-Cement Age (February 1913), 73; "Concrete Block 
Cottage at Wayford Wood Estate, Norfolk, England," in 
"Building Low Cost Concrete Houses in England, 
Concrete-Cement Age (April, 1914), 185; "Unit Cow-Stalls, 
Fodder Room and Pigsties," in "Concrete Block Farm 

102 



Buildings Built Economically in England," Concrete-Cement 
Age (March 1913) 142; "Concrete Block School," 
Concrete-Cement Age (May 1913), 247; "Concrete Block 
Garage, New Bedford, Mass." in "Two Tones of Granite-Faced 
Block in Garage Wall," Concrete-Cement Age (April 1914), 
170; "Concrete Block Cottages Built Complete for $1500 
Each," Concrete-Cement Age (March 1913), 137-38; "Evanston, 
Illinois, Concrete Block House," in "House of Concrete 
Block, Attractive as to Color and Texture," and "Cottage 
Built of White Face Block," Concrete-Cement Age (June 
1913), 297 and 298; "Residence in Kansas City, Mo.," 
"Peoria, 111., House," and "Residence in Evanston, 111.," 
in "Advancing the Architectural Appeal of Concrete Wall 
Units," Concrete-Cement Age (April 1914), 195-96; and 
"House at Scarborough-On-Hudson Built of Specially Faced 
Concrete Block," in "House Built of Concrete Block with 
Interesting Facing," Concrete-Cement Age (April 1914), 167. 

26 Cotton, 183. 

27 Cotton, 181. 

28 Cotton, 182. 



29 Cotton, 181-82. 



30 Interview with resident of 430 Wall Street, 
October 8, 1989. 

31 Interview with resident of 430 Wall Street, 
October 8, 1989. 

32 L. N. Babbit, "Living in Concrete Houses," 
Concrete-Cement Age (April 1914), 190-91. 

33 Interview with Mrs. Martin, owner, with her 
husband, Howard, of 509 Plank Road, October 8, 1989. 



34 Lincoln, 158 



35 Lincoln, 158 



103 



36 Lincoln, 162 



104 



CHAPTER V: TAILINGS BLOCK HOUSES TODAY 



A Survey of Houses in Study Group; Typical Alterations 

There are several types of alterations which are common 
among the twenty-five houses of the study group. Overall, 
the single-family homes have been altered more freguently 
than the two-family homes. This phenomenon was explained 
in a 1989 interview with a resident of one of the large 
Type Four double houses: it had been difficult for him to 
convince the co-owner of his home to share the cost of 
proposed repairs or alterations. The most common 
alteration is that of roof replacement, altering original 
slate roofs by replacing them wholly or in part with 
raised-seam metal or asphalt shingle roofing. This is 
followed by window and door replacement, which alters the 
configuration and material of original, multi-lite wood 
windows and panelled or plank doors. Another very common 
alteration is the construction of exterior chimneys of 
cement block. Next most freguent is the construction of 
additions, usually in the form of attached sheds or 
filled-in porches. The next most common alteration is the 
partial cladding or covering over of tailings block with 
wood clapboard, shingles, or with aluminum or vinyl 
siding. This cladding is usually limited to the upper 

105 



portion of the 2nd story; typically, at the gable peak of 
the T ype One , gambrel-roofed houses. The final category of 
alterations is exterior painting, which markedly alters the 
appearance of the block. 

Altogether, 18 of the 25 houses have had original slate 
roofs either partially or completely replaced with either 
asphalt or metal roofs. In some cases, upper roofs have 
been replaced with raised-seam metal roofs, while the slate 
has been retained at lower roofs, as at 480 Joyce, a Type 
One house, and at 423 Foote, a Type Three house (See 
Fig.'s 27 & 33). At 430-32 Wall Street, a Type Four 
house, half of the double house features a new metal 
replacement roof, while the other half retains its original 
slate (See Fig. 56) . Intact slate roofs remain at 444 and 
446 Wall Street, both Type Two homes (See Fig.'s 30 & 31). 
The reason for the replacement of original slate roofs in 
the majority of the houses can be found in the type of 
slate originally used. According to Frederic Lincoln, the 
roofing material chosen was "Granville second guality sea 
green slate, which is as cheap as lumber at that 
point." 2 The inferior slate almost invariably failed, or 
proved difficult to patch, and was eventually replaced. 

Another built-in flaw in the tailings block houses was 
their lack of fireplaces and chimneys. The majority of the 

106 



houses were originally heated only by coal-fired kitchen 
stove, and nearly every home has augmented this original 
flue with a central heating system requiring an additional 
masonry chimney, usually of concrete block. Some of the 
larger homes, like 423 Foote, a T ype Three house, have two 
chimneys, perhaps indicating the addition of a wood burning 
stove or fireplace in addition to the furnace (See Fig. 
33) . The T ype Six house, unlike the rest of the houses in 
the study group, originally featured a coal-fired central 
heating system, and its large, central, brick chimney, with 
two interior fireplaces, has not been altered (See Fig. 
57) . 

Window replacement, like roof replacement, has been 
conducted in an ad hoc fashion. Many of the tailings block 
houses retain at least one or two original windows, while 
the rest have been replaced. All of the original windows 
were double hung, but configurations varied. Some of the 
fancier homes featured multi-light (fifteen-over-one) wood 
windows. Most of the others originally had simpler, 
two-over-two light windows. Wood frames were flat, without 
raised moldings. Of the twenty-five houses in the study 
group, only half retain at least fifty percent of their 
original windows. Of Type One houses, 482 Joyce is the 
prototype, retaining all of its original two-over-two wood 
windows (See Fig. 28) The original double windows of the 

107 



first floor parlor at both Number 474 and Number 484 Joyce 
Road have been replaced with the same triple window (See 
Fig.'s 24 & 29). Two of the Type Two houses, Numbers 444 
and 446 Wall Street, retain most of their original 
fifteen-over-one, multi-light wood windows. However, 446 
Wall Street does have early replacement, or perhaps 
mismatched but original, two-over-one light windows at 
upper floors (See Fig.'s 30 & 31). One of the T ype Three 
houses, 423 Foote, retains multi-light wood windows at the 
ground floor (See Fig. 33). Four of the T ype Four houses, 
430-32 Wall Street, and 408-410, 409-411, and 416-418 
Sherman, retain their original two-over-two wood windows 
(See Fig.'s 56, 58, 59, & 60). All of the original 
multi-light windows of 503-505 Joyce, the Type Five house, 
have been replaced or altered into one-over-one wood 
windows, with exterior metal storm windows. Most of the 
windows of the Type Six house are now one-over-one wood 
windows, probably installed at the same time that the 
easternmost porch was filled in. This house does retain 
two-over-two wood windows at the carriage house and rear 
kitchen ell (See Fig.'s 61 & 62). In general, the 
multi-light wood windows seem to have been used on the 
fancier of the single and double houses, but the Type Six 
house is an exception to this rule. Overall, the original 
multi-light or two-over-two windows have been retained 
where they remained in good condition, sometimes only at 

108 



one window or at one floor, and replaced when they 
deteriorated, with exterior storm windows installed over 
original windows at many of the houses for added 
insulation. 

Original wood-and-glass front entrance doors have been 
replaced at least as frequently as original wood windows, 
and for the same reasons. The simpler houses originally 
featured very rough plank doors (See Fig. 18) , which have 
all been replaced. The fancier homes featured hardwood 
doors with a single recessed panel below and a large single 
light above, as retained at 511-513 Plank Road, the Type 
Six house (See Fig. 63) . 

The third most frequent alteration is the construction of 
shed porches and additions, and the filling in of 
originally open porches. Of the twenty-five houses in the 
study group, seven originally featured porches. The two 
T ype Three and single Type Five and Type Six houses 
featured ground floor porches that were notched out of 
corners, under overhanging second story bedrooms (See 
Fig.'s 51 & 45). The three Type Two houses featured very 
simple, open, shed-roofed porches of wood (See Fig.'s 18, 
49). Of these seven original porches, six have been filled 
in to create new front rooms, a symptom of the difficulty 
of adding to the tailings block houses by demolishing side 

109 



or rear walls (See Fig. 's 33, 64 ,65, 30 & 32). Simple, 
shed-like additions were also built along the front 
elevation of three of the Type One houses: Nos. 427-431 
Foote (See Fig.'s 66, 67, & 68), and one of the Type Four 
houses: No. 430-32 Wall Street (See Fig. 56) . Altogether, 
new rooms have been created from original porches or added 
sheds at ten of the twenty-five houses in the study group. 

