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Cornwall-based PRL Inc. will expand its radiographic testing operations by replacing the former “ore crusher building” on its campus with a new 6,000-square-foot structure to house the company’s largest radiographic testing vault yet.

Interior demolition of the barn structure will begin this week, with exterior demolition to follow later this month.

Arthur Funk & Sons will be the builder of the new structure, which has an estimated completion date of February 2023 – the timing largely contingent on supply chain limitations, in particular the metal building supplier, but PRL general manager Greg Raudenbush said in an interview with LebTown last week that he hopes the required materials will come in sooner than currently anticipated.

The existing barn structure is used only for storage. The new building will feature a radiographic testing vault, with walls of 5-foot-thick high-density concrete, expanding the company’s radiographic testing capacity by 30%. The company currently has three smaller vaults in its existing building.

One of PRL’s existing radiographic testing vaults in Cornwall. (Provided photo)

PRL Inc. – originally Pennsylvania Radiographic Laboratories – was founded in 1969 and became wholly owned by the late Erwin Herschkowitz in 1972. The company was acquired by Stamford-based Compass Partners in a 2020 transaction.

Read More: PRL acquired by Connecticut-based investment firm, terms not disclosed

PRL specializes in manufacturing extremely high-specification metal castings, and serves as a critical supplier to the submarine industrial base.

“We’re a key part of the Navy’s highest priority, which is the Columbia class submarine, the Navy’s new ballistic submarine,” said Raudenbush.

The critical pump and valve components used by the Navy are largely cast at PRL’s foundry in Lebanon, he said.

As part of the site returning to its industrial roots, PRL hopes to honor the original use of the ore crusher building by saving the embossed gable end and using that to memorialize the building.

PRL is also hiring. “The needs of our Navy customers continue to grow,” said Raudenbush. “We are a very larger part of the industrial supplier base for the submarine construction.”

Read More: Congressman Meuser visits Cornwall submarine parts maker PRL Industries

Although PRL personnel are highly-skilled workers, previous radiographic experience is not required, and Raudenbush said that as long as candidates have the right attitude and aptitude for the work, they’ll provide the intensive training needed to perform radiographic testing and evaluation.

Building history

PRL’s Cornwall facilities are located on the bank of the flooded open pit that served as the heart of the massive Cornwall iron industry from the 18th century until 1973. The ore crusher building was one of the buildings used in the operation.

In 1734, a stonemason named Peter Grubb discovered iron ore in the hills of Cornwall and raced to purchase the land from the colonial government. Eight years later, iron production and processing began at the Cornwall Iron Furnace and the Hopewell forges, thus beginning a gargantuan operation to extract iron and other materials from one of the largest deposits in the eastern United States.

Part of a 1916 panoramic view of the open pit and mine operations owned by the Cornwall Iron Furnace. Iron ore would be transported up to the top of the Middle Hill, where it would be crushed and then sent via elevated rail to the top of the “Loading Pocket” building. (Cornwall Iron Furnace)

In the late 1800s and early 1900s, the mine was arguably at its peak, extracting over a half million tons of ore each year. It had earned a reputation as one of the most important iron producers in the eastern U.S. and its multiple owners were continually seeking to improve its efficiency in iron production.

According to Mike Weber of the Cornwall Iron Furnace, the ore crusher building was constructed in 1909 by the Cornwall Ore Bank Co. as part of this drive for greater production. Known to locals as the “Loading Pocket,” the building stored crushed iron ore to load onto railroad cars headed into the concentrator plant in Lebanon.

Ore was extracted from the mine and crushed first in the “Pit Pocket” at the bottom of the open pit, then loaded onto skip cars and hauled up the hillside to additional crushers at the top of the northern hill overlooking the pit, known as Middle Hill. From there, ore was transported over a “viaduct” rail to the upper level of the 1909 building where it would be kept and dumped into the hoppers to load into Lebanon-bound railway cars.

A photograph of the “Loading Pocket” about 12 years after its constructed in the early 1920s. The upper rail and platform are visible. (Mike Weber/Cornwall Iron Furnace)
A photograph of the building after its conversion into a warehouse in 1954. (Weber/Cornwall Iron Furnace)

The building was used as such until 1953 when iron extraction in the open pit was ended. Bethlehem Steel, which had acquired complete ownership of the mine deposits in the 1920s, removed the upper platform and closed in the sides of the building. For about two more decades, the “Loading Pocket” was used as a supplies warehouse for the rest of the mining operation.

In the summer of 1972, Hurricane Agnes swept through the Lebanon Valley, causing the mine at Cornwall to rapidly flood. Workers successfully evacuated en masse from the open pit and shafts, leaving behind a mine with more water in it than its pumps could easily draw out. After considering whether or not the remaining ore was worth attempting to recover, the owners of the operation decided to abandon it and allow it to flood completely, resulting in the end of the Cornwall mining operation in 1973.

Late that year, PRL acquired the parcel of property at the edge of the developing lake and moved operations there from its Lebanon location at 16th and Lehman streets.

A view inside the building in 2019. (Mike Emery/Cornwall Iron Furnace)
The former “Loading Pocket” in 2021. (Weber/Cornwall Iron Furnace)
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