Alabaster, south of Tawas on Lake Huron, was named after a variety of gypsum discovered offshore by Douglass Houghton in 1837. Prospectors soon began searching for other gypsum deposits, and this quarry was opened in 1862 by B.F. Smith. Used at first as fertilizer and as an ingredient in plaster, gypsum is now used principally in the manufacture of wallboard. A fire in 1891 destroyed the operation but it was rebuilt in time to supply material for the main buildings at the Chicago Columbian Exposition of 1893. These buildings, with marble-like walls, earned the exposition the title “White City,” and greatly expanded gypsum sales. Incorporated into the U.S. Gypsum Co. in 1902, this quarry has helped make Michigan a leading producer of gypsum for over a century.
In 1898, the company name was changed to the Alabaster Company. In 1902, the mine was incorporated into the U.S. Gypsum Corporation. Housing for workers was constructed primarily in the period around 1910. The most visible and impressive structure in the district, the elevated marine tramway, was constructed in 1928 and tramway stretched 1.3 miles out into the Saginaw Bay. Like a horizontal ski-lift, the cable system carries 72 “buckets” of gypsum to a waiting ship or to the storage bin. Each bucket holds more than two tons. The tramway included 6,450 feet of one and three-quarter inch steel cable and 14,000 feet of three-quarter inch cable. At a length of 6,350 feet it was the longest over-water bucket tramway in the world. The tramway was demolished in the 1990s, but the loading building still remains offshore on Lake Huron South of Tawas.
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