Sunday, February 5, 2012

Quarrying Slate in Waterford

Llechwedd Slate Mine, Blaenau Ffestiniog, Wales
If you live on Slate Ledge Road in Waterford, or have driven past it, or studied the old town maps, you already may know: There was a slate quarry here. Slate is one of the three "state rocks" of Vermont (the other two are granite and marble), and when the legislature declared that status in 1991, it also spelled this out:
Slate
Metamorphic rock found in southwestern Vermont. It is formed by the compaction and heating of clay, silt or mud. Vermont slate varies in color from red, green, black and purple. Because it splits into thin slabs, slate is used for roofing shingles, sidewalks and floor tiles.

Slate: Three ranges of roofing slate:
  1. Eastern, clay slate near Connecticut river, from Massachusetts line to Essex county; found in Guilford, Windham county; Thetford, Orange county; Waterford, Caledonia county; and other localities and small quarries.
  2. Middle range of clay slate extends from Memphremagog lake to Barnard slate quarries in Northfield, Montpelier, and elsewhere of uniform shade and black.
  3. Western Vermont slate quarried largely in Castleton; also in Fairhaven, Poultney, Wells, and Pawlet, Rutland county; generally of a dark purple color, with occasional blotches of green; very compact and fissile. Large quarries near West Castleton, Hydeville, Scotch hill, and Fairhaven.
From Office of the Secretary of State, Vermont Legislative Directory and State Manual, Biennial Session, 1993–1994, p. 23.
 In 1958 the Vermont Geological Survey under Charles G. Doll issued a report by John H. Eric and John G. Dennis called "Geology of the Concord–Waterford Area, Vermont." On page 62 of the report, Eric and Dennis say, "Waterford Slate" (Richardson, 1906) was quarried on the southeast slope of Fairbanks Mountain, at the locality marked on Plate 1. This operation ceased about the time of the Civil War." (The C. H. Richardson 1906 report cited here is "The Areal and Economic Geology of Northeastern Vermont.")

Shortening up the language, what we probably get from this is: Around the same time when Waterford's population changed during the Civil War, with so many young men leaving to fight for the Union, activity at the slate mine dried up. Whether this was from the lack of working men or from changes in how people roofed their homes isn't clear. Or, I suppose, the quarry could have run short of easily mined, good-quality slate. However, that seems unlikely, since any casual drive along the nearby interstate today reveals pockets of slate cleaving off the rock walls.

It interests me that the minerals likely to be found in slate-quarry regions are biotite, garnet, staurolite, and pyrite. I recall gathering these, as a child, at a former mine site in northwestern New Jersey.

In nearby Littleton, NH, the American Slate Company spent about $70,000 to open a quarry, as described in Child's Gazetteer of Grafton County (1886). Child's Gazetteer describes the quarry and its slate deposit as "equal to the Welch" -- and the "ch" at the end is not a typing error. In this region, today's term "Welsh" (as in, someone or something from Wales) was pronounced with a -ch ending, and it makes sense that it was also spelled that way. (I learned this from Miss Karlene Exley, late of West Barnet, VT.) 

Because Welshmen were known to be the best miners of slate, I checked a few reports on Welsh immigration to the United States; there was a wave of Welsh immigrants in the 1830s during the industrial revolution; many of the immigrants were highly skilled. There's a documented pocket of Welsh immigration in central Maine, but I don't see documentation for Vermont.

Which Waterford families have ancestors who came from Wales? Was the town's slate quarry opened or operated by people from Wales? Which homes or barns in town have slate roofs? And why, indeed, did the quarry close? These are all active questions. If you have ideas, suggestions, or information, please add them here, using the "Comment" button, or e-mail Beth (BethPoet@gmail.com).

2 comments:

  1. Hi,
    Can you help me please. My relative Evan Evans came over from Caernavonshire, North Wales in approx 1835-1845 to work in the slate quarries. I know here married a local woman by the name of Catherin / Catherine and i tshow on the census that she was from Waterford. I have tried but not found any more information about them. They cam back to Wales but not sure when. Any help would be apreciated.
    Diolch,
    Dewi Evans

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  2. Hi Dewi. Do you have a year of birth for your relative Evan Evans? And are you sure the census says Waterford, Vermont, and not Waterford, Ireland? We are not finding much information here yet, but those details will help. BK

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