When we say “out of the past,” we sometimes go back as far as 200 years in writing about Hamburg’s history—but today, we’re going back 350 million years.
That’s how far back we can trace the fossils found at the Penn-Dixie site, all the way to the Devonian era.
The Penn-Dixie Cement Company came to Hamburg in 1956, buying out the factory of the Federal Cement Company, which was located on Route 5 at what is now the site of the Erie County sewage treatment plant.
What we now call “The Penn Dixie Site” on Big Tree Rd. was a strip of land that was quarried by the cement manufacturer in the 1960s for shale that was used in as aggregate in production at the plant along the waterfront.
Penn-Dixie stopped cement production in Hamburg in the early 1970s and the $36 million sewer plant was constructed in the footprint of the old factory starting in 1978. The old quarry, however, remained mostly abandoned, save for the interest of a few scientists and schoolteachers who studied and taught from the seeming endless supply of fossilized plants and animals that lived more than a quarter of a billion years ago.
Under the threat of industrial development in 1990, a concerned group began petitioning the town board for a solution, and in 1995, a 57-acre site, including the old Penn-Dixie quarry, was purchased by the town. More than half the land was turned over to the Hamburg Natural History Society.
In 2011, Penn Dixie was ranked as the top fossil park in the United States, and today plays host to thousands of fossil hunters every year.