Partial cladding of the houses, particularly at upper 
gables, has occurred at nine of the twenty five houses, and 
is limited to Type One and T ype Three houses. All of the 
Type One houses on Foote Street have been clad in this 
manner, with horizontal or vertical wood siding, clapboard, 
or shingles, generally beginning at gable peak and 
continuing halfway down second story window (See Fig.'s 66, 
67, 68, & 69) . On Joyce Street, the majority of Type One 
houses have been treated similarly (See Fig.'s 23, 24, & 
27) , while No. 476 Joyce Street has clapboard only at its 
gable peak, and not extending down around the central 
window (See Fig. 25) . The reason that wood cladding was 
limited to the gable peaks is found in the original 
tailings block construction. For most of the Type One 
houses, smooth-faced tailings block was used only at second 
floors, beginning at gable peak and extending midway down 
second floor windows. This smooth-faced block eventually 
weathered, revealing coarse aggregate masked by the uneven 

110 



texture of the rough-faced block below. Owners then 
covered up the uneven block at upper gables with wood 
siding. In some cases, no siding was used, but the gable 
peak was painted, as at 484 Joyce (See Fig. 29) . In the 
case of 405 Foote Street, a Type Three house, stucco was 
applied directly to smooth-faced tailings block, and 
immediately failed (See Fig. 70) . Vertical board siding 
was added to cover the stucco (See Fig. 33) . 

The final category of alterations is the painting of the 
houses. The tailings block itself has been coated with 
paint at only six of the twenty five houses in the study 
group. Almost all of the houses that have been painted are 
located on Foote Road: three Type One houses, Nos. 425, 
427, and 429, and the two Type Three houses, Nos. 405 and 
423 (See Fig.'s 69, 66, 67, & 33). The proximity of these 
five houses may account for the similarity of treatment: 
the tailings block is attractive in context, but might 
appear drab next to a freshly painted house. The sixth 
house to have been painted is also a Type One house, No. 
484 Joyce Road (See Fig. 29) . 



Ill 



A Survey of Houses in Study Group: Typical Condition 
(Exterior) . Including Types of Deterioration and Causes 

In general, the tailings block houses are in good 
condition. However, certain types of deterioration have 
occurred within each of the six house types. The Type One 
houses are generally in very good condition, in part 
because of their small size, the simplicity of their 
design, and their lack of projecting decoration. No 
settlement cracking is visible in any of the Joyce Road 
houses, except in the "monolithic" concrete entrance steps 
(See Fig. 28) . 

For the most part, projecting sill courses at ground level, 
and projecting string courses between first and second 
floors, are in excellent condition, with no evidence of 
displacement, few open joints, and little cracking. The 
projecting string course above the first floor at 482 Joyce 
Street does display horizontal cracking, and on closer 
examination, reveals a lack of vertical joints between 
smooth-faced blocks. To distinguish the surface texture 
and rhythm of the projecting string course from the coursed 
block above and below, the original builders used a 
smooth-faced block which was then coated with stucco, 
creating the illusion of a monolithic masonry band. The 
visible cracking in this string course at the east 

112 



elevation of No. 482 Joyce has developed as the very thin 
stucco skim coat has begun to fail, separating from the 
smooth-faced block substrate. This deterioration has 
gradually progressed, after years of differential shrinkage 
and expansion of coating and substrate during freeze-thaw 
cycles (See Fig. 28) . The same failure mechanism has 
occurred at 474 Joyce Street, where the stucco skim coat 
has delaminated from a second story window sill, revealing 
the two smooth-faced blocks underneath (See Fig. 71) . This 
same house displays one open joint in the stucco-coated 
block sill course (See Fig. 24). Although the thin stucco 
veneer over smooth-faced block, which did not allow for 
thermal movement of the substrate, has failed in several 
locations, the tailings block itself is in excellent 
condition. Only one sizable area loss was noted in 
decorative or projecting tailings block, at 480 Joyce 
Street, in the string course just to the left and above the 
entrance door (See Fig. 27) . 

The Type One houses along Foote Street lack projecting 
string courses, and are difficult to inspect due to the 
prevalence of paint coatings. It is significant to note 
that even where the tailings block remains unpainted, the 
projecting lintels and keystones have often been painted 
white, as at 472 and 474 Joyce Road (See Fig. 's 23 & 24). 
Like the siding over deteriorated gable blocks, the 

113 



painting of lintels and keystones has taken place only 
after deterioration has occurred and patching has been 
performed. Most, if not all, of the lintels lacking 
keystones have had original, spalled or deteriorated 
keystones removed. As mentioned in an earlier chapter, the 
keystones were not cast elements, but were created of wood 
and stucco. In general, however, construction was sound, 
and the projecting eaves of the Type One houses have 
protected these facades from water penetration and 
subsequent deterioration. 

The three T ype Two houses are generally in good condition, 
but display some of the same modes of deterioration as the 
Type One houses. The deterioration of keystones and sills, 
caused by a reliance on a thin stucco coating, occurs again 
here. Number 446 Wall Street, which has been well 
maintained and retains its original slate roof and porch, 
has had all its keystones removed, no doubt following their 
deterioration. The removal of the keystones and 
surrounding projecting layers of stucco has revealed the 
wood back-up material of the lintels. The wood appears 
somewhat rotten and sheds paint, a result of moisture 
trapped between the wood and the stucco veneer during the 
years that the keystones remained. Deflection has occurred 
in the running bond brickwork above the second floor window 
at the front elevation, indicating that the wooden lintel 

114 



is inadequate to carry the load of the heavy tailings brick 
making up the gable above. The thin coat of stucco 
covering the smooth-faced block sill below this window has 
also deteriorated and been removed, leaving an open joint 
between the two blocks (See Fig.s 31 & 72). Numbers 444 
and 448 Wall Street retain keystones at upper floors, but 
have had them removed, and remaining, projecting, stuccoed 
lintels painted, at the ground floor (See Fig. 's 30 & 32). 

The two Type Three houses are generally in very good 
condition, although both have been painted, making 
inspection difficult. Number 423 Foote Street retains 
keystones only at the ground floor, while no keystones 
remain at Number 405. No settlement cracking is visible at 
either house, and the deteriorated stucco which plagued 
Number 405 immediately following construction (See Fig. 
70) , has been covered in vertical wood planking (See Fig. 
33). This vertical siding is somewhat deteriorated, 
indicating that the moisture problem which caused the 
original stucco to fail remains. The installers of the 
siding probably felt that to install furring or nailers 
over the block substrate, to create air space for 
ventilation behind the plank siding, would cause the siding 
to project too far from the face of the building. 

The seven Type Four houses are generally in fair to good 

115 



condition, displaying settlement cracking in various 

locations due to their large size and lack of vertical 

expansion joints. Detailing which would allow for 

differential movement along long expanses of cement masonry 

walls would not be developed for years after the 

construction of the tailings block houses. Vertical 

cracking has typically developed along corners and between 

lintels and sills, two areas of weakness. At 417-19 

Sherman Road, cracks have developed along the north 

elevation, running from the center of first floor lintels, 

stepping upwards through a projecting string course and 

ending at the center of second floor sills (See Fig. 73). 

These cracks have been caulked. Similar cracking has 

developed from lintel to sill along the west elevation of 

430-32 Wall Street (See Fig. 56) . Severe cracking has also 

occurred vertically at the northeast and northwest corners 

of this double house, with half-inch cracks progressing 

vertically right through the center of projecting, 

panel-faced quoins (See Fig.'s 74 & 75). These cracks have 

3 

also been caulked, but periodically reopen. 

The single Type Five house is in good condition, and 
appears well-maintained. A network of hairline step-cracks 
has appeared in the gable ends of the house, which may be 
related to the weakness of the wooden lintels below. The 
brick of gable ends is in poor condition compared to the 

116 



tailings block, displaying open joints and some 
discoloration (See Fig. 76) . 

