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Potsdam Sandstone and the Clarkson Family

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Thomas Clarkson and his brother, Levinus, were very close. Together, they ran the Clarkson farm of more than 1,000 acres until Levinus died unexpectedly in 1876.  “Deeply saddened by the loss of his devoted brother, Thomas gave up farming and focused his time on other business interests in Potsdam. By 1880 [when Annie was 24 years old], he owned and ran the sandstone quarries along the Raquette River employing about 50 people at the main quarry located near the present power plant in Hannawa Falls; further down the river in 1886 he opened a second quarry which employed over 100 men.”

“These sandstone quarries, worked since 1809, had furnished stone for many buildings in Potsdam and the area. Potsdam’s first sandstone building, a store at the corner of Market and Elm Street, was erected as an experiment to prove that the stone was practical for buildings. Later, three stone houses were built along Elm Street, followed over the years by other houses, by stores along Market Street, . . . and in 1835, by Trinity Church on Fall Island. All of these were built of the slab and binder type of stone cutting.”

“Half a century later, after 1876, under Thomas’ leadership and guidance, quarries began cutting stone in rough ashlar form for other buildings in Potsdam. . . From Thomas’ sandstone cutting sheds on Pine Street, sandstone was shipped all over the United States. . . It even was shipped to Canada where it was used in the construction of the $4 million Parliament Buildings in Ottawa.” (excerpts from “A Clarkson Mosiac,” by Bradford Broughton, 1995)

“On May 9, 1880, the following item appeared in the local newspaper: ‘The new stone quarry owned and managed by the Messrs. Clarksons is doing a thriving business and bids fair to put the old quarry in the back ground.’ And on February 2, 1886, there was a notice that Thomas S. Clarkson had lately secured a large stone contract that would give employment to over a hundred men during the next summer.” (excerpt from “The Clarkson Family of Potsdam,” by Marguerite Gurley Chapman, 1958 and 2002)

Clarkson buildings that were built with sandstone include:

Woodstock Lodge
BUILDING: Woodstock Lodge, built in 1827
DESCRIPTION: Built by Augustus L. Clarkson. This is the second of three homes built by the Clarkson family on the hill campus where Clarkson University now stands. Constructed of slab-and-binder sandstone, an addition was built c.1840. The home stood empty for years after 1855. The Clarkson sisters had it refurbished before 1909.

Old Main
BUILDING: Old Main, built in 1896
DESCRIPTION: The first building erected to house classes for the Thomas S. Clarkson Memorial School of Technology founded by three of Thomas' surviving sisters following his tragic death in 1894.

Old Snell
BUILDING: (Old) Snell Hall, built in 1917
DESCRIPTION: Neo-Classical Style. Snell Hall is another example of rough ashlar sandstone construction. It originally housed the Potsdam Normal School, and was the Potsdam State Teachers College until 1958, when it was given to Clarkson College. It was renamed for U.S. Congressman Bertrand H. Snell. This was the site of the St. Lawrence Academy (1825-68) and the first Normal School (1868-1918).

(Photos and descriptions from “Sandstone Timeline Illustrated” at the Potsdam Public Museum Web site at

You can learn more about Potsdam sandstone and the Potsdam quarries at these Potsdam Public Museum Web sites:
 “The Origin of Potsdam Sandstone,” by Dr. James Carl:

“Sandstone Building Styles”

“Sandstone Timeline Illustrated”

In 1893, Scientific American published an article, “The Potsdam Red Sandstone Company of Potsdam, New York.” Contact the Annie Clarkson Society for a copy.

(rev. 9/2013)

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