A Magazine about the Hudson Valley’s local economy, published by Hudson Valley Current.

A History of Binnewater Cement

The Hoffman Livery

Excerpted from: A History of Binnewater in the Cement Mining Times 

Written by Frances Marion Platt, reprinted with the permission from Women’s Studio Workshop

Chapter 1: INTRODUCTION

“One of the most noted features of the natural scenery [in the Town of Rosendale],” wrote Ulster County Historian Nathaniel Bartlett Sylvester in 1867, “is the chain of small lakes known as Binnewater…. In some portions of the town, the scenery is wild and romantic. The peculiar appearance of the hills pierced by the cement miners; the deep valleys through which the streams have forced their way; the plains in the eastern part—all these features in a hundred various combinations constitute landscapes of beauty and sublimity.”

Sublimity is a quality that still characterizes Binnewater, a hamlet of Rosendale nowadays. A stroll or Sunday drive along its narrow, winding roads, with their panorama of rolling fields and patches of woodland set against the stark backdrop of the conglomerate cliffs of the Shawangunk Ridge, betrays little sign that this rural spot in upstate New York was once the focal point of a thriving industry. Yet a hundred years ago, the mines, quarries and kilns that surround the hamlet were seething with miners, laboring by the thousands to extract—with hand tools, steam drills and the daily charge of dynamite—the high-quality cement that abounded here. America was growing, spreading westward and reaching for the sky, and its infrastructure demanded cement, and plenty of it. Four million barrels a year were produced at the Rosendale cement industry’s turn-of-the-century peak. The Brooklyn Bridge, the United States Capitol and Treasury Buildings in Washingston, DC, the pedestal of the Statue of Liberty—all were held together with cement extracted from the earth beneath the Rosendale cement region. It was esteemed as the best in the world until the discovery of quick-drying Portland cement—nothing could compete with it.
A center of this activity was Keator’s Corners, the crossroads now known as the Binnewater Historic District, where the Wallkill Valley Railroad stopped. Across the street from the railway station stood the company store and post office. From the Victorian-style porch of the two-story frame and clapboard building, one could hear the roar of the kilns, the ringing of picks and hammers in the quarrying pits and the clanging of an endless stream of railroad cars. For three seasons out of the year, the streets bustled with carriages, delivery wagons and dusty phalanxes of miners in the early and late hours of the day.
A century later, the cement deposits are still here, but the demand for them has fled. Most of the great kilns are cold and the mines are silent, save for the monotonous drip of groundwater and the occasional flutter of a bat. Over the years, however, several of the mines have been used for creative purposes, such as entertainment, office space, growing mushrooms and storing corn. One by one, the railroad station and the cluster of commercial buildings surrounding it have succumbed to the ravages of weather. Only five of the original nine wooden structures in the Historic District still stand.
The former Rosendale Cement Company now the site of WSW.

But Binnewater at the beginning of the 21st century is no ghost town; rather, a new kind of industry has gently replaced the old. In the mid-1970s, four women artists moved into Rosendale with a shared vision for a new arts center, and Women’s Studio Workshop (WSW) was born. While continuing to run a variety of programs out of a cramped house at the corner of James and John Streets, they acquired the crumbling Binnewater landmark that had once been the Rosendale Cement Company general store and post office. They spent several years in the early 1980s stabilizing its structure and converting the former mercantile space into an artists’ haven, now known as Women’s Studio Workshop.

On long wooden counters that once displayed sacks of flour and kegs of nails for sale to the miners, professional artists and students of both genders and all ages now assemble collages, manufacture handmade paper or print and bind books in WSW classes and as part of the residency and fellowship programs. The building’s decorative façade and interior wainscoting have been partially restored, and it now listed on both the National and State Registers of Historic Places. The dusty old company store has emerged as the focal point of the Binnewater Historic District and of WSW’s campaign to preserve the legacy of the hamlet that developed around a once-peerless natural resource. This booklet is your guide to that legacy: a glimpse into the lives of the people who came here in search of a livelihood and built a community, back in the days when Rosendale cement was king.