The single Type Six house is also in good condition, but 
displays deterioration which has resulted from its 
exuberant and sometimes poorly detailed decoration. The 
most serious problem is cracking of the roof slab of the 
remaining open porch (See Fig. 39) . Another visible 
problem is the deterioration of the slate roof, which has 
been removed in many locations and replaced with roofing 
fabric and coated with tar (See Fig.'s 22 & 35). A final 
problem, not visible from the exterior, is the apparent 
outward movement of the second floor gabled roof of the two 
porches. This has exacerbated leaking, and resulted in 
gaps between plastered walls and ceilings at the closets 
housed in these locations. The carriage house displays 
corner cracking similar to that found at the T ype Four 
house, 430-32 Wall Street (See Fig. 40) . The causes of and 
solutions to all of these problems will be discussed in the 
chapter which follows. 



117 



CHAPTER NOTES 

^■Interview with resident of 430 Wall Street, 
October 8, 1989. 

2 Frederick Frederic F. Lincoln, "A Concrete 
Industrial Village," Cement Age: A Magazine Devoted to the 
Uses of Cement (September 1909), 162. 

3 Interview with resident of 430 Wall Street, 
October 8, 1989. 



118 



CHAPTER VI: CONCLUSION: MINEVILLE PRESERVATION 



Recommendations for Future Maintenance and Repair of 
Housing 

Mineville's tailings block houses have been altered in 
several ways, as described in the previous chapter. For 
the most part, however, the tailings block houses remain 
intact, presenting an appearance very similar to that 
documented in photographs taken at the time of their 
construction, eighty years ago. We can attribute the 
preservation of the tailings block houses to a phenomenon 
frequently observed within the preservation community: the 
poverty of a community limits the ability of its residents 
to perform "home improvement" alterations. The addition 
and filling in of front porches, perhaps the alteration 
with the greatest impact on the appearance of the houses, 
has declined proportionately with mining activity. Most of 
these additions date from the 1950's and 1960's, when 
mining operations were winding to a close. 

Other alterations, including the replacement of slate roofs 
with metal or asphalt shingles, the partial cladding of 
tailings block with wood, aluminum, or vinyl siding, the 
partial or complete painting of facades, and the replace- 

119 



ment of original windows, have all been undertaken as home 
maintenance projects. New, affordable building materials 
have replaced or covered the original, faulty or 
deteriorated products. These repairs solve problems at 
least temporarily, but employ materials with a limited 
life-span. New metal or asphalt shingle roofs have 
replaced deteriorated and leaking slate roofs, but will not 
last nearly as long as the originals. New, 
energy-efficient windows, different in configuration from 
the originals, have replaced deteriorated and inefficient 
ones, but again, will not last as long. Paint and cladding 
have been applied over non-matching repairs to deteriorated 
tailings block, or have provided a short-term substitute 
for repointing. None of these projects have been 
undertaken with preservation principals in mind, because 
the tailings block houses have not been invested with 
historical, technological, or aesthetic significance. 
Instead, residents are stigmatized by the community at 
large; they are not from town, but from the tailings block 
"company houses." The long-term preservation of the 
tailings block houses will depend on the recognition, both 
within Mineville and Moriah at large, of their 
significance. 

The tailings block houses are generally in good condition, 
but the typical modes of deterioration, if not reversed, 

120 



will eventually obliterate much of the ornament, and 
thereby the charm, of these houses. The previous chapter 
has described the failure of stucco coatings applied over 
block sills and string courses at houses Type One and Type 
Two . Where thin stucco coatings have failed, cracking and 
spalling, they should be sounded, and any loose material 
removed. Any open joints which remain between exposed 
blocks should be repointed as necessary. A thin mortar 
mixture using tailings aggregate could then be reapplied, 
or omitted altogether. Although not an ideal detail, the 
stucco coatings have lasted eighty years before failing. 
It is an aesthetic decision whether or not to maintain this 
smooth coating, which may be appropriately left to 
individual owners. 

More serious is the problem of projecting lintels and 
keystones at houses Type One , Type Two , Type Three , and 
T ype Five , which appear for the most part to be stucco 
applied directly to wood back-up. The ideal solution for 
these areas would be to replace these lintels with new, 
steel-reinforced, cast concrete lintels. However, this 
would be prohibitively expensive. Another possibility 
would be to remove inadeguate wood lintels, and based on an 
engineer's recommendation, insert back-to-back steel 
angles, fronted by concrete block, and to coat this 
concrete with a tailings stucco, built up in half-inch 

121 



layers to replicate the original keystone and projecting 
masonry lintel. The final and most affordable solution is 
one which has already been practiced at the Type Five 
house, where the owner has removed the failing stucco 
veneer at lintels, and replaced the stucco with wood, 
maintaining the projecting, angled profile of the lintels 
and keystones, and painting these elements white to protect 
the wood (See Fig. 64) . Assuming that the remaining 
lintels are structurally adequate, this repair is practical 
and does not markedly alter the appearance of the house. 
This lintel repair could be applied universally to all the 
tailings block houses featuring keystones. 

A problem unique to the Type Four houses, and to the 
carriage house behind the Type Six house, is the 
development of settlement and corner cracks. For the most 
part, these are hairline cracks, and do not pose a serious 
problem. Where the cracks have progressed to 1/4" or more, 
the owners have typically caulked them on an annual basis. 
Unfortunately, readily available, light-colored caulk has 
been used, instead of a more appropriate dark gray or black 
caulk. Where cracks have opened 1/2" or more, as at 417-19 
Sherman Road, it may eventually be necessary to first 
shore, and then take these corners down, rebuilding them 
with new vertical expansion joints. Wherever possible, 
original block would be reused; for block which has cracked 

122 



through, a source of salvaged block might be found. 
Finding the correct replacement block would be difficult, 
however, since the cracked blocks are special, panel-faced 
quoin blocks. Simple molds might be cast from existing, 
intact quoin blocks, and tailings block cement mixed in a 
1:5 proportion, utilizing tailings from the surviving 
mounds. 

Another area where cracks have appeared is the gable ends 
of the single Type Five house. This network of hairline 
step-cracks may be related to the weakness of the wooden 
lintels below. The brick itself is in poor condition 
compared to the tailings block, displaying open joints and 
some discoloration. The brick may perform more poorly than 
the block because of a difference in their manufacture: 
the brick were composed of a 1:3 mixture of cement to 
tailings, creating a harder, less plastic material than the 
1:5 tailings block. The cracking is relatively minor, but 
the brickwork at gable ends is in need of repointing. 

A structural problem has developed in at least one 
location, at the remaining open porch of the Type Six 
house. The roof slab has cracked as a result of inadequate 
reinforcement of this cast concrete element (See Fig. 39) . 
This crack should be monitored over the course of two or 
three years, using "tell-tale" crack monitors, which use a 

123 



simple gauge to determine the extent of movement. If the 
crack is active, a remedial repair might involve the 
installation of steel straps at the base of the slab, 
spanning between vertical posts which support the porch 
roof. 

A result of poor detailing is the lack of adeguate roof 
flashing at the Type Six house. The owner has made 
localized repairs, removing failed slate and using roofing 
felt and mastic patches to bridge interior leaks, but the 
problem is ongoing (See Fig.'s 22 & 35). Ideally, new 
metal flashing should be installed at all ridges, angles, 
and valleys of the intersecting gambrel roofs. A final 
problem, not visible from the exterior, is the apparent 
outward movement of the second floor, gabled roof of the 
two porches. This movement has exacerbated leaking which 
had developed at the gable valleys, and has resulted in 
gaps between plastered walls and ceilings at the closets 
housed in these locations. Again, this should be monitored 
to determine if the movement is stable or ongoing. 
Adeguate flashing should help prevent interior leaks in the 
future, but cracks will probably continue to develop at 
this sensitive joint between wall and ceiling. 

For the most part, the repairs recommended here could be 
performed by the homeowners themselves, although some 

124 



training would be required to execute expert repointing. 
Since many of the houses display similar problems, it would 
be very helpful if homeowners could be trained together, 
through a one or two day long workshop: "Maintenance and 
Repair of the Tailings Block House." Sample repairs could 
be performed on actual houses; different seminars could 
arranged for specific problems or individual house types. 
Appropriate tools and materials might be distributed to 
interested homeowners. Organization and proposed funding 
for such a workshop is detailed in the section which 
follows. 



