In Rosendale, vast supplies of limestone deposits were used to create natural cement that formed some of the most recognizable structures in the country, including the US Treasury building, Grand Central Terminal, the Brooklyn Bridge and the pedestal of the Statue of Liberty. Estimates are that half of the limestone used in the natural cement of the time came from Rosendale, and the industry reached its peak in 1899.
Rosendale’s natural cement industry eventually lost its market to the quickly setting Portland cement, but it left behind underground cathedrals of sorts: vast spaces dominated by huge limestone pillars. Locally, the Widow Jane Mine in Rosendale and its unique acoustics are put to artistic use, hosting poetry readings, historic interpretations, concerts and recording sessions, independent filmmakers and this weekend, the return of Taiko drumming with Taiko Masala on Sunday, July 12 at 3 p.m. Proceeds benefit the all-volunteer nonprofit Century House Historical Society, located on the estate of former cement baron A. J. Snyder, home to the mine, at 668 Route 213 in Rosendale. Tickets cost $20 at the door. Bring a folding chair and perhaps a light jacket; according to Century House board member Gayle Grunwald, “The mine makes its own weather.”
It’s sort of a reversal, she explains. “Most of the mines in Rosendale are generally 58 degrees inside, approximately. But if it’s very hot outside, what you’re going to pick up is fog in the mine, and some condensation. And in the wintertime, it’s going to be the opposite. You can see this all over Rosendale where there are mined areas, in the cement region from High Falls to East Kingston. When it’s zero degrees outside, it looks like the hills are on fire because you’ve got all the condensation rising from the mine entrances, because the mines are warmer.”
The Widow Jane Mine, named for a Snyder relative, is largely horizontal with a flat floor and an underground lake. The mine is illuminated during concerts with white luminaria and hundreds of candles mounted on the pillars and wedged in rock crevices. The benefit concert Sunday is the major event of the season for the Historical Society, and will go on rain or shine.
Taiko is an ancient Japanese form of percussion using drums that range in size from approximately that of a snare drum (a “shime”) to drums the size of a car (the “o-daiko”). The most common drum size in Taiko is the “chu-daiko,” which is the size of a wine barrel.
And while many people think of Taiko drumming as being very loud, the Taiko Masala group has done several benefits in the Widow Jane Mine over the years, and Grunwald says that they know how to modulate their sound and work with the special acoustics inside the mine. “Taiko is very intense, but it’s not like you get blasted out,” she says. “There’s also some very soft sounds with the flute and the koto [the stringed national instrument of Japan]. There are some very complementary sounds along with the drumming.”
The Taiko Masala group was founded by master drummer Hiro Kurashima to combine the training and discipline of Japanese martial arts with the precision and power of complex drumming. “The Thunder Drummers,” as they bill themselves, make many of their own instruments.
The gates will open an hour before the concert, which will give visitors time to walk the property and view the outdoor sculpture show, “Excavate.” Curated by Laura Johansen, the group show is organized around a broad interpretation of excavation: “to expose to view by digging away a covering.” The artists featured in the exhibition include Chris Victor, Heather Hutchison, Kathy Goodell, Susan Meyer, Veleta Vancza, Karlos Carcamo, Micah Blumenthal, Chelsea Culpepper and John Cleater and Brian Dewan. Like last year’s outdoor sculpture presentation – the first held by the Century House Historical Society – most of the artists created their works as special site-responsive projects. The exhibit will remain on view through Labor Day weekend when the museum at the estate is open: Sundays from 1 to 4 p.m. or by appointment.
The museum exhibits and the Snyder Carriage and Sleigh Collection will also be open prior to the Taiko drumming event. The museum showcases cement industry artifacts and photographs from the Rosendale Natural Cement District, added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1992. Regular admission to the Snyder Estate is by a suggested donation of $5 for adults, $1 for children or $10 for a family. A $25 membership to the Historical Society brings free admission and other perqs related to the lectures and other programs hosted at the museum.
Taiko Masala, Sunday, July 12, 3 p.m., $20, Widow Jane Mine, A. J. Snyder Estate, 668 Route 213, Rosendale; (845) 658-9990, https://www.centuryhouse.org.