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Sandstone Nation: Bilger’s Rocks

Sep 06, 2017 12:14PM ● Published by Melanie Heisinger

Ken Boris stands beside the creamy sandstone that went into the U.S. Capitol Visitor Center

Gallery: Sandstone Nation [10 Images] Click any image to expand.

Not many people know about Bilger’s Rocks, but many people know neighboring Russell Stone—the center of Pennsylvania’s kingdom of Homewood Sandstone, the signature of high-profile structures nationwide.
 

Sandstone Nation   

Story and photographs by Bill Rozday
 
Bilger’s Rocks showcases
the famous Homewood Sandstone

Bilger’s Rocks are up there in that nondescript high country, where the geographic preference splits between Allegheny and Susquehanna.  Drive south on Route 219 from Du Bois to Grampion, turn left at a classic hardware store spilling out onto an intersection, turn left again at a humble railroad overpass.  Bilger’s Rocks are a complex of huge Homewood Sandstone cliffs set in hemlock trees and garnished with ferns.
 
Within a stone’s throw is Russell Stone.  The U.S. Capitol Visitor Center, the University of Virginia at Charlottesville and the Philadelphia Museum of Art all bear silent ties to pits on the mountaintop behind the quarry office—and to the sandstone, the same Homewood Sandstone that’s down the road at lonely Bilger’s Rocks.
 

Narrow waves vs broad ones 

Into the office, past the sandstone counter and Dan Russell’s whitetail buck mounts and hearty
greeting, then down into the pit with host Ken Boris I went.  A world of creamy white stone spread out around us.  “We are 20 feet below the surface,” Boris told me.
 
Ken provided a brief overview of the surrounding geology that yielded the prized stone. Coal was a presence, with strip mining evident along the road south of Du Bois and a minor deposit scattered over the upper edge of the quarry. On one corner of the pit, the forces of erosion on the high ground degraded the quality of the sandstone, forcing the stone harvest underground.  Aspen and fire cherry and red maple flourished.
 
He pointed out a wondrous slab marked with a wavy grain. “This comes at a higher price,” he said of the markings.  The University of Virginia examined the aesthetics of this grain meticulously for their purchase, so far as to select narrow waves over broad ones.
 
Such diverse links notwithstanding, the sandstone of Russell Stone reaffirms Central Pennsylvania. At Ole Bull State Park, their sandstone built a grand comfort station of pink, tan and white blocks. Poe Valley State Park has contracted for a new office. This stone is upgrading high-profile places permanently.
 

New push for local products

Premium-grade Russell Stone sandstone shows off a swirled pattern

Mike Twigg, section chief of architectural design with the DCNR, cites a new push for local products in their projects. When state architects consider a project, they look at native material in the vicinity. They use it to fuse environment and park.
 
This ties in with history. The Civilian Conservation Corps of Great Depression years built many state park structures using readily available material. Their rustic picnic shelter floor, built of native flagstone and polished by generations of footfalls, remains at Ole Bull.  “We want to continue where the CCC left off,” Twigg explains.
 
Not all sandstone is alike, and architects recognize this. There is absorption measurement to consider, and compressive strength. Cycles of rainy weather call for a stone with a low absorption measurement, meaning that it sheds water rather than absorbing it. Building a dam, however, requires high compressive strength, so that the stone resists stress while lying beneath other stone.
 
Russell Stone products grade out well technically. Stone from its Eagle Ridge quarry yields an absorption figure of 1.18, nearly 50 percent below a typical liquid-absorbing value. The same stone boasts a compressive strength figure of 20,000, near the known upper limit.
 
Such qualities led to the building of famous structures such as Princeton’s University Chapel and Pitt’s Cathedral of Learning. These ventures are part of a lengthy history that began in the mid-1800s, when this stone was referred to simply as Curwensville Sandstone, for the nearby town.  The quarries closed in the Depression era, to reopen as Russell Stone in 2002.
 