Possible Sources of Funding for Housing Preservation 

Very often, grants for historic preservation are tied to 
the certification of landmark status of a building or 
neighborhood by the municipal or state government. 
Mineville currently lacks such official designation, but 
has recently been studied as part of a reconnaissance level 
survey of historic resources in the town of Moriah, 
undertaken by the Essex County Planning Office and the 
Housing Assistance Program of Essex County. This survey 
was funded by a grant from the New York State Office of 
Parks, Recreation, and Historic Preservation, with 
technical assistance from the Preservation League of New 

125 



York State. This preliminary survey is the first step in 
generating a thematic National Register nomination, and one 
of its recommendations was that a more intensive survey be 
conducted "on all the historic resources attributable to 
the theme of iron mining and manufacturing." 1 This 
intensive survey would focus on remaining mining 
structures, both industrial and domestic, and would include 
the tailings block houses of Witherbee-Mineville. This 
intensive survey would then result in a National Register 
nomination. 

Because this process is well underway, the following 
discussion of funding sources will assume that Mineville's 
tailings block houses have been listed in the National 
Register, as part of a thematic nomination recognizing 
Essex County's national dominance as an iron-producing 
region, c.1880. Once certified, Mineville's tailings block 
homeowners would have to create a community organization, 
giving homeowners the not-for-profit status which is 
another frequent requirement of grant programs. Because 
the tailings block houses are generally in good condition, 
funding requirements for exterior preservation work are 
low. However, the comfort and long-term desirability of 
the houses would be enhanced by an upgrading of mechanical 
systems, and by increasing the energy efficiency of the 
homes. 

126 



Programs designed to encourage the preservation of the 
tailings block houses should be developed in three areas, 
to be funded by different sources. The first, and most 
critical, would be educational programs, establishing the 
technological and historical significance of the tailings 
block houses. The second priority, aimed at preserving the 
buildings' exteriors, would be home maintenance and 
restoration workshops, which would train homeowners to make 
repairs to deteriorated wood and masonry elements 
themselves, providing tools, materials and funds for the 
repairs. The third type of program would assist owners in 
upgrading mechanical systems and increasing the energy 
efficiency of the tailings block houses. 

Currently, information about the tailings block houses is 
available locally at the Port Henry Public Library, in the 
Witherbee Sherman Collection, and at the Brewster Library 
of the Essex County Museum and Historical Society. The 
Essex County Museum also has a permanent exhibition of 
photographs and artifacts depicting iron ore mining and 
domestic life in turn-of-the-century Witherbee-Mineville. 
This collection, lent by local mining historian and former 
Republic Steel Superintendent Patrick Farrell of Mineville, 
includes photographs of Mineville 's tailings block houses, 
and the houses' earliest, immigrant residents. An 

127 



exhibition incorporating these photographs and others 
referenced in this paper could be held at the Essex County 
Museum, or in rented or donated public space in the 
commercial center of Moriah, Port Henry. This exhibit 
could also travel to the public schools, to be accompanied 
with month-long units on the mining history of the 
community, designed for elementary, junior, and high school 
levels. Former mine employees and local historians could 
be recruited to lead local school children on tours of 
remaining mine facilities and to give lectures; peer tours 
could be held, with the children of Witherbee and Mineville 
showing their classmates both the interiors and the 
exteriors of company housing. The tailings block houses 
should be celebrated, and their innovative exploitation of 
a local resource studied. A possible funding source for 
the exhibit and public school programs might be the New 
York State Council on the Arts, which provides funding for 
projects in the fields of architecture, architectural 
history, historic preservation, industrial design, and 

2 

architectural documentation. 

Following the exhibit and educational programs, workshops 
could be organized to encourage the physical preservation 
of the tailings block houses. Workshops could be sponsored 
by a new not-for-profit community group, perhaps called the 
"Tailings Block Homeowners' Association." Help in 

128 



organizing this not-for-profit group might be available 
from the Community and Neighborhood Assistance Program 
(CNAP) of the New York State Department of State, which 
provides technical assistance and guidance to not-for — 
profit organizations in depressed communities of New York 
State. CNAP might also help identify funding sources 
for home maintenance workshops. One possible source for 
workshops funding might be the previously mentioned New 
York State Council on the Arts. Another New York State 
source might be the Rural Areas Revitalization Program, a 
program of the New York State Division of Housing and 
Community Renewal, which provides grants of up to $100,000 
to fund a portion of the expenses of a specific community 
revitalization project, including the preservation or 
improvement of housing resources. If we assume that 
homeowners contributed the necessary labor, then remedial 
exterior repairs: spot repointing, caulking, and lintel 
restoration, would cost an average of less than $1000 per 
house in tools and materials, particularly if tools were 
shared. More elaborate repairs: slate roof replacement or 
wood window restoration, could cost up to $10,000 for the 
average house, again assuming that the homeowner could 
contribute at least some of the labor. This contributed 
labor might consist of laying new roofing substrate or 
installing flashing. Additional state funding for these 
more elaborate repairs might be available from the Historic 

129 



Preservation Matching Grant Program of the Environmental 
Quality Bond Act, which honors donated labor as "funds" to 
be matched. This program, administered through the New 
York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic 
Preservation, is available only to historic buildings 
listed on the State or National Register of Historic Places 
at the time of application. Finally, technical and 
organizational assistance might be available through the 
privately funded Preservation League of New York State. 

A program which might both serve the long-term preservation 
of the tailings block houses, and answer the needs and 
priorities of community residents, would be one which 
upgraded interior mechanical systems and improved the 
energy efficiency of the tailings block houses. Although 
the block houses were considered adeguately insulated at 
the turn of the century, the hollow space built into the 
blocks has proved inadeguate by modern standards. At least 
one resident mentioned the expedient of applying furring 
strips, fiberglass insulation, and aluminum or vinyl siding 
at the exterior of the tailings block house, a solution 
which has already been executed at 509 Plank Road (See Fig. 
55). 6 Raising awareness of the significance of tailings 
block will help prevent this type of treatment in the 
future, but practical aid in reducing heating costs would 
be the most effective way to preserve the tailings block 

130 



houses from exterior insulation. Technical assistance in 
developing an alternative method of insulating the houses 
might be available through the Not-For-Prof it Energy 
Conservation Program of New York State. This program is a 
partnership between the state and sixteen regional 
community foundations, which provide grants for technical 
studies, energy audits, workshops, and training. 7 Two 
federal sources might also provide funding: the Farmer's 
Home Administration, which provides FmHA Rural Housing 
Loans to not-for-profit organizations representing 
low-income families for the purpose of repairing homes in 
small rural communities; and the Neighborhood Reinvestment 
Corporation, a congressionally chartered corporation which 
provides housing rehabilitation loans to low-income 
families across the country. 



Mineville Preserved: The Tailings Block Houses as 
Monuments to the 19th Century Industry which Caused the 
Development of this Region 

Mineville's tailings block houses are probably unique, and 
certainly the only houses of this type to be profiled in 
contemporary periodicals. As such, they are significant in 
the development of concrete block building technology. 
Because the tailings block is in such fine condition, these 

131 



houses may actually represent an improvement over modern 
concrete block construction, and a building technology 
which might be reproduced locally wherever iron ore is 
mined. The strongest argument for the preservation of the 
tailings block houses, however, does not rest with their 
significance to the history of building technology. The 
tailings block houses, nestled in the shadow of the 
tailings pile that made them possible, are important 
monuments to the history of the community which still 
occupies these houses. Mineville is now being recognized 
as the heart of the iron mining and manufacturing activity 
fundamental to the development of Moriah. It is to be 
hoped that this recognition by the county and state will 
translate into future education, training, and preservation 
investment in the tailings block houses of Mineville. 



132 



CHAPTER NOTES 

■"■The Essex County Planning Office, Reconnaissance 
Level Survey of Historic Resources in the Town of Moriah, 
New York , August 1989, 144. 

Preservation League of New York State, 
Preservation Directory: A Guide to Programs. 
Organizations, and Agencies in New York State . 1988, 61. 

Preservation League of New York State, 69. 

"^Preservation League of New York State, 60. 

Preservation League of New York State, 66. 

