44. Pillars in Potsdam Sandstone (1888)

Pillars in Potsdam Sandstone

When cylindrical pillars in Potsdam sandstones in eastern Ontario and northern New York were described in the 1850s, many imaginative interpretations arose. Creationists claimed them as drowned trees and proof of the Old Testament flood. Geological Survey of Canada founder William Logan weighed in with his opinion that they were not fossils at all.

In 1888, the Survey’s second director, Alfred Selwyn, examined spectacular pillars in Potsdam sandstone in the Hughes Road quarry north of Kingston. At his request, the Survey’s museum assistant, Thomas Weston, and government photographer W.J. Topley visited the quarry, and Weston published illustrations of the impressive tree-like structures. Selwyn and Weston, like Logan, dismissed them as fossils, and interpreted the pillars as concretions.

These remarkable cylindrical structures still generate controversy, but subsequent theoretical, experimental, and field studies have concluded that they are evidence of water escape from fluidized sand conduits. Impressive pillars can still be seen at the Hughes Road quarry, and the site continues to be a stop on geological field trips. Samples of pillars from other nearby Ontario sites are on display at Queens University’s Miller Museum and at the Charleston Lake Discovery Centre.

Category: Buildings and Places

Decade: 1880s


Dawson, J.W., 1889. Remarks by the President on certain Ancient Concretions, Canadian Record of Science, January 1889, p. 293. [Refer also to posts by Christopher Brett at http://fossilslanark.blogspot.ca for discussions of 1850’s publications by Franklin B. Hough.]

Weston, T.C., 1899. Reminiscences among the rocks: in connection with the Geological Survey of Canada; Warwick Bro’s & Rutter, Toronto, 328 p. [autobiography; provides an excellent account of this trip from historic Kingston.]

Cushing, H.P., Fairchild, H.L., Ruedemann, R., and Smyth, C.H., 1910. Geology of the Thousand Islands Region; New York State Museum, Bulletin 145.

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