Avon Peninsula 3: Newport Plaster Mining and Manufacturing Company

Jerome Berre King comes up repeatedly in the history of gypsum mining in Hants County because he was such an important figure. King built his first wallboard factory in 1876 on New York’s Staten Island and built a business empire that relied heavily on exports of Nova Scotia gypsum, a key ingredient in wallboard.

King was one of the principal owners of the Newport Plaster Mining and Manufacturing Company (NPMMC) which operated several gypsum quarries on the Avon Peninsula.

In 1907, he acquired the shipyard in Newport Landing (now called Avondale) and in 1908 purchased a five-acre lot from George Mounce just east of Belmont Road, the site of the first NPMMC quarry (Quarry #1 on the map below).

The NPMMC ceased operations at this site in 1920 when the company was hit by a general strike and the business was transferred to the Wentworth facilities on the St. Croix River, another of J. B. King’s operations.

By 1912, the NPMMC had expanded both its holdings and operations. It owned 4000 acres and two large quarries a few kilometres east of Avaondale (Quarries 2 and 3 on the map). The quarries employed approximately 125 men, year-round.

The Upper Quarry (pictured below in recent years) was the bigger site and included three separate quarries that were considered one operation.

The Upper Quarry was connected to a railway line which ran southwest from the quarry to the former King’s Wharf in Avondale. The actual straight-line distance from wharf to quarry was just over 3.2 kilometres, but it required 5.6 kilometres of meandering railway to negotiate the uneven terrain.

The floor of the Upper Quarry was slightly below the level of groundwater. To prevent flooding, a large tunnel was driven towards Quarry 3 (known as the Incline Quarry because of the tunnel) as an outlet for surplus water. The tunnel was built between 1911-14 and 2400 feet of narrow-gauge railroad was added to connect the two quarries.

The Upper Quarry’s overburden - 10-15 feet of clay and loam on top of the gypsum - was removed by steam shovel, an innovation first introduced to the Nova Scotia industry in 1909.
The gypsum was shovelled into horse-drawn carts and transported from the different working faces to a loading platform beside the 36-inch gauge railway track, which ran directly into the quarry. Three locomotives and 75 side dump cars of 5-ton capacity transported gypsum to the shipping pier.

(Although some evidence of the narrow-gauge railroad is still visible, local residents reportedly say the rails were removed during World War II, when steel was at a premium.)

At high tide, the material was loaded directly by elevator onto barges of 2,200 tons capacity and shipped from Avondale to the J.B. King Co. in New York City.

The Incline Quarry (Quarry 3 on the map) is described in historical records as an “old quarry” so it may have been related to the Shaw/Haliburton/Bennet operations, given that it is adjacent to the Old Plaster Road.

A small loading platform let the carts dump directly into a small tramcar, which was hauled up the tunnel’s track to the Upper Quarry. The incline was too steep for the locomotives, so the cars were pulled by a stationary steam-powered Donkey Winch to the top of the hill behind the Upper Quarry where the gypsum was again loaded into carts and hauled to the railway for transport to the wharf in Avondale.

NPMMC’s fourth quarry was northeast of the Incline Quarry and was the last of the NPMMC quarries to be mined on the Avon Peninsula. The rail line was extended to Quarry 4 to connected it with the main NPMMC rail line and the King’s wharf. Aerial photographs suggest that another quarry may have been situated just south of Quarry 4.

At Miller Creek, further east of the NPMMC operations, the Fundy Gypsum Company and its predecessor, the Canadian Gypsum Company, mined gypsum from 1957-2011. There had also been historical quarries in that area. Production from the 1957 Miller Creek Quarry continued until about 1978 when the deposit was exhausted. At that time a second quarry, the Bailey Quarry, was opened adjacent to the first. The gypsum was hauled by train 21 kilometres to the company’s loadout facilities at Hantsport where ships took it to wallboard plants along the eastern seaboard of the United States.

Upper Quarry