Author Topic: I have a piece of slate under my coffee cup  (Read 5527 times)

Roger Whitney

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I have a piece of slate under my coffee cup
« on: January 05, 2012, 05:29:10 PM »

   I have a thin piece of slate under my coffee cup.  It came from the Hebron Pond Quarry immediately west of Monson and I use it as a coaster.  Lets look at what this slate is and why it was so valuable to the Monson Railroad and the area’s economy.
        The slate itself is very dark gray, with a slightly purplish hue.  The make-up of this slate (probably only the geologists will love this),  arranged in the order of their decreasing abundance are: muscovite (sericite),  quartz,  chlorite,  biotite,  pyrite, carbonaceous or graphitic matter,  magnetite,  rutile and apatite. A cubic foot weighs in at around 178 pounds.  It can be relatively easily cut, planed and polished.
        Before WWII, Monson slate was used for just about anything from electric switch boards to register borders, blackboards, refrigerator shelves, sinks and bathroom fixtures.   However one product that you still see quite often are roofing shingles.  Hundreds of buildings in Maine still have those slate shingles.  Most of them started their journey on the Monson.
        Monson slate shingles varied some, but generally they were 3/16"  to 3/8 thick with varying widths of  8" to 14" and a length between 18" and 24".  Each slate has a rough beveled edge and pre-punched nail holes.  One slate shingle I own is 3/16 inch thick, weighs one pound 9 oz and measures 8 ¼ by 12 ¼ inches.
        There are numerous pictures published of crated slate products as well as uncrated shingles.  On page 86 of the Jones book, Albin Johnson and Elwin French are annoyed by a minor derailment of a load of uncrated shingles and on page 124 Superintendent Harold Morrill inspects a shingle from a flatcar load.
   Also there are several interesting websites concerning Monson Slate. There is a lot of info at  http://quarriesandbeyond.org/states/me/me-slate_1914.html  and the Monson Maine Slate Company (2005) produced a short video.  It is at
http://www.monsonslate.com/history.html and is a nice video however it mentions slaves coming to Monson to work the slate (which I never heard of).  Unfortunately it doesn’t mention at all the hundreds of Swedish and Finnish people who came to quarry the slate for generations, leaving behind an awesome legacy.  Many of their descendents still live in the area. 
   The slate companies really were the reason why the Monson Railroad existed.  More on that in a future blog.

Mike Fox

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Re: I have a piece of slate under my coffee cup
« Reply #1 on: January 06, 2012, 01:00:08 AM »
My sister found me a slate shingle someone had painted a train on and "ALL ABOARD". It measures 11x20. The sticker on the back has an Ohio address. What are the chances this came from Maine?
Mike
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James Patten

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Re: I have a piece of slate under my coffee cup
« Reply #2 on: January 06, 2012, 01:18:15 AM »
The video does say former slaves coming to Monson - which to me would mean they were black, which surely would have elicited some comment even 80 years later (1940s when Larson Powell was growing up) - as black people are uncommon in Maine.  It was high school for me before I saw non-white people on an everyday basis.

Cliff Olson

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Re: I have a piece of slate under my coffee cup
« Reply #3 on: January 06, 2012, 01:46:20 AM »
The video in the "new Monson Maine Slate Company" website appears to have been made by the Piscataquis County economic development agency as a promotion for Piscataquis County slate in general.  The b+w photo of the open pit quarry at the beginning is of the Merrill Quarry in Brownville, although most of the other quarry photos are from Monson. The color shot of the open pit quarry at the end of the video appears to be looking west from the east end of the Monson Pond Quarry.

I have not heard of former slaves working in the Monson quarries, although I have seen a c.1900 photo of an African American couple riding a horse-drawn carriage in Monson.

Cliff Olson

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Re: I have a piece of slate under my coffee cup
« Reply #4 on: January 06, 2012, 02:01:56 AM »
This may be a stretch on former slaves working in the Piscataquis County slate quarries, but the PCEDC video says the slaves were from Williamsburg, VA.  According to my 1951 topo, there was a Williamsburg siding on the CP in T6R8. T6R8 is between Barnard and Brownville, both of which had slate quarries, so it's conceivable that a colony of former slaves could have set up ithere and named the location after their former home.

