Branches whipped against the frame of the small motorized cart, the trail barely wide enough as we bumped along through the old Cleveland Quarries property in South Amherst.
Overgrown brush made the going tough — at one point we stopped to clear a fallen tree from the path.
Wildlife bolted at our approach, disappearing into the woods.
Justin Lichter took his time at the wheel of the ATV, a little bigger than a golf cart, navigating deep puddles from rains the night before our May 22 tour.
“We want to avoid disrupting the surrounding land and wildlife as much as possible,” he said as we stopped and hiked on foot to look out over the turquoise water filling the old quarry pits below. “We feel like this environment is what makes the area attractive to live in the first place.”
Lichter is the environmental manager for Industrial Realty Group, which plans to build 47 high-end homes and a hotel on the long-undeveloped, 900-acre property.
He invited the News-Times to see the land, providing access few people have had in recent years.
That is, aside from occasional trespassers. Campfire pits, empty beer cans, and cigarette butts showed they had been there, partying near the water — couldn’t any of them have taken a trash bag?
We also passed a collection of old cement mixers left behind when quarrying ended in 1992, rusted out relics of a period when the sandstone pits were a major part of Lorain County’s economy.
Back in the cart we went, and down we wound to the waterline, where the temperature noticeably dropped.
It’s impossible to ignore how the walls of the man-made lake are just about perfectly straight, cleaved in giant blocks during the nation’s building boom.
Looking at the cliffs, I wondered what the missing chunks of sandstone had been used for. Had they been sculpted into a courthouse, a skyscraper, bridge, statue, or memorial?
The answer is yes. Amherst sandstone has been used in construction projects as far north as Canada and at many sites between the east and west coasts.
The millennia-old sandstone has been used in Cleveland at the Hope Memorial Bridge, Slovenian Women’s Club, and Mayfield Country Club swimming pool.
It’s inside the old Philadelphia city hall. It built the Third St. Joseph County Courthouse in Chicago. It forms the exterior of Harbison Chapel at Grove City College in Pennsylvania. It was used to raise public buildings in Detroit, Buffalo, Ontario, Bowling Green, Boston, and Montreal.
The days of sandstone construction are long gone. American Stone Company sold its old digs straddling the South Amherst-Amherst Township-Brownhelm border in 2007, with IRG paying $22 million to acquire the property.
The plan at first was to build a small city from scratch next to the quarries.
That fell through as the Great Recession took a hit on residential development. Now Lichter plans to start small.
“The house lots will be around a third of an acre,” he said while we journeyed. “We don’t feel like that’s too small because of what’s available here all around. You have trails. You’ll have a great view of the waterfall. There’s so much here to enjoy.”
He described homes that will be built along the northern edge of the Buckeye Quarry, with a “boutique-style” hotel with 30 to 40 rooms close by.
“When we were looking at doing this 10 years ago, the thinking was it would be 70 to 80 rooms. We’re still trying to figure out what the market will bear for that,” he said. “If the hotel does well and we want to expand, I don’t know if it would be another hotel or an extension of the one we have… The spa will be a driver to bring some people and just have a nice, relaxing retreat.”
Moving along, the tour group noticed a large mother deer on the road ahead. As we got closer, a very young fawn could be seen waiting for her to return.
At another stop, I could down at the water where workers once spent their days. Cut blocks lie just below the surface, reminders of an era gone by.
It made me wonder what trinkets, tools, discarded bicycles, or more haunting remains could be found at the bottom of the quarries, which reach depths of around 250 feet at some points.
Our last stop was at a small collection of buildings that could have been used as restrooms or break areas for quarry workers, according to Lichter. Their interiors were filled with leaves and debris; pieces of what may have been a sink or toilet barely visible, green leaves wrapped around its cement exterior.
Those structures — looking hastily abandoned with the shadows of previous occupants still looming — were a fitting end cap to the trip.
The hustle and bustle of the sandstone era may never return to the quarries, but at the very least, this historic site will lie dormant no longer.
Jonathan Delozier can be reached at 440-647-3171 or @DelozierNews on Twitter.