Newer, less laborious operation

 

Operations here that employed hundreds of laborers 90 years ago now produce sandstone in a lean, clean fashion.  C-4 explosive splits off neat slabs of undamaged sandstone, reducing labor.  Imposing sawblades break it up. What residual material remains is cycled into other uses such as erosion control that demand smaller chunks of stone.
 
Homewood Sandstone has a long history predating its cultural one. Before it became the Philadelphia Museum of Art steps that Rocky Balboa ran up—absolutely true—it was identified geologically in Homewood, a location in Beaver County. Its history then extends 300 million more years.
 
The hayscented ferns of Bilger’s Rocks grow on the extinct beach of the extinct Iapetus Sea.  Successive episodes of sedimentary overlay and compacting converted loose sand into solid rock. This marine origin explains the decidedly beach-like colors of stone that Russell Stone markets—pinks, tans, creams.
 
On my way back from the mountain, I visited State College—Geology 101—and stopped at the Nittany Lion Shrine.  Graduates were taking turns climbing atop the tawny mountain lion for photo ops.  The beast crouched atop a Central Pennsylvania mountain ledge recreated with Russell Stone’s PA-affirming sandstone.
 
Bill Rozday writes frequently about aspects of mountain Pennsylvania.

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    11:00AM — 07:00PM

    Books become the canvas for contemporary artists in this national juried exhibition. Exhibition i...


  • "The Blues Show"

    02/12/2018
    10:00AM — 06:00PM

    What does "blue" mean to you? Make work that shows it -- the color blue, Blues music, blue in th...


  • Adobe InDesign

    02/12/2018
    06:00PM — 09:00PM

    Adobe InDesign DES 154, Monday & Wednesday, January 29 - February 28 6 p.m. - 9 p.m., 1 credit,...


  • Illuminated Letters

    02/12/2018
    06:00PM — 09:00PM

    Illuminated Letters CE 206, Monday, January 29 - February 26 6 p.m. - 9 p.m., $195 Matt Chapma...


  • "The Blues Show"

    02/13/2018
    10:00AM — 06:00PM

    What does "blue" mean to you? Make work that shows it -- the color blue, Blues music, blue in th...


  • Homeschool Art Studio Ages 6-13

    02/13/2018
    10:30AM — 11:30AM

    Homeschool Art Studio Ages 6-13 YS 40, Tuesday, January 30 - March 20 10:30 a.m. - 11:30 a.m....


  • Books Undone

    02/13/2018
    11:00AM — 07:00PM

    Books become the canvas for contemporary artists in this national juried exhibition. Exhibition i...


  • Homeschool Physical Education

    02/13/2018
    01:00PM — 02:00PM

    Students engage in moderate to vigorous physical activity through a variety of enjoyable game...


  • Business Practices for Creatives

    02/13/2018
    06:00PM — 09:00PM

    Business Practices for Creatives DES 200, Tuesday, January 30 - April 3 6 p.m. - 9:00 p.m., 1 c...


  • HTML5 & Website Design

    02/13/2018
    06:00PM — 09:00PM

    HTML5 & Website Design DES 155, Tuesday, January 30 - April 3 6 p.m. - 9 p.m., 1 credit, $475 ...


  • Drawing (Portrait & Figure)

    02/13/2018
    06:00PM — 09:00PM

    Drawing (Portrait & Figure) CE 91, Tuesday, January 30 - March 20 6 p.m. - 9 p.m., $245 Evan ...


  • Intro to Social Media Marketing

    02/13/2018
    06:00PM — 09:00PM

    Intro to Social Media Marketing SM 101, Tuesday & Thursday, January 30 - March 1 6 p.m. - 9 p.m...


  • Acrylic Painting and Mixed Media

    02/13/2018
    06:00PM — 09:00PM

    Acrylic Painting and Mixed Media CE 238, Tuesday, January 30- March 6 6 p.m. - 9 p.m., $215 Ju...


  • "The Blues Show"

    02/14/2018
    10:00AM — 06:00PM

    What does "blue" mean to you? Make work that shows it -- the color blue, Blues music, blue in th...


