The previous post reminded me of a site I’ve meant to post about literally for years now, ever since first reading about it in Michael Welland’s book Sand.
[Images: Sand mines, via Michael Welland’s excellent blog Through the Sandglass].
Toward the end of his book, Welland points out the role sand plays in the making of concrete—and, of course, the role concrete plays in the making of a city like New York. But where, he asks, did all the sand that made the concrete that made Manhattan actually come from?
“In 1865,” we read, “mining began on the northern shore of Long Island to collect sand washed out from retreating ice age glaciers.”
Immigrant workers from Europe, many from Sardinia, first hauled sand with wheelbarrows; the excavations grew with mechanization, and eventually the cliffs and the landscape were leveled. Port Washington was the center of the business, as endless convoys of barges carried the sand to Manhattan. The last sandpit closed in the 1990s, by which time more than 200 million tons of sand had been excavated to build the city—bridges, highways, the Empire State Building, the Chrysler Building, and the World Trade Center.
As the New York Times reported back in 2008, a “monument honoring the sand mining industry” has since been erected in Port Washington, from whence more than 140 million tons of sand were excavated. There is still one open tunnel there, as well as “the remains of a conveyor,” in the landscape—which has since been turned into a golf course. Historic photos of the site in its sand-mining heyday are pretty incredible.
A helpful website exists, meanwhile, courtesy of the Port Washington Public Library, offering a wide swath of resources about “the geography and geology of the sandmines; the machines used by the sandminers; occupational culture and folklife; immigration history; recreational activities in the sandbanks; sand company enterprises; and the accidents and disasters that befell the sandminers and scow captains who transported raw materials to New York City and beyond.” Anyone with an interest in landscapes of dredge would do well to take a read through the site’s many transcripts and oral histories with former sand miners.
(Earlier on BLDGBLOG: New York Quarry].