Interview with resident of 430 Wall Street, 
October 8, 1989. 

Preservation League of New York State, 50. 

Preservation League of New York State, 35-36. 



133 



BIBLIOGRAPHY 



In the Bibliography which follows, these abbreviations are 
used for archives consulted: 

AVRY Avery Library, Columbia University 

BRWS Brewster Library, Essex County Museum & Historical 

Society 

BTLR Butler Library, Columbia University 

ECCH Essex County Courthouse 

ENLI Engineering Library, Columbia University 

NYPL New York Public Library 

NYHS New York Historical Society 

NYUL New York University Library 

PHL Port Henry Public Library 

Following each archive symbol, where applicable, is the 
call number used by that library for that reference. 



BOOKS 



Recent Books 

Everest, Allan Seymour. Our North Country Heritage; 
Architecture worth saving in Clinton and Essex 
Counties . [Plattsburg, NY]: Tundra Books, 1972. 

[NYPL, IRM (Clinton Co.) 73-1490] 

Hyde, Floy S. Adirondack Forests. Fields and Mines: Brief 
Accounts and Stories . Lakemont, NY: North Country 
Books, 1974. (includes a chronology of Adirondack 
mining operations) 

[NYHS, F127 .A2H9] 

Mindess, Sidney, and J. Francis Young. Concrete . 

Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, Inc., 1981. 
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Preservation League of New York State. Preservation 

Directory: A Guide to Programs. Organizations, and 
Agencies in New York State . Albany, New York: 
Preservation League of New York State. 



Books Contemporary with Mineville's Construction: Trade 
Publications 

Atlas Portland Cement Company. Industrial Houses of 



134 



Concrete & Stucco: A survey of the principle types 
and groups of permanently constructed Industrial 
Houses. New York: Atlas Portland Cement Company, 
1918. 
[NYPL, VBA+, V.38, No. 7] 

Cornes, James. Modern Housing in Town and Country: 

Illustrated by Examples of Municipal and Other 
Schemes of Block Dwellings. Tenement Houses, Model 
Cottages and Villages; also. Plans and Descriptions 
of the Cheap Cottage Exhibition. London: B. T. 
Batsford, 1905. 

[NYPL, MRG+] 

Hering, Oswald C. Concrete and Stucco Houses: The Use of 
Plastic Materials in the Building of Country and 
Suburban Houses in a Manner to Insure the Qualities 
of Fitness, Durability and Beauty. New York: 
McBride, Nast & Company, 1912. 

[AVRY, AA 7160 H4 ] 

Meakin, Budgett. Model Factories and Villages: Ideal 

Conditions of Labour and Housing. (London: 1905) 
Reprint ed. , New York: Garland Publishing, 1985. 

[NYPL, TDN; AVRY, AA 7540 M461] 

Newberry, Spencer Baird. Concrete Building Blocks . 

Philadelphia: Association of American Portland 

Cement Manufacturers, 1905. 
[NYPL, VEA & VEO, p. v. 2] 

. Hollow Concrete Building 

Construction . Chicago: Cement & Engineering News, 
1905. 

[NYPL, VEO p.v.5 no.l] 

Palliser, Charles. Practical Concrete-Block Making: A 

Simple Practical Treatise for the Workman Explaining 
the Selection of the Materials and the Making of 
Substantial Concrete Blocks and Cement Brick, 
Together with Directions for Making Molds and 
Remarks on How to Obtain the Best Architectural 
Effects . New York: Industrial Publications Co. , 
1908. 

[NYPL, VEO] 



Essex County Histories 

Biographical Review (Atlantic States Series of Biographical 
Reviews) , [Biographical sketches of leading 
citizens of Essex and Clinton Counties]. Boston: 

135 



Biographical Review Publishing Co., 1896. 
[NYPL, IRM, Essex Co.] 

Smith, H. P., ed. History of Essex County, with 

illustrations and biographical sketches of some of 
its prominent men and pioneers . Syracuse, N.Y.: D. 
Mason & Co. , 1885. 

[NYPL, IRM, Essex Co.] 

Watson, Winslow Cossoul [1803-1884]. A general view and 
agricultural survey of the County of Essex. Taken 
under the appointment of the New York State 
Agricultural Society. [Albany: 1853]. 
Also, Supplement. 

[NYPL, IRM, Essex Co.] 

. Military and Civil History of the 

County of Essex, New York; and a general survey of 
its physical geography, its mines and minerals, and 
industrial pursuits. 
Albany: J. Munsell, 1869. 

[NYPL, IRM, Essex Co.] 

Witherbee, Frank S. History of the Iron Industry of Essex 
County New York . [Keeseville, New York]: Essex 
County Republican, 1906. Pamphlet. 

[PHL] 



JOURNAL ARTICLES 
Recent Articles in Architecture, Preservation. & Planning 

Alanen, Arnold R. "Documenting the Physical and Social 
Characteristics of Mining and Resource-Based 
Communities." APT Bulletin 
XI, No. 4 (1979) 49-68. 

[AVRY, AC As75] 

. "The Planning of Company Communities in 



the Lake Superior Mining Region." Journal of the 
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Association 45 (July 1979) 256-78. 
[AVRY, AB P679] 

Cotton, J. Randall. "Ornamental Concrete Block Houses." 
The Old-House Journal XII, 8 (October 1984) 165, 
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[AVRY, AB 0114] 

Garner, John S. "Le Claire, Illinois: A Model Company 
Town (1890-1934)." Journal of the Society of 

136 



Architectural Historians 30 (Oct. 1971) 219-227. 
[AVRY, AC Am 352] 

Gillespie, Ann. "Early Development of the Artistic 

Concrete Block: The Case of The Boyd Brothers." 
APT Bulletin XI, No. 2 (1979) 30-52. 

[AVRY, AC As75] 

Huxtable, Ada Louise. "Concrete Technology in U.S.A.: 
Historical Survey." Progressive Architecture 
(October 1960) 144-49. 

[AVRY, AB P372] 

Roth, Leland M. "Three Industrial Towns by McKim, Mead & 
White." Journal of the Society of Architectural 
Historians XXXVIII (December 1979) 317-347. 

[AVRY, AC Am3 52] 



Articles in Social Science Journals or Government Bulletins 
Contemporary with Mineville's Construction 

Crowell, F. Elisabeth. "Painter's Row: United States 
Steel Corporation as Pittsburgh Landlord." 
Charities and the Commons XXI (October 1908-March 
1909) 899-910. 

[NYPL, SHA: NYUL, HC1.S9] 

White, Joseph H. "Houses for Mining Towns." U.S. Mines 
Bureau Bulletin 87 . Washington: Government 
Printing Office, 1914. 

[NYPL, VHCA] 



Articles in Trade Publications Contemporary with 
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"Advancing the Architectural Appeal of Concrete Wall 

Units." Concrete-Cement Age 4 (April 1914) 195-98. 
[NYPL, VEA +] 

Aiken, W. A. "Slag as an Aggregate in Concrete, Paper read 
before the 17th annual meeting of the American 
Society for Testing Materials, Atlantic City, N.J., 
June 30-July 3, 1914." Railway Review 55 (August 
15, 1914) 199-200. 

[NYPL, TPB +] 

"American Block Machines Abroad." Cement Age 9 (November 
1909) 303-06. 

[NYPL, VEA] 



137 



Babbitt, L. N. "Living in Concrete Houses, A Letter from 
L. N. Babbitt." Concrete-Cement Aae 4 (April 1914) 
190-91. 

[NYPL, VEA +] 

"Building Low Cost Concrete Houses in England." 

Concrete-Cement Age 4 (April 1914) 185. 
[NYPL, VEA +] 

"A City of Poured Houses: Model Dwellings for Wage 

Earners." Scientific American Supplement No. 1895 
(April 27, 1912) 260. 

[NYPL, *ZAN V1405] 

"Cleveland Tests of Concrete Block." Concrete-Cement Aae 2 

(July 1913) 26-27. 
[NYPL, VEA + ] 

"Concrete Block — A Symposium. Concrete-Cement Age 2 (March 

1913) 139-142. 
[NYPL, VEA +] 

"Concrete Block Cottages Built Complete for $1500 Each." 
Concrete-Cement Age 2 (March 1913) 137-38. 

