Museum pays tribute to Vt.-N.Y. slate workers

The many slate roofs still seen on 19th and early 20th century houses around Rutland and Addison counties in Vermont had their origin in the many slate pits of the historic Slate Valley. A fascinating glimpse inside the multi-ethnic lives of the slate workers of Vermont and New York awaits the weekend explorer at the Slate Valley Museum in Granville, N.Y.

The Slate Valley of southwestern Vermont and eastern New York extends 24 miles along the borders of both states from Granville, N.Y .and Rupert, Vt., north to Fair Haven, Vt. The area is about six miles wide. From still comes high quality slate used in various industrial applications.

In 1839, slate deposits were discovered near Fair Haven, but quarrying was found impractical and uses for slate were limited. By the mid 1840s things began to change, and a strong future for the industry looked promising. The roof of a barn one mile south of Fair Haven was the first to be covered with slate in 1848. It was feared the barn would not withstand the weight of the stone. The barn is still standing today and the same slate roof is intact.

With the industry ready to take off, many workers were recruited.

In 1850, the first Welsh immigrants arrived in Fair Haven, and in 1852 thirty Welsh settlers arrived in Middle Granville. Several slate companies were formed. The biggest problem early on was the transportation of the quarried stone. In order to solve the problem, the Rutland and Washington Railroad, which had started in 1845, extended its lines to Poultney, Vt. and later to Salem, N.Y. and Eagle Bridge, N.Y. This move allowed the industry to continue to grow.

Immigration of workers to the Slate Valley increased with three hundred recruited from Wales in 1891 when the industry began to boom. And immigrants continued to come to the area through the 1890s and early 1900s from Poland, Austria, Czechoslovakia, Yugoslavia, Italy, Ireland, Hungary and later Canada. Many were already skilled quarrymen as the Welsh had been when they first arrived in this country. Many were skilled in other types of mining as well.

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