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Buffalo Armory cited as perfect example of Medina Sandstone – on a massive scale

Posted 26 October 2015 at 9:00 am
Buffalo Armory rendering

Provided images – This shows a drawing of the massive Armory in Buffalo, which last Thursday was inducted into the Medina Sandstone Hall of Fame.

Press Release, New York State Division of Military & Naval Affairs

BUFFALO – The New York State Division of Military and Naval Affairs Connecticut Street Armory was one of four structures inducted into the Medina Sandstone Hall of Fame on Thursday, Oct. 22.

The massive 116 year-old building was recognized by the Medina Sandstone Society during a ceremony in which it’s photograph and a short history was added to the Hall of Fame located in the Medina City Hall.

Other structures honored by the group, which is dedicated to noting the importance of the local sandstone in the architectural history of the region, are St. John’s Episcopal Church in Medina; Martin Manor, a private residence in Buffalo; and St. Mary’s Roman Catholic Church in Holley.

Like most monumental 19th Century buildings in western New York and Buffalo, the Armory, which occupies 4.87 acres on Buffalo’s west side, was constructed of a specific type of sandstone which was discovered in Orleans County during the 1820s as the Erie Canal was being built.

“It was a very popular building material because of its strength and beauty,” explained Donald Colquhoun, one of the Medina Sandstone Society trustees and a member of the hall of Fame committee. “At one time there were over 30 quarries here in Orleans County.”

The Connecticut Street Armory is a perfect example of Medina sandstone construction on a massive scale, he said. The building is 280,362 square feet.

When picking nominations for its Hall of Fame, the group looks for historically and architecturally significant buildings that have weathered the period of time. It also needs to be a building that is beautifully maintained, Colquhoun said.

For these reasons, the Armory was an easy pick to make the 2015 list of outstanding Medina sandstone buildings maintained by the Sandstone Society, Colquhoun said.

The Medina sandstone is an amazing building material, said Joe Murray, the regional superintendent for the state armories in western New York. The stone in the Connecticut Street Armory looks just as good today as it did when the structure was completed in 1899, Murray said.

Buffalo Armory street view

The Armory in Buffalo is monstrous at nearly 300,000 square feet.

Taking its name from the village of Medina which was in the heart of the quarry area, the sandstone was durable, came in shades ranging from white, to red, to brown, to pink, and was fireproof.

“It last literally forever,” Colquhoun said. “In buildings that were built 150 years ago the sandstone looks the same.”

In the days prior to steel framed, concrete structures, Medina sandstone was the go-to material for large-scale construction, Colquhoun said.

The famous “Million Dollar Staircase” in the New York State Capital is constructed of Medina sandstone and blocks were shipped across the country. There is even Medina sandstone incorporated into work in Buckingham Palace in London, Colquhoun said.

So when the New York National Guard’s 74th Regiment began building its massive new home in 1897, it was only natural that the building designer, Williams Lansing, who was a captain in the 74th Regiment, decided to use sandstone from the nearby quarries around Medina.

The initial cost of the building was too high. The state was willing to pay $400,000 for the armory and the low bid was $600,000 for a Medina sandstone building.

But Lansing didn’t want to build the armory of brick, so the modified the design to get the contractor to come in under budget.

When it was finished in 1899 the Connecticut Street Armory was the largest National Guard armory in the United States. It was also empty inside.

The state had agreed to pay for the building, the interior details had to be paid for by the 74th Regiment. So from Oct. 23 to Nov. 6, 1899 the soldiers hosted a bazaar inside the armory, which included food vendors and exhibits.

Buffalo Armory under construction

This picture shows the Armory under construction during the horse-and-carriage era.

Among those exhibits, according to the book New York’s Historic Armories were a 30-foot-high replica of a medieval castle filled with period weapons and armor and a reproduction of San Juan Hill, which was stormed at regular intervals by the Guardsmen of the 74th.

One of the selling points of sandstone construction was its resistance to fire. When the massive drill hall of the armory caught fire in 1982 – 120 trucks were stored there – the Medina sandstone pretty much performed as expected, Murray said.

While the roof and interiors of the drill shed burned, the Medina sandstone walls remained mostly intact.

The sandstone walls didn’t go totally unscathed, Murray said. When DMNA rebuilt the structure some sandstone on the west end of the building had to be replaced. Doing so meant reopening the quarry the stone came from in 1898 and cutting stone to match, he said.

Murray, who is responsible for 31 armories from Gloversville to Jamestown, thinks it was worth it.

“It is a castle that is incredibly kept up by DMNA,” he said. “It is a showplace of the community, of an era when things were outstanding in the 1880s and 1890s.”