The weather this weekend was glorious with plenty of bright sunshine. On Saturday the temperature got up to around 60 and today it got up to about 50, so much of the foot of snow that had been on the ground melted away. Winter had me feeling a bit cooped up, so I talked Josh into going exploring with me. I grabbed my camera and a flashlight and we headed to Solvay to see the "Bucket Line Tunnel".
The tunnel is a long abandoned piece of industrial history hidden in the underbrush on the side of a hill in a neighborhood of 1950s houses in Solvay, NY. The village of Solvay, on the shore of Onondaga Lake, grew up in the late 19th century around the soda ash plant built there by the Solvay brothers. The plant turned two local commodities: salt water, and limestone, into soda ash, a basic building block of many chemical processes including glass making, paper making, making baking soda, detergents and medicines. The salt water initially came from the local salt springs around Onondaga Lake, later it was piped in from a more concentrated source in Tully, NY. The limestone was quarried at the Split Rock Quarry, 5 miles west of Solvay. To get the limestone to the soda ash plant they built the "bucket line", a 10-mile loop of steel cable, with buckets attached at regular intervals, supported on steel posts that ran between the quarry and the plant. It looked and functioned very much like a ski lift, but instead of transporting people it transported buckets of crushed limestone. The quarry was at a higher elevation than the soda ash plant, so the weight of the full buckets of stone was enough to power the whole system and bring the empty buckets back to the quarry. The line had operated for 18 years, but one problem area was the high hill just west of the plant in Solvay. In 1908 they decided to build a tunnel and run the bucket line through the top of the hill, saving 86 feet of elevation on the line, to eliminate the problem of buckets slipping on the cable and piling up at the west slope of the hill, causing damage to the system. The 834 foot long tunnel was built, and the whole system improved, but the tunnel would see less than 5 years use before it was decided to use limestone from the Jamesville Quarry instead. Jamesville was farther away, but adjacent to a railroad line. The bucket line, a unique engineering fete, became obsolete and was abandoned.
Stories from the time include accounts of how the employees of the company could be seen every day riding the buckets to and from their work at the quarry. Other accounts tell of the wreckage that would occur when the cable would break, spilling many buckets of stone all at once over the 5-mile route.
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