Roger Whitney

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Re: I have a piece of slate under my coffee cup
« Reply #5 on: January 06, 2012, 01:08:31 PM »
Mike, Monson slate was shipped all over the US.  The shingle may well be Monson slate, however slate was quarried in many other places in the US also and has a different color.  Monson slate has the distinctive black/purplish color.  Most gift shops around here have slate items made into coasters and other items as well as painted slate shingles to hang on your fron door.  Cliff, your theory on the name of Williamsburg siding on the CP is intrigueing!  I always wondered why it was called that.  Bob Roberts who was a long time section foreman for that section on the CP may have some insight.  He lives in Monson and co-wrote the book "By Brain and Brawn" about maintaining that section of the CP track. VERY interesting book and a VERY interesting individual.

Stewart "Start" Rhine

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Re: I have a piece of slate under my coffee cup
« Reply #6 on: January 06, 2012, 10:35:42 PM »
Roger,

      I have heard that the Monson slate was better because it had lower acid than slate from other areas.  This was important back before galv. nails came into use.  Iron/steel nails would last longer with Monson slate shingles which meant the roof would last longer so less maint and repair cost.

     Have you heard this about Monson slate?  I think Harry game me the imformation.  If true it would be another reason that Monson slate was popular and preferred by builders and contractors.

Stewart

Glenn Poole

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Re: I have a piece of slate under my coffee cup
« Reply #7 on: February 02, 2012, 07:29:29 PM »
Cliff, your suggestion regarding Williamsburg is right on.  I have a copy of the book "Maine's Visible Black History" by H. H. Price and Gerald E. Talbot and on pages 25 and 26 the book details the black workers who came  to Williamsburg to work in the A. H. Merrill quarries.  One of the workers was Aleck Turner and his wife Sally.  They had a grandson J. Bruce Turner who recounted the following:
"Grandfather worked for Merrill in Williamsburg, Maine in his slate quarry. He had brought a number of former slaves and relatives to Williamsburg to be with him while he was working in the quarry. During the evening he would teach the former slaves how to read and write and figure. They earned as much as $.50 a day. When these workers went down into the quarry they could be seen wearing a pencil behind their ear which was an indication that this was a tool that they could use in addition to the drills and this hammers which were used in the quarry."

Roger Whitney

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Re: I have a piece of slate under my coffee cup
« Reply #8 on: February 02, 2012, 09:41:48 PM »
Thank You Glenn for this informantion!!!!  I've looked at the topos for years and always wondered about Williamsburg siding. This is exactly why I'm doing this blog....all kinds of interesting things are coming to light from the collective resources of hundreds of people!  I still haven't heard of slaves in the Monson Quarries.  If I remember right, here is a strong connection with the Merrill Quarries in Brownville and the 20th Maine regiment which fought at Little Roundtop.  I've got it in a book somewhere.  I bet my cousin Wayne Bennett would know of this.  His knowledge of Piscataquis history is phenominal!

Glenn Poole

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Re: I have a piece of slate under my coffee cup
« Reply #9 on: February 03, 2012, 05:59:08 AM »
Thanks Roger.  I transcribed the Monson Census from 1850 to 1930 and I do not believe there were any Monson residents listed as black.  I will check to make sure.  The whole indexed census is available at the historical society.

Cliff Olson

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Re: I have a piece of slate under my coffee cup
« Reply #10 on: February 04, 2012, 12:57:55 AM »
Hi, Glenn.  Thanks for the reinforcement; I didn't know that you were on the WW&F forum.  It's good to have someone from Monson on the Monson blog.

Glenn Poole

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Re: I have a piece of slate under my coffee cup
« Reply #11 on: February 04, 2012, 07:09:25 AM »
I just joined the blog when I saw your post.  I have been looking at the Town of Monson web site, trying to figure out how to maintain it.