Whenever I visit my mother in the western suburbs of Syracuse, I mountain bike a couple hours a day in an extensive network of trails that was originally part of the limestone Split Rock quarry, which had been in existence since the early 1800s. The only thing left is a large stone crusher that went into operation in 1903.
To transport the crushed limestone from the quarry to a soda ash plant in a neighboring village, a 3.25-mile elevated tramway, somewhat similar to a modern ski lift and considered an “engineering marvel” back then, was built. According to the Town of Onondaga Historical Society, loaded buckets coming down full to the plant helped carry the empty buckets back.
Over the years, I’ve always stumbled upon building foundations, railroad spikes, old metal fences, and other industrial detritus, and wondered why they were in the middle of a “mature” forest.
Today, I got a quick history lesson when I ran into a well informed local, Deb, who was touring the site with some friends.
As the story goes, early in World War One, around 1917, the quarry was transformed into a munitions factory to manufacture TNT for Russia. The floors of the factory were made of a fortified ceramic material that allowed extremely poisonous picric acid to drain through.
On July 2, 1918, 92 years ago today, a fire led to a violent explosion that killed at least 50 employees. Over a ton of TNT blew up, but if the fire had spread to a nearby section where 400 tons of TNT were stored, the entire city of Syracuse would have been destroyed. A fascinating story — I’ll have to get my hands on this book and learn more about The Night The Rock Blew Up.
Riding is fun in and of itself, but it’s great to learn the back story of a place I only knew as mountain biking trails.
27 comments on “Split Rock Quarry, NY”
Hey James, nice to meet you yesterday and thanks for listening to the “history” lesson. As you might guess, I could have gone on and on as I really love the wealth of history in this place. And how fortuitous that you were there on the 92nd anniversary of the explosion. Anyway, we ended up having a BLAST as well!!!! Be well, keep riding and writing.
Thanks for checking in, Deb. I’m now a confirmed Split Rock fan and plan to track down that book written about the blast. Another interesting part of the quarry is that there is a cottage industry of ghost freaks who believe Split Rock to be ground zero for all sorts of X File-esque activity.
Check out this bit of inspired hokum from the Paranormal & Ghost Society.
James … nice piece of uncovered New York State history. That website for the Paranormal is really creepy!
Historical interest always makes a biking, hiking or cross-country ski trip more enjoyable. Years ago I enjoyed quite a bit of mountain biking around the former Barton Mines site on the back side of Gore. It was interesting seeing all the evidence of the mining activity that happened there from the late 1800s through the early 1980s. No evidence of paranormal activity there that I’m aware of, though. By the way, I wonder if there’s any residual poisonous acid left in that ceramic flooring material pictured above… Could explain some of the ghost freaks.
Not sure how long it takes that kind of acid to break down. 92 years is a long time. I’m fascinated by industrial archeology, especially things that I have a personal connection to.
I am reading on different sites that the Quarry trails are off-limits, and some people have been ticketed by local law enforcement. I live a few miles from the site and would love to bike there. Do you have any additional info on whether that land is open?
Several years ago on the mtbr.com trail reviews site, I remember a few people going on about being ticketed/fined at the quarry and claiming that the entrance from Kasson Road was private property. I never paid attention to it, and no one else seems to either. People park right next to the trailhead there and openly unload their ATVs, MTBs, and dogs, and head in. The only no-trespassing signs I’ve ever seen in the entire quarry area were along the old Canada Hill section. Even the steel gate blocking the road near the stonecrusher was removed.
I have no information one way or the other. Let us know if you learn anything — I live four hours away.
The munitions plant was ready to go in 1915 if you face the crusher and follow the left arm on the outside all the way back until you reach the cliff look on your right, where they blocked in the doorway right in the middle you’ll see a date where the mason left the date “1915”. The ceramic tile in the photo with all the holes was made by the Charles Grahm co. out of I believe Brooklyn and was used as a filtering platform. [email protected]
Many years ago, when I was a kid, I lived in Fairmount. The roads going up the hill from West Genesee Street ended at Jane Drive. If you walked up to the water tank (there was only one at the time) at the end of Skyview Terrace, you could walk across country to the quarry.
