Our nation’s cement industry is fully rooted in the Lehigh Valley, with a deep deposit of limestone called the Jacksonburg Formation arcing from eastern Berks to western Warren County. Unlike other limestone-rich regions, where cement plants were forced to add clay, sand, blast-furnace slag and other materials to obtain the correct chemical composition – our massive deposits contained, with the exception of gypsum, a near-perfect mix of minerals.
Hence the reason some 45 cement plants came (and mostly went) since the 1800s, providing in their wake, the raw materials used to build our country’s skyscrapers, dams, highways and more.
But our story – of Lehigh Valley Sporting Clays – began with Lehigh Portland Cement, founded in 1897 by three local businessmen: lumber dealer Harry C. Trexler, family hardware store owner Edward M. Young, and George Ormrod.
The group invested $250,000 to construct an inaugural cement plant, along with housing for workers … the cottages that still remain at the entrance of our facility. The town became known as Ormrod.
Its first workers were primarily immigrants who, with only heavy gloves as protective gear, blasted rock out of what is now the two water filled quarries within the grounds. They broke each mass apart by hand, loading it manually onto small train cars called skips. At first, the cars were pulled out of the quarry on make-shift rails. Mules were eventually tasked, and by the 30s, the industry adapted small locomotives to haul the heavy rock from the deep caverns.
After the rock left the quarry, the minerals were crushed and reduced to a powder so fine, it could pass through a water sieve. The mix was fed into ivy-covered rotary kilns that grace our grounds and burned at approximately 2,700 degrees. Under the high heat, the mixture converted to “clinker,” a stony residue about the size of a marble, cooled and re-pulverized into cement that would be bagged and shipped.
By 1920 Lehigh Portland Cement was the nation’s largest cement company in terms of plants, with annual production topping more than 12 million barrels of its high-quality Portland cement. In 1923 the company built one of the region’s largest cement plants in Birmingham, Alabama and by 1927 the company’s owned 21 plants in ten states. But even before the Great Depression, their business began to decline with their highest net income dropping from $19.3 million to $2.7 million in 1929.
Consumption declined so sharply from 1928 to 1931 that the cement industry overall lost $25 million in a single year. Lehigh Portland Cement was the nation’s second larger producer at the time, and although it took losses in 1932 and 1933, it managed to remain profitable. Joseph Young, the second generation of Youngs to sit at the helm of Lehigh Portland Cement later told a reporter, “It was only by throwing eight plants overboard that we were able to ride out the storm of the Depression.” This included the close of both facilities in Ormrod, as well as West Coplay and Bath in 1935.
Lehigh Portland Cement’s profits reached a zenith of $13.1 million in 1956, and although sales volume continued to climb from $75.8 million in 1958, so did overhead. Our nation’s bicentennial year marked the company’s last full stretch of independent operation. In 1977, Portland-Zementwerke Heidelberg A.G., a unit of the German building-materials company Heidelberger Zement A.G., purchased Lehigh Portland Cement for $85 million in cash – a “rock-bottom price” because its kilns were more than 50 years old and small by industry standards.
The long-since abandoned grounds of the quarry remained untouched since its closure in the 50s until 1993 when the property was purchased by a local businessman and transformed it into a rudimentary sporting clays facility. In April 2000, former DBSi CEO and NRA board member, Bill Bachenberg purchased the business and a year later, converted the shower building into the current clubhouse. Additional expansions have taken place over the years to create a state of the art conference center and expanded Pro Shop.
Nearly a dozen years later, Bill and his wife Laura purchased the 132-acre property where the sporting clays business resides and together with their dedicated staff, continue to expand and evolve the facility. Lehigh Valley Sporting Clays currently has three course levels which are wheelchair accessible and event facilities beautifully nestled within its historical grounds, and serves as a tribute to the strength, work ethic and fortitude of the men who once worked its land.