NIAGARA DISCOVERIES: The fate of the Pekin quarries

A map of the Pekin area from the 1938 Niagara Frontier Planning Board.

Last week Niagara Discoveries looked in on Lackawanna Steel’s quarry operations on Lower Mountain Road in Pekin in the early 20th century, as well as the branch railroad line that served that quarry. The 1920s saw several changes to limestone extraction at Pekin.

In October 1921, an article in the Niagara Falls Gazette reported that “the Lackawanna Steel Company’s big limestone quarries at Pekin were shut down last Saturday night to reopen – no one knows when. For years, the quarries operated with a normal payroll of 200 to 250 hands but last Christmas they were closed down and did not reopen until early in the summer, and have since operated with a force of but 75 men. The future of the nearby quarries does not look very bright.”

A year later, the Bethlehem Steel Corp. bought out the Lackawanna Steel Co. but continued limited quarry operations for several more years. In 1924, Frederick Bond, Sr. a former manager of the quarry, purchased land on the south side of Lower Mountain Road from Bethlehem Steel with that company still retaining some property on both sides of the road east of the main quarry. Over the next several years, the amount of limestone excavated from the quarry steadily declined, and by the end of the decade the Pekin site was no longer being used by Bethlehem Steel. The company sold some of their remaining quarry property to Pekin Stone Products in 1931. By this time, only a limited amount of stone was being removed or processed on site, resulting in the reduction of regular rail service to the quarry.

With diminished production, as well as the improvement of roadways and the increased use of trucks, in 1934 New York Central Railroad applied to the Interstate Commerce Commission, and was granted permission, to abandon its Cambria branch line, thus ending all rail service to the Pekin quarries. The railroad had lasted only 25 years.

Operations at Pekin Stone Products on the north side of Lower Mountain Road did increase briefly during World War II, but in 1945, the company merged with Frontier Bituminous Materials to form Frontier Stone Products and all operations were moved to Hinman Road in Lockport. Mergers with smaller companies in 1952 and 1969 expanded the holdings of Frontier Stone Products. The quarry in Lockport was sold and resold several times until Lafarge North America bought it from Redlands Quarry in 1997. That quarry continues extensive operations in Lockport today.

Frederick Bond continued buying up property of the abandoned quarry on Lower Mountain Road in the 1920s and 1930s. He later tried selling the land to Niagara County in the 1940s for $25,000 for use as a park, but when his offer was declined, he sold off parcels to individuals. In the early 1960s, Niagara County began purchasing about a dozen of these private properties — some of which had been previously owned by Fred Bond and had once been part of the former quarry operations — for $800,000 for a new park. Bond Lake Park (now Clyde E. Burmaster Park) opened in 1964.

But the current park was not the first one located on part of the old quarry land.

References to the Adams & Myers Park or picnic grove, “on the site of the old Pekin Quarry,” appeared in several newspaper notices in the late 1920s and early 1930s. Most events held there involved agricultural groups including the Niagara County Fruit Growers Association and the Honey Producers Association. On the 1938 Niagara Frontier Planning Map, “Adams & Myers” are listed as owning the parcel on the south side of Lower Mountain Road just east of Black Nose Spring Road. A small lake was also on the property which on a 1962 map is labeled “Lake Et-Me-Je-Jo,” which now appears to be Rainbow Lake. Nothing more could be learned as to how long this park was in existence.

Another reuse of part of the old quarry was the purchase and development of the Stonehaven Boy Scout Camp at Albright and Simmons roads. The Niagara Frontier Council purchased the Pekin Stone Products property in 1946 after the company moved its operations to Lockport in 1945. A description of the camp posted on a website in 2007 mentioned the quarry, the old railroad bed and a structure dubbed “Frankenstein’s Castle,” left over from the quarry operations.

It was recently announced that the camp has been sold to the Town of Lewiston for a passive activity park similar to the Slayton Settlement Park in the town of Lockport. Hopefully the history of the quarry, the railroad and the Boy Scout Camp will be included in any interpretation of the new park that is planned.

Ann Marie Linnabery is the assistant director of the History Center of Niagara.

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