The DPW had a facility there then and the only way you could see the stone crusher was to sneak through a hole in the fence. You could even see a ruined building in the distance that was supposed to have been part of the munitions plant. From my house,you could see a tunnel that supposedly carried the tramway from the quarry to Solvay Process through a hill. I’d love to hike around a bit back there now that it's opened up.
Very interesting. I just wandered around today for the first time with my camera. Glad to read some history on it. I’d love to hear more. That book should be scanned so we can enjoy it online.
A group of people are exploring the idea of forming an organization to maintain and encourage the use of the trails throughout the State-owned section of Split Rock, which is extensive (includes the rock crusher and miles of trails). If you are interested in participating in the restoration, preservation, and enjoyment of this historic area, email to [email protected]
Put: “re: Split Rock” in the subject line.
I live in Camillus and was told about split rock quarry by the salesman who sold me my mountain bike. I went there today for the first time not knowing anything about the history of the quarry. I entered via the Kasson Road entrance. Did not see any posted signs so I went right in. On my way in a few people were hiking out. Once in the quarry I was amazed by the number of trails and the vast size of the area. It’s quite easy to get disoriented because of the trees.
Only tonight did I learn about the history of the quarry and now I’m intent on learning as much as I can about the place. I never did see the rock crusher. Don’t even know where it would be. Nor did I see any tunnel entrances. I eventually came up to a chain link fence and gate with a building a couple hundred yards outside the fence. Not sure what that was.
Fascinating place. I just want to know who owns the land. Is it State owned? Private property? What?
I always went on the onondaga road way. I was drawn there by the ghost stories and I love the place. During the day the Erie history of the place can surely get your heart pumping in the dark tunnels of the crushed. But Michael, go down onondaga road, like for me I got right past western lights and Jus stay straight, it ends at a dead end with the entrance road to the left. The crusher is right up there Jus walk straight in up the hill and keep straight and you’ll see it come into view on your left once you pass the grassy hill that blocks your view. It’s amazing the experience at night tho, they say the place is haunted by few unidentified souls buried near buy in a common grave after the blast and you can still see and feel they’re green and yellow stained figures protecting the last thing left from the mine. I'm telling you, go there at night, be respectful, but keep an open mind. Gives those trails a whole new feeling.
The book on Split Rock can be had at Onondaga Historical Society in Syracuse.
Today is Monday July 1 2013. Tomorrow will be the 95th anniversary of the explosion be there or be square.
As interesting as the Split Rock site is, I should caution future attempts to go up there. After going there a couple times a year since 1995, yesterday I received my first parking ticket there. At the dead-end of Onondaga Blvd, nearest the entrance to the site.
It has been my understanding, that part of the area has been designated significant by the DEC. The historical interest is critical. How is anyone able to visit Split Rock, without assisting the Onondaga County Sheriffs Department in their “fund-raiser?”
I am not a criminal, or someone who would spray paint the stone-crusher. Or carry an old television up there, only to smash it to pieces. I am however, someone who is indeed interested in the history as well as the geology of the area. Geeky, but no criminal.
So caution to those who’ll visit Split Rock. You WILL be ticketed. As the song goes: ‘Do this, don’t do that, can’t you read the signs?’
I took my concern to the Onondaga County Sheriffs Department, by calling them the other day. I spoke to a deputy who actually goes up to the site regularly to hike.
The residents on the Onondaga Blvd side of the Split Rock site, started complaining to the police about people parking at the dead-end. The deputy mentioned that the sheriffs don’t patrol there for parking violations . If a resident calls, the officers are forced to ticket. He did suggest the Kasson Road entrance to the site. Offering that its the safest bet for not getting a ticket.
