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.