Middle school and cement heritage
After years of debate, some intense, an impressive three-story middle school has been constructed by the Northampton Area School District in Northampton. The imposing structure is situated on a tract of land that is part of our local cement heritage.
The site was home to Plant 4, the largest of the Atlas Portland Cement Company's plants.
A few steps from the new school's entrance, there was a government laboratory, which tested the cement for the company's greatest contract, the Panama Canal project. At the heaviest point in shipments, the government had 32 men testing and sampling cement samples.
The cement was packed in double-duck bags, with one inside the other, for extreme protection. The bags were manufactured in the bag factory, then located at the present Northampton Memo-rial Community Center.
Mr. Larry Oberly, secretary of the Atlas Cement Company Memorial Museum, and this writer, constantly search for new chapters that shed more light on our local cement history. Larry found a classic book, "The History of the Panama Canal 1915," by Ira E. Bennett, published by the Historical Publishing Company.
The canal was completed in 1914. We were extremely proud to read the following: "One of the most remarkable records during canal construction was that of the Atlas Portland Cement Co.," it reads. "The government used five million barrels of the company's cement in the Panama Canal without the rejection of a single barrel.
"Following this record, the company then practically supplied all the cement needed to continue the canal work. Keeping with the policy of 'safety first,' cement was needed at Panama which by the most rigid and extensive test could prove its superiority.
"The first five million barrels were used in constructing the canal locks and Gatun Dam and spillway. The Atlas, having a daily capacity of 50,000 barrels or 18 million barrels per year, therefore, was able to cope with any demands for Panama without interfering with other shipments. The company's capacity was and is by far the largest in the world, an incomparable record of industrial efficiency in production and one which can scarcely be paralleled by any concern in the world.
"The government then entered into a new contract with the Atlas to supply the cement required to complete the canal. If one could realize the magnitude of five million barrels of cement, some appreciation could be reached of the feat of the Atlas Company in having this vast number of deliveries passed unchallenged by the guardians of the canal.
"The achievements in Panama will go down in history as monuments to those who labored there, but not the least among the achievements was the steady and uninterrupted delivery of great quantities of supplies of the highest efficiency by American industrial standards."
So it was written by Mr. Bennett in 1915. The Northampton Area School Board and administration have not forgotten our local cement history. It can be found incorporated in plans for the new middle school.