[NYPL, VEA +] 

"Concrete Block Cottages Built in England." 

Concrete-Cement Age 2 (February 1913) 73. 
[NYPL, VEA +] 

"Concrete Homes for Mine Workers." Concrete-Cement Age 2 

(April 1913) 173-74. 
[NYPL, VEA +] 

"Concrete in Industrial Housing." Concrete (Aug. 1918) 

55-7. 
[NYPL, VEA+] 

"Concrete Products — Architectural Considerations: The 

Materials for and Treatments of Surfaces of Concrete 
Building Stone." Concrete-Cement Age 2 (October 
1913) 155-60. 

[NYPL, VEA+] 

"Concrete Stone Tooled by Machinery: Methods in 

Manufacture and Use of Products of the Onondaga 
Litholite Company." Concrete-Cement Age 2 (February 
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[NYPL, VEA +] 



138 



Darlington, Thomas, M.D. "The Sanitary Aspect of Housing," 
Monthly Bulletin of the American Iron and Steel Institute 
1:9 (September 1913) 225-272. 
[NYPL] 

"The Development of Concrete Block." Concrete-Cement Age 2 

(May 1913) 244-46. 
[NYPL, VEA +] 

Doubler, Charles H. "How to Produce Realistic Stone 

Facings." Concrete-Cement Aae 1 (December 1912) 
55-6. 

[NYPL, VEA +] 

Harridge, J. K. "Objections to Concrete Block, and the 
Answers." Concrete-Cement Aae 5 (September 1914) 
126. 

[NYPL, VEA +] 

Hering, Oswald C. "Concrete Block." Concrete-Cement Age 

2 (February 1913) 77-78. 
[NYPL, VEA +] 

"House of Concrete Block, Attractive as to Color and 

Texture." Concrete-Cement Age 2 (June 1913) 297-98. 
[NYPL, VEA +] 

"House Built of Concrete Block with Interesting Facing." 

Concrete-Cement Age 4 (April 1914) 167. 
[NYPL, VEA +] 

"An Industrial Village on Garden Lines." Concrete-Cement 

Age 2 (March 1913) 136. 
[NYPL, VEA +] 

Keller, James C. "Boosting Better Block in Cleveland." 
Concrete-Cement Age 5 (September 1914) 127-28. 

Kinney, W. M. and A. E. Cline. "Proper Mixtures in Brick 
Manufacture." Concrete-Cement Age 5 (October 1914) 
163. 

[NYPL, VEA +] 

Lefevre, S. "Housing and Sanitation at Mineville." Mining 

and Metalurgy Bulletin 98 (Feb. 1915) 227-238. 
[NYPL] 

Lincoln, Frederic F. "A Concrete Industrial Village. 

Mineville, New York, in the heart of the Adirondack 
forests is being rebuilt in concrete. Wooden 
buildings fast disappearing. Low first cost, fire 
protection and small cost of repairs responsible for 

139 



the change." Cement Age 9 (September 1909) 158-165 
[NYPL, VEA; PHL] 

"'Manufacturing' Concrete Houses at Low Cost — Work at 

Midland, Pa." Concrete-Cement Aae 4 (April 1914) 
159-60. 

[NYPL, VEA +] 

McGann, W. F. "Why are not More Concrete Brick Used?" 

Concrete-Cement Aae 4 (August 1914) 77-78. 
[NYPL, VEA +] 

Newman, Rolf R. "A Review of the Development in the 

Construction of Concrete Houses — 1907 to 1914." 
Concrete-Cement Aae 4 (April 1914) 168-70. 

[NYPL, VEA +] 

Norris, J. Frank, W. M. Kinney, and A. E. Cline. 

"Objections to Concrete Block, and the Answers." 
Concrete-Cement Aae 5 (August 1914) 71-73. 

[NYPL, VEA +] 

"Some Attractive Dwellings Near Pittsburgh." 

Concrete-Cement Age 1 (December 1912) 57-58. 
[NYPL, VEA +] 

"Ten fire-proof houses of field and pre-cast concrete." 

Concrete (Aug. 1918) 69-71. 
[NYPL, VEA+] 

Thompson, C. C. "Spraying Freshly Made Block." 
Concrete-Cement Age 2 (January 1913) 25. 
[NYPL, VEA +] 

"Wet Process Block Machine." Concrete-Cement Age 2 

(January 1913) 53. 
[NYPL, VEA +] 



Newspaper Articles Contemporary with Mineville's 
Construction 

"Witherbee Sherman Co. Suffers Severe Loss." Plattsburah 

Sentinel (June 19, 1914). 
[Cited by Barbara Denton in paper at BRWS] 



MAPS 

1858 J.H. French, Super, of the New York State Survey. 
Map of Essex Co. . New York . Philadelphia: E.A. 
Balch, Publishers, 1858. (Moriah shown divided into 

140 



squares or plats; includes Port Henry. Area of 
Mineville outlined but not designated except to 
indicate structures and plot owners, including M. & 
L. Reed, D. Weatherbee, and the American Mineral 
Co. Three separators are indicated and an area is 
marked "iron ore." 
[NYPL, Map Div. ] 

1876 O.W. Gray & Son. New Topographical Atlas of Essex 
County. New York. Philadelphia: O.W. Gray & Son, 
1876. Atlas includes charts showing population of 
Moriah, including Mineville and Port Henry, in 
1845,50,55,60,65,70, & 75; County Manufactures and 
Iron Mining, giving numbers of employees and dollars 
generated (in 1875) ; and town maps including 
Mineville. Also included are engraved plates 
illustrating churches and homes, including St. 
Peters and St. Pauls Church in Mineville — a simple 
gothic revival church and greek revival/italianate 
house and barn; and commercial buildings and 
residences in Port Henry. Plate 41, Map of 
Mineville, is in scale of 20 rods to 1 inch. Map 
shows two active mines at center of town, several 
stores to west, church and school to southeast, with 
the J. Keough hotel, and approximately 70 
houses/structures/lots with individual owners 
designated. ) 

[NYPL, Map Div. ] 

1911 Essex County New York . Everts Publishing Co. : 

1911. (Map shows Mineville, Moriah Center, and Port 
Henry as part of Moriah) . 

[NYPL, Map Div. ] 



1916 



[ BRWS ] 



Sanborn Map Company. Mineville. Essex County. New 
York. October 1916. Including Witherbee . New York: 
Sanborn Map Company, 1916. (Insurance map shows 
Witherbee-Sherman & Co. property in 9 plates, 
indicating construction materials) . 



1953 Essex County Highway Dept. Map of Essex County , 

Chester, VT: National Survey Co., 1953. 
[NYPL, Map Div. ] 



1955 



[ECCH] 



County of Essex, State of New York. Hamlets of 
Mineville & Witherbee. Town of Moriah . Plattsburgh, 
NY: Joseph J. Martina. Reg. Prof. Eng. , November 
1955. (Map filed with county is result of survey 
required prior to sale of company houses) . 



141 



MICROFORM EDITIONS 



Rosenquist, Valerie Beth. The Iron Ore Eaters: A Portrait 
of the Mining Community of Moriah. New York. ( Ph . D . 
Dissertation, Duke University) Ann Arbor, MI: UMI 
Dissertation Information Service, 1987. 

[Facsimile Copy] 



UNPUBLISHED MATERIAL 

Brennan, Bob. Interview with Author. Mineville, Moriah, 
New York, 2 August 1988. (2nd generation resident 
and former employee of Republic Steel in Mineville. 
Lives in wood-frame company house dating from 
19-teens. ) 

Denton, Barbara. "The Social and Economic Decline of a 

Mining Community." Undergraduate Sociology Paper, 
Plattsburgh State University, November 10, 1981. 
(Based on interviews with 21 former miners and their 
families. Denton cites a paperOper by the Essex 
County Rural Development Planning Project, 
"Directions for Development, Planning for Essex 
County in the 1980 's," December 1979-December 1980, 
which found that the average per capita income in 
Mineville/Witherbee in 1977 was $5,225. Denton also 
interviewed Eleanor Hall, Moriah Town Historian.) 

