There is a rock solid connection between Buckingham Palace, the Brooklyn Bridge, the NYS Capitol Building’s grand (and I do mean grand!) staircase, and Buffalo’s Richardson Olmsted Complex.
So what exactly is Medina Sandstone?
Medina is a village roughly 40 miles northeast of Buffalo. Sandstone is sedimentary rock made up of sand, usually quartz, cemented together by various substances, such as silica. The color can range from light grey or white to a dark reddish brown.
The sandstone was discovered when the Erie Canal was being dug in Medina in 1824. A man by the name of John Ryan opened the first quarry in 1837. And the rest so to speak, is history.
You see, for the next hundred years or so, sandstone became the ‘go to’ building material, being utilized in everything from parts of Buckingham Palace to curbs. That’s right, I said curbs. Take a look at the curbs in some of the older, or more historic communities here in Buffalo. They are a lovely shade of pinkish red. Medina. Sandstone.
Sandstone also feels somewhat gritty to the touch, and never really wears smooth, making it perfect for cobblestone streets (horses hooves wouldn’t slip) and sidewalks. It is also much easier to work with than limestone, although sandstone is a much harder, more durable material. Add that the sandstone was relatively inexpensive to move along the Erie Canal into Buffalo, which was building like mad through most of the 19th and well into the 20th centuries, and you have a perfect storm.
Sandstone is strong, fireproof, and durable making it perfect for building everything from homes to bridges to, well, palaces. In Buffalo it was used to build the now infamous Richardson Olmsted Complex, many churches, multiple buildings, and private homes, including that of William Wicks of Green & Wicks, one of Buffalo’s most prolific architectural firms.
Sandstone also built a huge economy in Orleans County, where Medina is located. At one point the Orleans County quarries employed upwards of 2,000 workers.
By 1920, however, cement became a more popular, more economical substitute for sandstone and the quarries began to shut down. Today, there is still plenty of sandstone out there, but only one quarry remains in Orleans County. It’s just become too expensive when compared with the alternatives.
So, you could say that Medina Sandstone has played a significant role in Buffalo architecture. And the next time you’re out and about in Buffalo, look around. You’ll be noticing it everywhere now.