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Exhibit highlights quarry workers’ role with Parkway, Hamlin Beach

By Tom Rivers, Editor Posted 10 October 2014 at 12:00 am

DiLaura helped keep Sandstone industry alive

Provided photos – Pasquale DiLaura, right, and his son Ellis DiLaura discuss stone specifications. Ellis went on to succeed his father as owner of the O’Brien Quarry and DiLaura Construction.

This photo, taken about a half century ago shows the completed Manitou Road bridge over the Lake Ontario State Parkway. The DiLaura Stone Co. did the Medina Sandstone work on the bridges and culverts on the Lake Ontario State Parkway in the 1950s and 1960s, perhaps the last major public works project with local Medina Sandstone.

BROCKPORT – A new exhibit opens in Brockport today by the great-granddaughter of a man who kept the Medina Sandstone industry alive in Orleans County from the 1920s through the 1960s.

The sandstone business was a powerhouse in 1900, employing about 2,000 people. But by 1920, it was struggling against cheap competition – cement.

In the 1920s and ’30s, Pasquale DiLaura was urged to leave the Albion area and join many of his quarrymen friends who left the area to the work in the auto factories in Detroit and Michigan.

DiLaura decided to stay put. He bought a quarry on Howard Road in the Town of Clarendon. The quarry was cheap. Its previous owner, the Orleans County Quarry Company, hadn’t paid the taxes.

Workers are pictured at the O’Brien Quarry on Howard Road in the Town of Clarendon. Pasquale DiLaura purchased the O’Brien quarry in 1939 after the previous owner, the Orleans County Quarry Company, owed back taxes. Although his quarry company was named DiLaura Stone Co., he never changed the name of the quarry. This photo is one of about two dozen featured in an exhibit opening today at A Different Path Gallery on 27 Market St.

Sadie Malone, left, and Gerry DiGirolamo dress stone at the quarry.

While many of the quarries shut down, DiLaura kept promoting the product and gave it about 40 more years of life.

He wrote letters to U.S. senators and the Works Progress Administration in Washington, D.C., urging them to pick a project with Medina Sandstone for the public benefit. DiLaura led the crews that built the Hamlin Beach State Park. He taught the young men in the Civilian Conservation Corps how to cut stone. Many of those structures endure about 80 years after they were built.

Jennifer Wells-Dickerson was looking over family photographs, and showed them to a friend in an arts guild in Brockport. That friend helped Wells-Dickson enlarge and display photographs of her great-grandfather and his employees working in the quarry and on major local projects, including Hamlin Beach and the Parkway.

There is an opening reception for the exhibit today from 7 to 9 p.m. at A Different Path Gallery on 27 Market St.

Photo by Tom Rivers – Jennifer Wells-Dickerson and her mother Suzanne Wells are pictured in the gallery displaying photos of quarry workers in the 1950s and 1960s, with a few photos from before that era.

Wells-Dickerson, 34, works as a professional jewelry maker. She lives just across the Orleans County line in Hamlin. She first researched the local quarry industry as a high school student for a class project.

She has become more interested and appreciative of the quarry workers and her family’s role in the business because she sees the stonework almost every day at the Parkway and Hamlin Beach.

“I appreciate hand-made things and the craftsmanship,” she said. ‘It’s the opposite of what we have today.”

Her great-grandfather kept detailed records with his ledgers and calculations for how much stone would be needed for projects. Jennifer’s mother, Suzanne, remembers Pasquale always having a ruler in his pocket or hand.

Masons from the DiLaura Stone Co. check their work on the walkway on one of the bridges of the Lake Ontario State Parkway. Pasquale DiLaura is at center with the ruler.

This crew takes a break in 1962 while working in the quarry. Pictured include Roosevelt Fields (leaning on truck at left), Pasquale DiLaura (center), Sadie Malone, Gerry DiGirolamo, (?) Passarell, Margaret Ann DiLaura, and Ellis DiLaura (in cab).

Suzanne, a retired Albion art teacher, has looked over Pasquale’s records and developed deep respect for his drive to keep the industry alive in the county – and keep local men employed.

He was a Medina Sandstone ambassador and persuasive salesmen, securing the contracts and work at Hamlin Beach and the Parkway. The family also has his rough drafts of letters he sent to Cleveland and other cities, suggesting Medina Sandstone for public works projects.

The Brockport exhibit includes one of his drawings of the Manitou Bridge stone work, a list of names of his employees and a letter from the Albion branch of the Journeymen Stone Cutters Association of North America.

The union sent a letter on May 27, 1938 to Harry L. Hopkins, director of the W.P.A. in Washington, D.C. The letter says that Pasquale DiLaura had operated a quarry for 20 years, including during the Great Depression, keeping “a large number” of the stone cutters on the payroll even without an outlet for the material.

The Stone Cutters said, in its letter to the WPA, that DiLaura “has proven himself a real friend of the working men of this community.”

DiLaura would pass the business to his son Ellis, Suzanne’s father.

Wells-Dickerson hopes the exhibit in Brockport will shine a light on the quarry workers.

“A lot of people drive down there and they don’t know who’s behind it,” she said.

She also hopes to have the exhibit at other locations, including libraries and galleries in Orleans County.

Photo by Jennifer Wells-Dickerson – The DiLaura Construction Company did the stone work on the culverts and bridges along the Lake Ontario State Parkway.