[ BRWS ] 

Farrell, Patrick. Interview with Author. Mineville, 
Moriah, New York, 1 August 1988. (Author of 
unpublished manuscript, "History of Iron Mining in 
Adirondacks from Pre-Revolutionary Times to the 
Present." Retired engineer and former 
Superintendent of Witherbee/Mineville operations for 
Republic Steel (1930's-1960's) . Lives in wood-frame 
company house dating from 19-teens.) 

Gray, Bob and Leah. Interview and house tour with Author. 
Mineville, Moriah, New York, 3 August 1988. (Bob is 
a second generation resident and former employee of 
Republic Steel. The Grays live in a taling block 
company house, c.1908. Bob lived in the house 
beginning about 1935, when he was in high school; 
assumed occupancy from his parents, and bought the 
house in the 1950 's.) 



142 



Stauffer, Sara. Cast Stone: History and Technology. 

(Master's Thesis, Historic Preservation, Graduate 
School of Architecture and Planning, Columbia 
University) New York: October 1982. 

[AVRY, Classics Collection] 



143 



ESTABLISHED 1894 

Engineers - Chemists 



inspectors 
November 7, 1989 



Ann I Friedman 

200 Dean Street 

Brooklyn, New York 11217 



Re: Concrete Block With Iron 
Tailings Aggregate 
Manufactured c. 1908, 
Mineville, New York 



Dear Ms. Friedman: 



The following is a report of our tests of pieces of concrete block 
recently submitted by you identified as shown above. Three (3) of the four 
(4) blocks were diamond saw cut into nominal 3" x 3" x 6" prisms for 
compression testing and the fourth piece for absorption. 

LABORATORY NO. 461464 

Compression and Absorption Tests - 3" x 3" x 6" Prisms 

Specimen % Absorption Compressive Strength ^ensU/ 6 
Mark (24 Hour Soak) ( psi ) y 



(p-n 



4570 us q 
3790 150.1 
3290 150.0 
147.4 



Enclosed is a sketch of the four (4) samples. 

The above results indicate good quality concrete with physical properties 
which conform to present day standards for masonry units (ASTM C90, C145). 

Respectfully submitted, 
E. L. CONWELL & CO. 

D. S. Spitzer, P.E. 

DSS/nm 
Enclosure 



CONTINENTAL BUSINESS CENTER. FRONT S. FORD STS. BRIDGEPORT. PA 1940S |2I5| 277-2402 



144 




ESSeEE z~ PJEZ 



145 



ILLUSTRATIONS 



Figure 1 Map showing location of existing company-built 
housing of Mineville, by author, from Map of 
Essex County. N.Y. Chester, Vermont: The 
National Survey, 1986. 

Figure 2 Detail, Map of Essex County. New York , by J.H. 
French, Superintendent of the New York State 
Survey. Philadelphia: E.A. Balch, 
Publishers, 1858. 

Figure 3 Map of Mineville, from New Topographical Atlas 
of Essex County. New York . Philadelphia: 0. 
W. Gray & Son, 1876, 40-41. 

Figure 4 Detail, Map of Mineville, from New 
Topographical Atlas . 1876, 41. 

Figure 5 St. Peters and St. Pauls Church, Mineville, 
from New Topographical Atlas . 1876, 24. 

Figure 6 Lee House, from New Topographical Atlas . 1876, 
33. 

Figure 7 Detail of Sanborn Map Showing Houses on West 
Street (Now Witherbee Road) Constructed by 
Witherbee Sherman Company, c.1910, from Sheet 
4 of "Mineville, Essex County, New York, 
October 1916, Including Witherbee." New 
York: Sanborn Map Company, 1916. 

Figure 8 Detail of Sanborn Map Showing Housing 

Construction on Norton Avenue (Now Bridal Row) 
by Witherbee Sherman Company, 1905-6, from 
Sheet 2 of "Mineville, Essex County, New York, 
October 1916, Including Witherbee." New 
York: Sanborn Map Company, 1916. 

Figure 9 Detail of Sanborn Map Showing Housing 

Construction on Joyce Road and Wall Streets in 
Mineville, West of the Plank Road, by 
Witherbee Sherman Company, 1907-8, from Sheet 
7 of "Mineville, Essex County, New York, 
October 1916, Including Witherbee." New 
York: Sanborn Map Company, 1916. 



146 



Figure 10 Map Showing Houses on Park Street Constructed 
by Witherbee Sherman Company, 1917-18, by 
author, from Sheet 6 of 6, "Hamlets of 
Mineville & Witherbee, Town of Moriah, County 
of Essex, State of New York." Joseph J. 
Martina, P.E., November 1955. 

Figure 11 Detail showing commercial center of Witherbee, 
from Sheet 3 of "Mineville, Essex County, New 
York, October 1916, Including Witherbee." New 
York: Sanborn Map Company, 1916. 

Figure 12 Detail showing proximity of tenements, Roman 
Catholic Church, and industrial buildings, 
from Sheet 4 of "Mineville, Essex County, New 
York, October 1916, Including Witherbee." New 
York: Sanborn Map Company, 1916. 

Figure 13 Detail showing commercial center of Mineville, 
from Sheet 8 of "Mineville, Essex County, New 
York, October 1916, Including Witherbee." New 
York: Sanborn Map Company, 1916. 

Figure 14 Detail showing industrial building, built by 
the Witherbee Sherman Company c.1910, 
combining brick with additions or wings of 
tailings block, from Sheet 1 of "Mineville, 
Essex County, New York, October 1916, 
Including Witherbee." New York: Sanborn Map 
Company, 1916. 

Figure 15 Map Showing 16 Single-Family Houses and 9 

Two-Family Houses of Study Group, by author, 
from Sheet 7 of "Mineville, Essex County, New 
York, October 1916, Including Witherbee." New 
York: Sanborn Map Company, 1916. 

Figure 16 Photograph Showing a Type One House: 480 Joyce 
Street, c. 1915, by author, from illustration 
in S. Lefevre. "Housing and Sanitation at 
Mineville." Mining and Metalurgy Bulletin 98 
(Feb. 1915) 234. 

Figure 17 Floorplans of a Type One House: 480 Joyce 
Street, c. 1915, as illustrated in S. 
Lefevre. "Housing and Sanitation at 
Mineville." Mining and Metalurgy Bulletin 98 
(Feb. 1915) 234. 



147 



Figure 18 



Figure 19 
Figure 2 
Figure 21 



Figure 22 
Figure 2 3 
Figure 24 
Figure 2 5 
Figure 26 
Figure 27 
Figure 28 
Figure 29 
Figure 3 
Figure 31 



Photograph Showing a Type Two House, probably 
444 Wall Street, c. 1909, as illustrated in 
Lincoln, Frederic F. "A Concrete Industrial 
Village. Mineville, New York, in the heart of 
the Adirondack forests is being rebuilt in 
concrete. Wooden buildings fast disappear- 
ing. Low first cost, fire protection and 
small cost of repairs responsible for the 
change." Cement Age 9 (September 1909) 165; 
print courtesy private collection of Patrick 
Farrell. 

Photograph of a Type Three House: 42 3 Foote 
Street, October 1989, by author. 

Photograph of Type Four Houses, c.1912, 
Courtesy Peggy Porter. 

Photograph Showing a Type Five House, No. 
503-505 Joyce Road, c.1913, as illustrated 
in: Monthly Bulletin of the American Iron and 
Steel Institute 1:9 (September 1913) 246. 

Photograph of Type Six House: 511-513 Plank 
Road, August 1988, by author. 

Photograph of a Type One House: 472 Joyce 
Road, August 1988, by author. 

Photograph of a Type One House: 474 Joyce 
Road, August 1988, by author. 

Photograph of a Type One House: 47 6 Joyce 
Road, August 1988, by author. 

Photograph of a Type One House: 478 Joyce 
Road, August 1988, by author. 

Photograph of a Type One House: 480 Joyce 
Road, August 1988, by author. 

Photograph of a Type One House: 482 Joyce 
Road, August 1988, by author. 

Photograph of a Type One House: 484 Joyce 
Road, August 1988, by author. 

Photograph of a Type Two House: 444 Wall 
Street, October 1989, by author. 

Photograph of a Type Two House: 446 Wall 
Street, August 1988, by author. 



