Hydraulic cement in canal construction

     Remnants of hydraulic cement company in Utica, Illinois

  Black ball mines kiln for manufacture of hydraulic cement.    

     One may wonder why a blog dedicated to the I and M Canal would have an entry about hydraulic cement.  What is hydraulic cement?  Simply stated, it is a type of cement t that hardens after contact with water.  There are actually multiple type of this cement based on ingredients and method of manufacture.

     1) Portland cement is probably the most common.  It is produced by heating clay and limestone.  The mixture is broken down to a powder both before and after heating.  The name Portland is based on the hardened cement resemblance to a stone found on an island off the coast of England.

     2) Natural cement.  This is produced by heating limestone or magnesium limestone.  There is no crushing before heating.  No additional ingredients are added.  After the heating process, the mixture crushed and pulverized.  In Europe, limestone is used.    This is called Roman cement. In the U.S., magnesium limestone is used.  This is called Rosendale Cement.

     Pozzuolana is a combination of silica, alumina mixed with lime.  When this is made into mortar, it behaves as hydraulic cement.   Originally, it was found in Possuoli,Italy.  

     There is a volcanic earth that resembles Pozzuoluna.  It is called Grass.  It is found along the Rhine River and in Holland.

      The construction of the Erie Canal in New York marked a turning point in the history of canal construction in the United States.  This project took place between 1817–1825.  To begin with the length of the canal was extraordinary for the time period.   Also, many innovations developed during the project were used in future projects.  

     One of the engineers hired for the canal was Canvass White.   He was a very intelligent and resourceful individual.  Before construction started, he took it upon himself to travel to England and study their canal systems.  While there he learned much about hydraulic cement.  This was used in the construction of their locks.

     When he returned home to New York, he searched and found a deposit of rock near Chittenango (New York).  This rock when heated and pulverized produced hydraulic cement. White patented the process for producing the cement. In the area, he and his brother set up a plant to produce hydraulic cement for the Erie Canal.   This was used in the manufacture of locks, aqueducts, and piers for bridges.  It was also used on locks in the Middlesex Canal an the C and O Canal.

     Now we fast forward to the period of 1836-1848.  It was during this time that the canal between the Chicago River in Chicago to the Illinois River in LaSalle was being constructed.   This canal ultimately had 15 locks constructed with limestone blocks.  Hydraulic cement was used as the mortar substance.  There were aqueducts at Nettle Creek in Morris, Aux Sable Creek in Aux Sable, Fox River in Ottawa, and Little Vermilion River in LaSalle.  The piers of these structures were made with limestone cemented with hydraulic cement.  The piers of the bridges were made of limestone cemented with hydraulic cement.

     The builders of the I and M Canal were fortunate that naturally occurring raw materials were found in the area.  Limestone was discovered  in Utica during construction in 1837.  

     In 1838, Norton and Steele built their hydraulic cement mill in the Utica area.  They supplied the I and M Canal from 1838 to 1842.  Their operations were bought out by James Clark.   This individual was also responsible for the founding of the Black ball Mines and Mill along the Pecumsaugen Creek near Utica.   Clark and Sons were in operation from 1845–1883.  They moved the mill to Washington Street in 1889.  They operated here as the Utica Hydraulic Cement Company until 1947.

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