  • Homeschool Hangout

    02/14/2018
    11:00AM — 01:00PM

    Every other Wednesday 11-1p.m. during the school year beginning Jan. 17th-Apr. 25th.Parent/child ...


  • Books Undone

    02/14/2018
    11:00AM — 07:00PM

    Books become the canvas for contemporary artists in this national juried exhibition. Exhibition i...


  • Adobe InDesign

    02/14/2018
    06:00PM — 09:00PM

    Adobe InDesign DES 154, Monday & Wednesday, January 29 - February 28 6 p.m. - 9 p.m., 1 credit,...


  • From a graffiti artist in the favelas (slums) of Brazil raising awareness about domestic violence...


  • "The Blues Show"

    02/15/2018
    10:00AM — 06:00PM

    What does "blue" mean to you? Make work that shows it -- the color blue, Blues music, blue in th...


  • Books Undone

    02/15/2018
    11:00AM — 07:00PM

    Books become the canvas for contemporary artists in this national juried exhibition. Exhibition i...


  • iMAKE

    02/15/2018
    04:30PM — 05:30PM

    This a-la-carte class series offers both art and science projects for children ages 6-12. String ...


  • Intro to Social Media Marketing

    02/15/2018
    06:00PM — 09:00PM

    Intro to Social Media Marketing SM 101, Tuesday & Thursday, January 30 - March 1 6 p.m. - 9 p.m...


  • Intro to Video Production & Short Film

    02/15/2018
    06:00PM — 09:00PM

    Intro to Video Production & Short Film DES 178, Thursday, February 1 - April 5 6 p.m. - 9 p.m.,...


  • Design Principles & Typography

    02/15/2018
    06:00PM — 09:00PM

    Design Principles & Typography DES 150, Thursday, February 1 - April 5 6 p.m. - 9 p.m., 1 credi...


  • The Art of Felting: 2-D Composition

    02/15/2018
    06:00PM — 09:00PM

    The Art of Felting: 2-D Composition CE 239, Thursday, February 1 - March 22 6 p.m. - 9 p.m., $...


  • Oil Painting

    02/15/2018
    06:00PM — 09:00PM

    Oil Painting CE 169, Thursday, February 1 - March 22 6 p.m. - 9 p.m., $245 Michael Allen Ex...


  • "The Blues Show"

    02/16/2018
    10:00AM — 06:00PM

    What does "blue" mean to you? Make work that shows it -- the color blue, Blues music, blue in th...


  • Music Together Family Classes

    02/16/2018
    10:00AM — 12:00PM

    Runs for 8 weeks on Fridays Session A: 10-11am Session B: 11:15-12:15pm Music Together® is a f...


  • Books Undone

    02/16/2018
    11:00AM — 07:00PM

    Books become the canvas for contemporary artists in this national juried exhibition. Exhibition i...


  • Homework Happy Hour Tutoring

    02/16/2018
    03:00PM — 04:15PM

    Fridays 3-4:15 p.m. during the school year beginning Feb.9th.  Bloomsburg University Education...


  • The 5th annual Destination Blues Music Festival comes to 18 venues in Columbia and Montour Count...


  • "The Blues Show"

    02/17/2018
    10:00AM — 06:00PM

    What does "blue" mean to you? Make work that shows it -- the color blue, Blues music, blue in th...


  • chttp://engage.pcad.edu/winter2018

    02/17/2018
    10:00AM — 12:00PM

    Young Artists Academy for Grades 6.7.8.9 YS13, Saturday, January 27 - March 17 10a.m. - 12 p.m....


  • Youth Studio Art I for Grades 1.2.3

    02/17/2018
    10:00AM — 12:00PM

    Youth Studio Art I for Grades 1.2.3 YS11, Saturday, January 27 - March 17 10 a.m. - 12 p.m., $1...


  • Youth Studio Art II for Grades 4.5

    02/17/2018
    10:00AM — 12:00PM

    Youth Studio Art II for Grades 4.5 YS12, Saturday, Saturday, Saturday, January 27 - March 17 10...


