Most early stone buildings in Hamilton were constructed from two local stones: a sandstone quarried at the base of the escarpment, and a dolomite quarried on the Mountain. This article gives the geological background, describes the two stones, and the his
By Gerard V. Middleton
Published August 18, 2011
In the nineteenth century, most fine buildings in Hamilton were built from two locally quarried stones: sandstone from quarries near the base of the Mountain, and dolomite from quarries on the Mountain. Both were used in the Pumphouse, constructed in 1859. For its history, see Hamilton's Old Pump House; for more photos see Historical Hamilton.
Figure 1: The Hamilton Waterworks: the stone at the base of the chimney is sandstone; the main building stone in the pumphouses is dolomite.
Generally, sandstone was the preferred stone for fine buildings, and was used in Hamilton from 1806 to the end of the 1850s. Only in the 1860s to 1880s was dolomite extensively used.
Where did the stone come from? The face of the Hamilton mountain, part of the Niagara escarpment, exposes the sedimentary rocks which were used to build Hamilton. Figure 2 shows a vertical section through the rocks which make up the escarpment.
Figure 2: Vertical section through the rocks (dots indicate sandstone, brick ornament is dolomite).
Near the base of the escarpment is the Whirlpool sandstone (named for the Whirlpool in the Niagara Gorge). It was quarried at several places in Hamilton and in Dundas. Figure 3 is a geological map, showing the outcrop of the Lockport dolomites in blue.
Figure 3: Geological map showing the outcrop of the Lockport (in blue). Yellow arrows indicate location of quarries in the Eramosa (crossed hammers).
The Lockport is divided into three units: the Gasport, the Ancaster Chert Beds, and the Eramosa. Only the Eramosa made a good building stone near Hamilton, though the Gasport produced an excellent stone in the Niagara area (the Queenston stone). For details on the local stratigraphy, see The Jolley Cut: Virtual Field Trip [PDF] and for more information on Niagara geology see Niagara Rocks, Building Stone, History and Wine [PDF].
The early city of Hamilton was built below the escarpment on the Queenston shale, and there were few good access roads up the escarpment until the mid 1850s. Most of the early buildings were built from the Whirlpool sandstone because:
So what is dolomite? Though commonly called "limestone", it differs from true limestone in important respects:
To tell the difference, test with a drop of acid: limestone fizzes, dolomite does not.
Figure 4: Whirlpool ashlar, in "The Castle" (now hidden behind the terrace at James St. South. Built in 1840).
Figure 5: Whirlpool sandstone ashlar (Rastrick House, 46 Forest Avenue; built in 1847).
Figure 6: The James St. South stone terrace, built 1856-1860. This is only one of many such terraces built about that time from Whirlpool sandstone (in both Hamilton and Dundas).
Figure 7: Sandyford Place, built in 1856-1864 - the finest terrace in Hamilton built of Whirlpool sandstone.
Compact sandstones, like the Whirlpool, are subject to "black soiling" when exposed to industrial pollution. Good examples can be seen in downtown Hamilton (and also on Hatt St in Dundas). For examples from Scotland, where sandstone was extensively used as a building stone, see Cleaning Sandstone: Risks and Consequences.
Figure 8: Church of the Ascension. Note the contrast between the grey stone of the entrance (added later and made of Eramosa dolomite) and the blackened Whirlpool sandstone used to construct the original church in 1851.
The Whirlpool sandstone was the most prized building stone in early nineteenth century southern Ontario. It was almost certainly used for Belleview, built in 1806 by James Durand and sold in 1815 to George Hamilton, and for the Gore District Courthouse built in 1832, Westlawn in 1836, the Gore Bank in 1840, the Bank of Upper Canada in 1856, and Arkledun in 1846 (all later demolished). Probably it was also used in the original Lister block (1852, destroyed by fire). It was also used to construct Darnley Grist Mill (1811) and Springdale (c. 1810) in West Flamborough, as well as many fine buildings in Queenston (1820s) and Dundas (1840s).
Surviving buildings in Hamilton include: the "Castle," Rastrick House, "Rock Castle," and Whitehern - all large homes built before 1850-the James Street, John St and Bold St terraces, built in the 1850s, the original Central School (1853), and three churches: Church of the Ascension (1851), St Pauls (1857), and MacNab Presbyterian (1857). Its value was recognized in the first major work on the Geology of Canada (1863) by William Logan.
In Hamilton and Dundas, the local Whirlpool sandstone ceased to be used as ashlar in the 1860s, because the local quarries were mostly worked out. It continued to be extensively used in smaller quantities for lintels and sills. After the construction of railroads in the 1880s, a new supply (from the Credit River Valley) became available.
Figure 9: The Durand house, built in 1806 at the base of the escarpment (and close to known quarries below the modern Jolley Cut). It was sold in 1815 to George Hamilton. The dangers of using the primitive roads up the escarpment were graphically described by Charles Durand in his [autobiography](http://www.archive.org/stream/reminiscencesofc00durauoft/reminiscencesofc00durauoft_djvu.txt). At that time, it was hardly possible to bring large loads of stone down from quarries on the Mountain.
In the second part, I describe the use of Eramosa dolomite from the Mountain, beginning with Carisma Church (1870), All Saints Church (1873), Christ Church Hall and School (1870), and Ascension Hall (1872). Thomas Connelly used Eramosa in St Patrick's and the James Street Baptist Churches, in the 1870s to 1880s.