Sand Mining in-depth
and the Sand Mining Monument
NOTE: The following information was extracted in part from text prepared by Dr. George Williams that was incorporated into informational graphic panels that now exist at the Sandminers Monument site on West Shore Road, Port Washington, New York.
by Fred Blumlein, Treasurer/Past President,
SANDMINING THROUGH THE PENINSULA
The sand banks on the Port Washington peninsula were formed more than 20,000 years ago when a glacier that covered the north shore of Long Island receded and left huge deposits of sand and gravel in its retreat. Over time, these rolling hills of glacial debris became covered with plants and trees creating a type of landscape that still can be seen in many parts of this area.
Because "Cow Bay Sand" was of particular fine quality, for over 100 years (1865-1989) it was mined on both the east and west sides of the Port Washington peninsula. The most important of the sand mining operations in this area were located right here along West Shore Road where the largest sand pits existed. By the end of the 20th Century, 140 million yards of sand and gravel were mined and delivered primarily to New York City, enough to cover the Empire State Building extending from the east River to the Hudson River from 59th Street to Washington Square Park. It is estimated that 90% of the concrete used to create New York City’s infrastructure, including skyscrapers, water tunnels and streets, was made with Cow Bay Sand.
EARLY LANDOWNERS ALONG WEST SHORE ROAD
In 1643, John Carman and Robert Fordham looking to establish a settlement on Long Island, sailed from Connecticut into what is now Hempstead Harbor. Later, at the head of the harbor (c.1701) in what now is Roslyn, a gristmill was built giving the local farmers the ability to have their grain ground into flour and shipped via boat to New York and other destinations.
Throughout the 18th century and most of 19th century, all of Cow Neck (the Port
Washington peninsula) adjacent to Hempstead Harbor was occupied by farms built on rolling hills. The landowners were mostly Dutch such as the Onderdonks, Bogarts, and Hegemans, or those of English decent such as the Hewletts and Sands/Willets families. Their land spanned from today’s Port Washington Boulevard in the west to Hempstead Harbor on the east. One by one, these properties were sold to a succession of sand mining companies who operated here until 1989.
SANDMINING OPERATIONS ALONG WEST SHORE ROAD – 1892-1989
During the early years, the shovel and wheelbarrow were the first tools used to remove sand from the mines. A vast improvement to this labor-intensive method was the introduction in the late 19th century of the steam shovel. Later, the sand miners used pay loaders, bulldozers and electric draglines to make the mining process more efficient.
A small electric railway on 124 miles of track (conveyor belts replaced the track in 1954) was used to transport the sand to a settling basin where it was placed before being conveyed to a washer.
The washer was the principal structure in the sand-mining process. Here the sand was washed with spring water and moved on conveyor belts onto metal screens where the sand and gravel where sorted. From the washer, the material was moved on tracks or a conveyor belt to a shaft way (located here where the Sandminers Monument is built) that went underneath West Shore Road onto docks and poured into waiting barges in Hempstead Harbor. Sand and gravel were also transported from the washer to local destinations by trucks. Among the docks and landings of Hempstead harbor that were serviced by the barges were Kings Docks at the northern end of the sand banks; largest of all of the docks they are still in operation today.
WORKERS AND MANAGEMENT
From 1860 to 1989, many sand mining companies operated on the Port Washington peninsula. The managers of those companies were of course interested in the economic benefits and success of their organizations. These goals would have been made impossible without the efforts of a committed and industrious work force. Fortunately, the mining operations coincided with periods of enormous European immigration into the New York City area. Those immigrants, and many others like them, who found in the sand banks were the reason for the success of this industry. Many of these men lived in barracks and houses rented to them by the mining companies. Out of this arose an enclave of sand workers who lived with their families and friends along West Shore Road and who created a community founded on deep ties to their cultures and to their own mining occupations.
