Lehigh County Opens New Cement Museum

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The Saylor Park Cement Industry Museum, located in Coplay, Pennsylvania, is the fourth historical museum to be opened in recent months by Lehigh County as part of its Bicentennial celebration. It is the result of cooperation between the county government and the Coplay Cement Manufacturing Company, whose executives were convinced that the preservation of Coplay’s Schoefer kilns would provide a fitting memorial to the founding of the’ cement industry in Lehigh County and the Lehigh Valley.

The company gave the land and the kilns to the county, which supplied the funds for construction of a park and museum and the preservation of the kilns. The leader of this effort was Dr. Donald B. Hoffman, at the time a commissioner of Lehigh County and chairman of its Parks and Recreation Commission, fully supported by Paul Lentz, then president of Coplay Cement.

The entire complex is named in honor of David O. Saylor, a native of Lehigh County, who is regarded generally as .the founder of the American Portland Cement industry. The park and museum are based upon the nine vertical, or Schoefer, kilns which were erected by Coplay Cement, the company Saylor founded, in 1892-1893. Although the kilns have not been used for many years, and although they have suffered some damage, only one of the ten original kilns had been lost completely before the preservation process was begun. The park and museum also honor the men and women who built the Portland cement industry into one of the most important in the Lehigh Valley and in the nation.

Several factors led to the development of the Portland cement industry in the Lehigh Valley. The first was the availability of a basic natural resource found in certain limestone formations. The second was proximity to large markets and access to railroads serving those markets. The third was David 0. Saylor, whose vision, daring, tenacity and ingenuity made him a pioneering entrepreneur.

David Saylor organized the Coplay Cement Company in 1866 to manufacture natural cement utilizing limestone quarried near the small village of Coplay. Shortly thereafter, Saylor began experiments to develop a process for the manufacture of Portland cement. In 1871, he obtained a patent for his process. Recognition of its quality came in the Centennial Exhibition and, in a more substantial way in 1878, when his cement was purchased by the federal government for the construction of the Eads Jetties at the mouth of the Mississippi River. He died in 1884 before the American Portland cement industry had undergone sub­stantial growth.

A major problem of the early industry was the intermittent production of clinker, the chief manufactured element in cement, resulting from the use of the dome or bottle kiln. In order to increase production and improve quality, efforts were made to develop a kiln capable of continuous production. One answer was the rotary kiln, which was first constructed by Frederick Ransome in Great Britain in 1885. An early American experiment with the rotary kiln was made by Jose F. DeNavarro at the first plant of the Keystone Cement Company, located directly north of Mill A of the Coplay Cement Company. By 1895 DeNavarro had succeeded in developing the profitable use of the rotary kiln.

A second answer was the vertical brick kiln which had been pioneered successfully in Germany. Coplay Cement built eleven Schoefer kilns, a Danish modification of the German type, ten of which were erected in 1892-1893 as the center of Mill B. They could not compete with the rapidly evolving rotary kiln. Coplay built its first rotary kiln in 1899 and discontinued use of the Schoefer kilns in 1904.

Other Lehigh Valley companies were organized. Produc­tion of Portland cement in the Lehigh District rose from 201,000 barrels in 1890 to over 6 million barrels in 1900, and in that year the Lehigh District produced 72 percent of the Portland cement used in the United States.

Visitors to the park can not only enjoy the view of the nine vertical kilns but also one of the beautiful Lehigh River with three modern cement plants in the distance. The various ethnic strains found in the population of Northampton, a typical cement town, are reflected in the contrasting church steeples to be seen across the river. Inside the mu­seum, visitors can walk into a kiln and see what it actually looked like. In another exhibit, they can see cooper’s tools, cloth bags, and an original wooden cement barrel. Still another display illustrates the geologic strata which led to the location of the industry in the Lehigh Valley. Various photographs, drawings, and building plans illuminate high points in the history of local firms, in the process of making cement, and contemporary uses of concrete. A special ex­hibit depicts the work pattern and way of life of workers. At all times, visitors can see the Schoefer kilns through the overhead skylight. As they walk about the park, they will find four outdoor pylons which explain phases in the his­tory of the cement industry.

Coplay is located about two miles north of Allentown on the west bank of the Lehigh River. It can be reached from U.S. 22 and MacArthur Road. The museum is open every Saturday and Sunday afternoon from 1-4 P.M. and, at other times, by appointment. Appointments can be made by calling Mahlon H. Hellerich at (215) 434-9471, ext. 305.