  • Intergenerational Drawing (8 & up)

    02/17/2018
    10:00AM — 12:00PM

    Intergenerational Drawing (8 & up) CE 189, Saturday, January 27 - March 3 10 a.m. - 12 p.m., $1...


  • Short Story Writing

    02/17/2018
    10:00AM — 12:00PM

    Short Story Writing CE 208, Saturday, January 27 - March 3 (no class on February 24) 10 a.m. - ...


  • Sit Next to Me

    02/17/2018
    03:00PM — 04:00PM

    Wouldn’t it be nice to hear a positive, interesting, heartfelt, sad, weird, and even funny sharin...


  • The 5th annual Destination Blues Music Festival comes to 18 venues in Columbia and Montour Count...


  • Books Undone

    02/18/2018
    11:00AM — 07:00PM

    Books become the canvas for contemporary artists in this national juried exhibition. Exhibition i...


  • The 5th annual Destination Blues Music Festival comes to 18 venues in Columbia and Montour Count...


  • "The Blues Show"

    02/19/2018
    10:00AM — 06:00PM

    What does "blue" mean to you? Make work that shows it -- the color blue, Blues music, blue in th...


  • Adobe InDesign

    02/19/2018
    06:00PM — 09:00PM

    Adobe InDesign DES 154, Monday & Wednesday, January 29 - February 28 6 p.m. - 9 p.m., 1 credit,...


  • Illuminated Letters

    02/19/2018
    06:00PM — 09:00PM

    Illuminated Letters CE 206, Monday, January 29 - February 26 6 p.m. - 9 p.m., $195 Matt Chapma...


  • $2 Tuesday

    02/20/2018
    10:00AM — 04:00PM

    Third Tuesday of the month, $2 admission all day! The Exchange willhost hands-on Art Cart projec...


  • "The Blues Show"

    02/20/2018
    10:00AM — 06:00PM

    What does "blue" mean to you? Make work that shows it -- the color blue, Blues music, blue in th...


  • Homeschool Art Studio Ages 6-13

    02/20/2018
    10:30AM — 11:30AM

    Homeschool Art Studio Ages 6-13 YS 40, Tuesday, January 30 - March 20 10:30 a.m. - 11:30 a.m....


  • Books Undone

    02/20/2018
    11:00AM — 07:00PM

    Books become the canvas for contemporary artists in this national juried exhibition. Exhibition i...


  • Homeschool Physical Education

    02/20/2018
    01:00PM — 02:00PM

    Students engage in moderate to vigorous physical activity through a variety of enjoyable game...


  • Explorer Club

    02/20/2018
    04:30PM — 05:30PM

    What is an Exploring Club? Clubs are for boys and girls between 10 and 14 years old who are inter...


  • Business Practices for Creatives

    02/20/2018
    06:00PM — 09:00PM

    Business Practices for Creatives DES 200, Tuesday, January 30 - April 3 6 p.m. - 9:00 p.m., 1 c...


  • HTML5 & Website Design

    02/20/2018
    06:00PM — 09:00PM

    HTML5 & Website Design DES 155, Tuesday, January 30 - April 3 6 p.m. - 9 p.m., 1 credit, $475 ...


  • Drawing (Portrait & Figure)

    02/20/2018
    06:00PM — 09:00PM

    Drawing (Portrait & Figure) CE 91, Tuesday, January 30 - March 20 6 p.m. - 9 p.m., $245 Evan ...


  • Intro to Social Media Marketing

    02/20/2018
    06:00PM — 09:00PM

    Intro to Social Media Marketing SM 101, Tuesday & Thursday, January 30 - March 1 6 p.m. - 9 p.m...


  • Acrylic Painting and Mixed Media

    02/20/2018
    06:00PM — 09:00PM

    Acrylic Painting and Mixed Media CE 238, Tuesday, January 30- March 6 6 p.m. - 9 p.m., $215 Ju...



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