GENEROSA POPE & THE COLONIAL SAND AND STONE COMPANY
Generoso Popa was born in 1891 in the province of Benevento, Italy, coming to New York City in 1906. Generoso had changed his name from Popa to Pope and became a US citizen. In 1911, he joined the newly formed Colonial Sand and Stone Company, becoming its superintendent. The company a few years later was in serious economic straits and Generoso audaciously persuaded the owners and creditors to give him a chance to restore the business. He saved the company, became its president, and by 1926 the company had taken over many of the leading sand dealerships in New York. Colonial, under his leadership, had become the largest sand and gravel business, providing the concrete for much of the New York City skyline, including Rockefeller Center, Radio City Music Hall, airports and subways. Among his numerous business activities, he purchased in 1918 the largest American-Italian language newspaper, Il Progresso, and he served as an advocate for America’s Italian immigrants. Generoso died in 1950 at the age of 59, a self-made success story.
AFTER THE MINERS LEFT – A RECLAIMED ENVIRONMENT FOR
RECREATION & BUSINESS
At its peak, 50 barges a day would maneuver primarily out of Hempstead Harbor to deliver sand to numerous destinations. Roanoke Sand & Gravel Company, the last sand-mining company to excavate these sand banks, ceased operations in 1989. Abandoned excavators, conveyors, washer/separator structures, cement mixers and truck depots were buried or scrapped; the remains of 70 barges were removed in the 1990’s. Hardly any physical evidence of working or living in this area was preserved to remind us of this immense mining livelihood...except for the physical testimonial of its history that is retold at the site of the Sandminers Monument.
Today, we can happily say that numerous improvements have been made to this extensive property transforming it into a place for environmental protection, recreation, and business. Two hundred and forty acres of these once abandoned sand pits were reclaimed as a nature sanctuary making that acreage the largest preserved natural habitat on the Port Washington Peninsula. Recreational opportunities have also transformed the landscape. The expansive shoreline that once was cluttered with abandoned sand barges can now be enjoyed by visitors at the North Hempstead Beach Park and by hikers along a waterfront trail that runs from the beach park to south to Roslyn. Golfers were not forgotten when the award-winning Harbor Links Golf Course and its clubhouse restaurant were constructed in 1998. Finally, numerous corporations now occupy the southernmost acreage of the former Hempstead Harbor Sand Pits.
In 2010, this monument was dedicated to the sand miners, mostly European immigrants from countries including Italy, Poland, Ireland, Sweden, Norway, and Germany as well as Russia and Nova Scotia in Canada. They came to America at the end of the 19th and the beginning of the 20th Century seeking work in the local sand mining operations. They worked long hours for little pay under arduous conditions. Many were seriously injured, maimed and even killed in accidents. These hard working laborers worked to support their families in search of the American dream. Wages were $1.50 for a twelve-hour day in 1910. Many of their descendants continue to live in Port Washington and they proudly hail the fortitude, determination and achievements of their ancestors. An exhibition and oral history project in their honor was conducted by the Port Washington Public Library in 1981, followed by a book, “Particles of the Past,” in 1985.
The Monument Site
This monument, in honor of the sand mine workers, is built on land owned by the Town of North Hempstead who permitted the Sandminers Monument Inc. to use the property. The site was chosen because it contains one of the last surviving tunnels used during the sand mining operations; additionally there is an exit gate that was constructed during the Colonial Sand and Stone Company’s operation which also serves as part of the exhibit.
Edward Jonas of Tallahassee, Florida, designed the life-size bronze sculptures representing three mineworkers as well as a miniature replica of lower Manhattan. The statues incorporate the symbolic images of the hardworking sand miners and the contributions they made of the development of New York City.
Sandminers Monument Inc. is a New York, not for profit, Type B Corporation, incorporated on February 24, 2004. The Internal Revenue Service granted the corporation tax exempt status under section 501© (3) of the Internal Revenue Code. The organization was founded to erect a monument to honor the mineworkers who labored in Port Washington for over 100 years. They supplied the bulk of the sand and gravel for the concrete used in the sidewalks, structures and skyscrapers of New York City. Sandminers Monument Inc. works in cooperation with the Town of North Hempstead who owns the site and has strongly supported the project.