Hamlin woman works to preserve history of local Medina sandstone quarries

By on August 29, 2016
A photo showing a bridge on the Lake Ontario State Parkway made of Medina sandstone from the Clarendon quarry owned by Pasquale DiLaura. Wells-Dickerson said the sandstone work is not visible to those driving on the Parkway.

A photo showing a bridge on the Lake Ontario State Parkway made of Medina sandstone from the Clarendon quarry owned by Pasquale DiLaura. Wells-Dickerson said the sandstone work is not visible to those driving on the Parkway.

Jennifer Wells-Dickerson of Hamlin has a special connection to the history of Medina sandstone in Western New York.  Her great-grandfather, Pasquale DiLaura owned and operated one of the last sandstone quarries in Orleans County – the O’Brien quarry on Howard Road in Clarendon. DiLaura worked to promote Medina sandstone and extended the life of the quarry well beyond the 1920’s and 1930’s, when cement became popular.

The story of her great-grandfather’s work was, “passed down verbally from relatives … family archives date back to about 1890,” Wells-Dickerson said during a program hosted August 17 by the Clarendon Historical Society.

Her study of family history began back in high school, when she was given an assignment by her 10th Grade English teacher at Albion High School to write a history-specific research report, Wells-Dickerson explained. She took the opportunity to learn more about the local quarry industry and her great-grandfather, whose family came to the U.S. from Italy in 1896, when Pasquale was seven years old. The family hailed from a region of Italy known for the superior skills of its stonecutters. They brought that tradition to the United States and Pasquale followed his father in the craft.

A slide of a photograph in Jennifer Wells-Dickerson’s collection.  It shows construction of a fireplace in one of the shelters at Hamlin Beach State Park.  The shelter and fireplace were constructed of Medina sandstone from the Clarendon quarry owned by her great-grandfather, Pasquale DiLaura. DiLaura worked as the initial mason foreman on the Hamlin Beach project, teaching Civilian Conservation Corps crews how to cut the Medina sandstone.

A slide of a photograph in Jennifer Wells-Dickerson’s collection. It shows construction of a fireplace in one of the shelters at Hamlin Beach State Park. The shelter and fireplace were constructed of Medina sandstone from the Clarendon quarry owned by her great-grandfather, Pasquale DiLaura. DiLaura worked as the initial mason foreman on the Hamlin Beach project, teaching Civilian Conservation Corps crews how to cut the Medina sandstone.

Wells-Dickerson said her aunt provided her with much information. She has amassed photographs, ledgers and records about her great-grandfather and his business, DiLaura Stone Company, which Pasquale formed after returning to the area from Ohio.

Mismanagement had led to the closing of many local quarries, Wells-Dickerson said. Pasquale DiLaura was asked to come back from Ohio and, “help re-organize the quarries and make them profitable again.”
DiLaura was successful, and kept the Clarendon quarry running even through the Great Depression. Medina sandstone from Clarendon was used by the Hamlin Civilian Conservation Corps Camp to build sandstone structures at Hamlin Beach State Park and, “at least 15 bridges and culverts,” along the Lake Ontario State Parkway, Wells-Dickerson said.

Additionally, sandstone from the quarry was used for curbing; by local municipalities and construction companies; and for residential work.  It is not unusual to find homes in our area made of Medina sandstone, Wells-Dickerson explains.

DiLaura felt Medina sandstone was a superior building material because it was durable and attractive. He eventually formed a marketing company to promote its use.  Wells-Dickerson said Medina sandstone was “highly coveted,” for its beauty, durability and its fireproof qualities. “It wasn’t slippery and it didn’t wear down,” she noted.  “The skill of those stonecutters is gone, no one knows specifically how they did it.”

She noted her family’s archives have now been entrusted to her because of her interest in the history of local quarries.

A photograph of Pasquale DiLaura standing with Medina sandstone from the Clarendon quarry.

A photograph of Pasquale DiLaura standing with Medina sandstone from the Clarendon quarry.

In October of 2014, Wells-Dickerson displayed about two-dozen photographs of the O’Brien quarry, including several of her great-grandfather, in an exhibit at A Different Path Gallery in Brockport. She said she hopes to continue to share the history and information she has gathered with others, possibly by publishing a book on the topic.

Wells-Dickerson closed her program in Clarendon August 17 with a quote from Pasquale about his admiration for Medina sandstone. “It will catch your eye … just like a rainbow,” he said.