The Ponckhockie Union Congregational Church is a very early example of a revolutionary construction technique that eventually transformed the appearance of cities all over the world. Around the end of the 19th century, architects began using steel-reinforced concrete as a building material, lending their designs the structural strength to soar to heights previously thought impossible. The use of cement dates back to the ancient Egyptians, Greeks, and Romans, but it wasn't until the early 19th century that industrialized nations began mass-producing the material. In the United States, factories were built wherever large deposits of limestone and transportations routes closely coincided. Kingston, with its abundance of limestone, and its proximity to the Hudson River, was an excellent spot to start a cement business. In 1845, the Newark Lime and Cement Company began removing and burning limestone from behind the Ponckhockie section in the eastern part of Rondout. This thriving business hollowed out the hill there while producing natural cement which was then transported down the Hudson to New York City. In 1870, reflecting the late 19th-century paternalistic view many companies took towards employees, the Newark Lime and Cement Company erected the Ponckhockie Union Chapel as a non-denominational Sunday school for its workers' families. Built of poured concrete constituted from locally mined natural cement and crushed bluestone aggregate, the structure incorporates rudimentary iron-reinforcing rods and plates in its buttresses, and an ingenious cold-air conditioning system installed within the walls. In 1915, the church organized as the Ponckhockie Union Congregational Church, and purchased the property from the cement company. Foreshadowing the giant skyscrapers that would eventually be built with reinforced concrete, a towering 220-foot tower originally adorned the front of the church. The unfinished surface of the concrete tower deteriorated rapidly however, forcing its removal in 1965. Despite the loss of the tower, the revolutionary construction materials of the church makes it the earliest known example of reinforced concrete in New York State, and easily one of the most interesting.
Ponchockie Union Congregational Church
Photograph by John E. Reinhardt
Ponchockie Union Congregation Church, 1871.
Photograph courtesy of John F. Matthews
The Ponckhockie Union Congregational Church is located within the Kingston Urban Cultural Heritage Area at 91 Abruyn Street, near the corner of Delaware Avenue. The property is open to the public.