Just thought I’d help, by asking some questions. As long as you pay attention to private property signs near the quarry-side, and elsewhere. You’re fine, and no harm done. Enjoy!
Michael, can you elaborate on where to park and how far away the crusher is from Kasson Rd. I looked at the map and it looks to be quite the distance.
This July 2 it will be 96 years since the accident I plan on being at the Rock Crusher by about 7:30 pm I can answer any questions anyone may have about the rock. See ya there.
Hey John H., Split Rock Sam from the Save the Rock group, late 80’s, says hi. 97 years…I’ll be walking up there the morning of the 4th, if your interested.
I’ve been ticketed as well, but if you look at the road signs, you’ll see only one side had “No Parking” signs, not to mention I was completely off the road. I made that argument to the ADA and it was dismissed.
It’s a beautiful area, I’ve been hiking it my whole life. Hell, after 13 years, I still found something new (ever seen the giant concrete water tank off the trail by the bricks in the path?).
Never seen any ghosts, but did have a strange experience where a group of us were walking in a straight line using a compass, and ended up back at our start point.
I used to go to the quarry to shoot, but it was just too creepy and I stopped going. The place just has a bad presence, and it is completely silent. I couldn’t hear any bugs, birds, etc…
The top of the hill by the water tower is owned by Gasparini. He owns about 50 acres up there.
I think he has Posted signs up there but doesn’t mind hikers & bikers walking/riding the trails. He doesn’t want anyone with guns up there and will call the cops if you’re up there with a gun.
Would be interesting to know exactly what chemicals were dumped up there and where they were dumped. And if they pose any health dangers nowadays.
All the waste generated at the Rock went to the waste beds along the lake. When they started to make Picric Acid in 1907 they were using Phenol and Oleum both materials were used up in production. Gasperinni’s property is all bedrock. Any dumping was behind the water tower and ran South.
As I previously stated, I was up to this place about 40 years ago when I was 14 by a friend who told me of it. Since at the time we were just kids, we had no knowledge of the history of the place, let alone that it’s an abandoned lime stone quarry. According to my friend it was a place where they had a war, was the way he put it, but, once again, were kids at the time and had no knowledge of the history of it. I just went up to a small hill to the left where if I remember right, at the top to the left there’s a pit, a quarry if you will, with an old truck at the bottom of it that looked as if it went back to the 2nd world war.But have never seen the crusher in person, only in pictures.But after having learned the true history of the place many years later when I was somewhere in my 30’s at the time after doing the research on it recently,I’ve become very interested in this place and would love to see the crusher in person, not to mention the rest of the quarry which I didn’t know existed.I guess you can say I’ve got a passion for the place, areal love for it. But I’ll have to wait till spring to see it since I have no car which means I’d have to walk up. John M Guinto
John, go to the Onondaga Historical Society (the one downtown). They sell a few recent books, extensively researched, on the Split Rock area. One covers the quarrying operations, another the TNT and Picric Acid ( another type of explosive) production, and a third the July 1918 Explosion. While some of the conclusions drawn are utter bunk (that secret nuclear weapons development was happening there), the historical parts of the book are excellent and in far greater detail than anything else I’ve seen.
This was sooo interesting to read!! Hiked in from Kasson Rd, and found The Crusher after a pleasant jaunt with my dog. Unfamiliar with the place, I did not bear right at the split, and kept heading straight, which landed me close to a private house and backyard. I use the AllTrail App, realized what I had done, and backtracked.
Wish I had know the history of the place before I got there, but it all makes sense now, this temple like structure in the middle of no where!
Yes, there are signs clearly stating ‘posted’ , but there are also red signs made by community members who refer to themselves as the SplitRock Cyclopaths, welcoming mountain bikes and hikers and dogs, while warning against ATV’s. I get it, as that would be annoying to hear all day.
Anyway, I plan on reading up on the explosion (TNT for Russia?! Who knew??), and going back in the Spring. Happy Hiking!