There is a town in York County that everyone relates it more to Baltimore than York.
This little haven rests in a valley that you can’t see until you are on Main Street. However, this town is full of heritage, especially when it comes to a special rock known as slate. Slate was used as roofing from 1625 to 1670 in Williamsburg, Va., in Boston as early as 1654, and in Philadelphia in 1699.
Imported slate from North Wales was used in the United States during Colonial days. By 1876, slate was no longer an item imported by the United States, but it became a net exporter to other countries. The United States’ roofing slate reached its peak in the period between 1897 and 1914. In 1899, there were over 200 slate quarries operating in 13 states. Pennsylvania was the largest producer, with operations in Northhampton and Lehigh counties; in what is known as the Peach Bottom district in Lancaster and York counties; and extending into Harford County, Md.
The Peach Bottom Slate District is world-famous. Although the discovery of the slate resources in Delta is credited to Welshman John J. Roberts in the 1730s, the first commercial slate quarry in the United States was opened in this area in 1785 by William Docher. The quarry was situated on the McCandless property and later owned by the Williamson estate. About 30 quarries operated in the Peach Bottom District until the industry’s end in the 1940’s. Slate was used for gravestones, fence posts, window lintels, shingles, sidewalks and roofing granules. The shingles were marketed in “squares,” the amount of slate needed to cover a 10-foot square area. From 3,000 to 3,500 squares of best quality slate and 1,000 tons of second quality slate were obtained yearly from some of the best quarries.
It was in the 1840s as the Welsh came to the United States hearing about these rich slate deposits, that the Deltas area began to gain its reputation. With their quarrying experience in North Wales, techniques of open-pit quarrying were brought to the area. In 1850, the Peach Bottom Slate was named as the best building slate in the world at the World Expo in London, England. The country’s largest estate, the Biltmore Mansion in Asheville, North Carolina has a slate roof from Delta. The slate has been used in federal, state and local government buildings, as well as, many private residences and buildings.
The Peach Bottom Slate was too good of a product. Because of its composition, as well as intense heat and pressure during ancient geologic events, the slate never wore out. In fact, the grayish-black slate never changes color because of weathering. The durability was second to none when compared to other slates being quarried in the United States. I know of at least one building in York that has had a Peach Bottom Slate roof for 200 years and have never had a problem with leakage or breakage.
The Delta area is one of my favorite places to take geologic education trips. The built-in heritage, preserved sites and still highly controversial geology provides a foundation for a great day in southeastern York County. A drive through Delta quietly reveals the heritage. Watch for the slate roofs on the buildings and walk carefully of the slate sidewalks when it rains. A glimpse of a rare slate fence post in the ground can be seen. The old bank building on Main Street has been converted to the Old Line Museum that houses many artifacts and photographs of the slate industry. The museum also houses a one-of-a-kind production known as the Slate Clock. Produced by Humphrey O. Prichard in the early 1900s, this hand-carved clock stands seven feet and two inches high and contains different slates from three locations: Delta and Bangor, Pennsylvania and Vermont. The clock is held together by 1,300 screws and contains numerous carved motifs of animals.
While in downtown Delta, check out the original jailhouse on Edgar Avenue. The jail was built entirely of slate. The story goes that the builder of jail was its first prisoner, apparently celebrating too much after the finished construction. He also was the first escapee at the jailhouse.
Heading east on Main Street and continuing onto Atom Road, the Rehoboth Welsh Church still holds weekly services. This is one of only four active Welsh congregations in North America. In May and October the church hosts a Gymanfa Ganu (Welsh hymn sing). Beyond quarrying, the Welsh knew how to sing, which is evident if you ever attend one of these events.
If you continue east on Atom Road and travel past the intersection with Slateville Road, notice the huge slate wast piles on the right side. This lower-grade slate piles are remains of the Funkhauser Quarry, which lies behind the piles. The quarry cannot be seen from the road, but is nearly 0.75 mile long and has depths of up to 175 feet deep (water-filled). The quarry is on private property and well marked as such. In 1998, Funkhauser Quarry was ranked the second most deadliest quarry in the country by the U.S. Department of Labor Safe Mining Division. Public education and security patrols of the property have nearly eliminated the trespassing and swimming on the property. The Funkhauser Quarry property was the site of the first commercial slate quarry in the country, as well as the last quarrying in the Peach Bottom area.
On Slateville Road is the Slateville Presbyterian Church cemetery. This is a great location to see the hand-carved slate grave markers. If you want to talk about talent, examine these markers with all of the detail. To show the durability of the slate, some of the markers still show the scribe lines marking sure the worker keeps the lines straight. Some of these markers go back137 years to 1863 — 137 years ago.
If you travel southwest on Ridge Road for a short distance from the church, turn left onto Green Road. This was known as Main Street in Coulsontown. Today four Welsh cottages exist here with two of them still inhabited. The Welsh did not mingle with the Scot-Irish residents, but lived in their own villages around the quarries. Coulsontown was one of three such communities, but the best preserved today. These cottages are duplicates of the cottages a person would live in Wales. The cottages are constructed of country rock (here the Cardiff Conglomerate) and of course, having a slate roof. Along the top of the house there are four courses of brick. In Wales, those having brick as part of a house was rare and only seen with those homeowners who had money. The Welsh that immigrated here wanted to think of themselves as elite important people.
To complete your mini-tour of the Delta area, drive out Quarry Road on top of Slate Ridge and see how many quarries or slate waste piles you can spot. Along the top of Slate Ridge from the Susquehanna River southwestern into Harford County, Maryland contained all of the quarries. Today, these relics give us only a glimpse of what was once a very important mineral resource that placed Delta on the map.Read More