148 



Figure 32 
Figure 33 

Figure 34 
Figure 35 



Figure 3 6 

Figure 37 

Figure 38 
Figure 39 

Figure 40 

Figure 41 
Figure 42 

Figure 43 



Photograph of a Type Two House: 44 8 Wall 
Street, August 1988, by author. 

Photographs of Type Three Houses: 4 05 and 423 
Foote Street, October 1989, by author. Note 
entrance surround infill, originally a 
recessed porch. 

Streetscape Showing Type Four Houses: View 
South of 408-10 and 416-18 Sherman Street, 
August 1988, by author. 

"Tenement houses of concrete block 
construction," Belfry Hill Road, Witherbee, 
c.1913, as illustrated in Monthly Bulletin of 
the American Iron and Steel Institute I: 9 
(September 1913) 247. 

View of porch at north end of of 511-513 Plank 
Road, showing different sizes of rough-faced 
block, August 1988, by author. 

Detail of smooth-faced quoins, soldier-brick 
lintels and string course, at south facade of 
511-13 Plank Road, August 1988, by author. 

Detail of arched lintel, north facade of 
511-13 Plank Road, August 1988, by author. 

View of cast concrete porch roof slab, north 
facade of 511-13 Plank Road, August 1988, by 
author. 

Detail of egg-and-dart molding at sill level, 
north facade of 511-13 Plank Road, August 
1988, by author. 

View of stable, 511-13 Plank Road, August 
1988, by author. 

View of porch at north end of 511-13 Plank 
Road, showing smooth-faced block and circular 
vent, August 1988, by author. 

Detail of post with finial, north porch, 
511-13 Plank Road, August 1988, by author. 



149 



Figure 44 "Four-Family Tenement for Foreign Laborers," 
probably 303-309 West Street, Witherbee, with 
293-299 and 285-291 West Street, to north, in 
background, c. 1915, as illustrated in S. 
Lefevre. "Housing and Sanitation at 
Mineville." Mining and Metalurgy Bulletin 98 
(Feb. 1915) 235. 

Figure 4 5 Type of single concrete block house occupied 
by clerks and foremen," No. 509 Plank Road, 
c.1913, as illustrated in Monthly Bulletin of 
the American Iron and Steel Institute I: 9 
(September 1913) 246. 



Figure 46 "Double House of Concrete Blocks at Mineville," 
No. 503-505 Joyce Road, c. 1915, as illustrated 
in S. Lefevre. "Housing and Sanitation at Mine- 
ville." Mining and Metalurgy Bulletin 98 
(Feb. 1915) 232-33. 

Figure 47 Same house as Figure 45, No. 509 Plank Road, 
four years earlier (c.1909), photograph 
labeled "Concrete Block Residence of 
Attractive Design," in "A Concrete Industrial 
Village," by Frederic F. Lincoln, published in 
Cement Age 9 (September 1909), 163. 

Figure 48 Photograph showing tailings-post and iron pipe 
rail fencing of six Norton Avenue Houses, 
c.1909, from "A Concrete Industrial Village," 
by Frederic F. Lincoln, published in Cement 
Age 9 (September 1909), 164. 

Figure 49 Photograph showing Type Two Houses, c. 1908, 
444-448 Wall Street, Mineville Collection, 
Essex County Historical Society, Courtesy 
Patrick Farrell. 

Figure 50 Photograph showing 444 Wall Street, c.1910, 

Mineville Collection, Essex County Historical 
Society, Courtesy Patrick Farrell. 

Figure 51 Photograph showing a Type Three House, No. 42 3 
Foote Street, c.1910, Mineville Collection, 
Essex County Historical Society, Courtesy 
Patrick Farrell. 

Figure 52 Photograph detail, 423 Foote Street, c.1910, 
Mineville Collection, Essex County Historical 
Society, Courtesy Patrick Farrell. 



150 



Figure 53 Illustrations from a Sears general merchandise 
catalogue, found in J. Randall Cotton, 
"Ornamental Concrete Block Houses," The 
Old-House Journal XII No. 8 (October 1984), 
183. 

Figure 54 Photograph of Bridal Row, Witherbee, c.1907, 
Mineville Collection, Essex County Historical 
Society, Courtesy Patrick Farrell. 

Figure 55 Photograph of 509 Plank Road, showing aluminum 
cladding, removal of porch, October 1989, by 
author. 

Figure 56 Photograph of a Type Four House, 430-32 Wall 
Street, October 1989, by author. 

Figure 57 Photograph of a Type Six House, 511-513 Plank 
Road, October 1989, by author. 

Figure 58 Photograph of a Type Four House, 430-32 Wall 
Street, October 1989, by author. 

Figure 59 Photograph of a Type Four House, 401-403 
Sherman Road, August 19 88, by author. 

Figure 60 Photograph of a Type Four House, 416-418 & 40 8-410 
Sherman Road, August 19 88, by author. 

Figure 61 Photograph of Type Six House, 511-513 Plank 
Road, Showing Kitchen Ell at Rear, October 
1989, by author. 

Figure 62 Photograph of Stable at rear of Type Six 

House, 511-513 Plank Road, October 1989, by 
author. 

Figure 63 Detail of Type Six House, 511-513 Plank Road, 
August 1988, by author. 

Figure 64 Photograph of Type Five House, 503-505 Joyce 
Road, October 1989, by author. 

Figure 65 Detail of Filled-In Porch, 503-505 Joyce Road, 
October 1989, by author. 

Figure 66 Photograph of a Type One House, 427 Foote 
Street, October 1989, by author. 

Figure 67 Photograph of a Type One House, 429 Foote 
Street, October 1989, by author. 



151 



Figure 68 Photograph of a Type One House, 431 Foote 
Street, October 1989, by author. 

Figure 69 Photograph of a Type One House, 425 Foote 
Street, October 1989, by author. 

Figure 70 Photograph of 405 Foote Street, c. 1910, 

Showing Cracking of Stucco at Second Floor 
Level, from collection of Patrick Farrell. 

Figure 71 Detail, Second Floor Window at 474 Joyce 
Street, August 1988, by author. 

Figure 72 Detail, 446 Wall Street, August 1988, by 
author. 

Figure 7 3 Photograph of a Type Four House, 417-19 
Sherman Road, October 1989, by author. 

Figure 74 Detail, 430-32 Wall Street, Showing Typical 

Cracking at Corners, October 1989, by author. 

Figure 75 Detail, 430-32 Wall Street, Showing Typical 

Cracking at Corners, October 1989, by author. 



152 



Figure 1 




153 



Figure 2 











154 



Figure 3 




155 



Figure 4 




Upper Plank Road 



156 



Figure 5 




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157 



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158 



Figure 7 




159 



Figure 8 




160 



Figure 9 




161 



Figure 10 




162 



Figure 11 




163 



Figure 12 




164 



Figure 13 




165 



Figure 14 




166 



Figure 15 




167 



Figures 16 and 17 




FifitT Flooh Plan 



Sccono Floor Fiah 



Fio. «.— bu BorH wrra Six Room; No Hut ob Plotoixo; Sauiau Roor. 
Corr SMO, uro Immoru Tmamm Bam, $100. Rmt (8 rm» Mwrrm, mxnonra 
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168 



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169 



Figure 19 




170 



Figure 20 




171 



Figure 21 




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172 



Figure 22 




173 



Figure 23 




174 



Figure 24 




175 



Figure 25 




176 



Figure 26 




177 



Figure 27 




178 



Figure 28 




179 



Figure 29 




180 



Figure 30 




181 



Figure 31 




182 



Figure 32 




183 



Figure 33 




184 



Figure 34 



See Figure 60 



185 



Figure 35 




WlTHEHBEE. ShCHMAN AND COMTAWT, MlMCVILLC, N. Y. 

Tenement iimh - of eonervU" lilrick • nn-t nj.t i.xi ilnle roof, four nmnu ew-li; 

n*iit . fti [nt month. 



186 



Figure 36 




187 



Figure 37 




Figure 38 




189 



Figure 39 




190 



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191 



Figure 41 




192 



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193 



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194 



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196 



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198 



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199 



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200 



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201 



Figure 52 



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202 



Figure 53 




203 



Figure 54 




204 



Figure 55 




205 



Figure 56 




206 



Figure 57 




207 



Figure 58 




208 



Figure 59 




209 



Figure 60 




210 



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213 



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Figure 65 




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Figure 67 



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