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July 19, 2018 / Joanne Yeck

Buckingham Female Collegiate Institute, 1857

Buckingham County’s Female Collegiate Institute is a favorite subject at Slate River Ramblings. The county is deservedly proud of its early commitment to the education of women.

The advertisement above from 1857 lists the talented faculty offering a wide range of courses to young ladies from Buckingham County and across Virginia. Beyond the basics of English, the classics, and modern languages, a variety of “accomplishments” were taught including: piano or guitar, voice, drawing and two kinds of needlework, as well as Grecian painting.

Grecian painting? Can a Slate River Ramblings reader elaborate on this art style of the mid-nineteenth century? Hint: It may refer to “Academic Realism.”

For much more about Buckingham Female Collegiate Institute, consult “At a Place called Buckingham,” (Volume 1).

July 16, 2018 / Joanne Yeck

Virginia’s Historic Newspapers

It’s official!

The Library of Virginia’s collection Virginia Chronicle now has 1 million digital images of historic newspapers. Click here to read the details in a blog post at “Fit To Print:”


As genealogists and historians know, newsprint is fragile and disintegrates rapidly. Still, it is remarkable how much has survived. Some forward thinking people saved their newspapers. In an unusual plea published in the Virginia Citizen (Irvington, VA), the editor encouraged his readers to save and bind their newspapers.

“By taking a little trouble,” he wrote, “a paper . . . may be preserved to form a permanent and valuable addition to the reading matter with which all families and individuals should be supplied.” He continued:

The VIRGINIA CITIZEN finds that many of its devoted subscribers are endeavoring to preserve a complete file of their local paper, and some have succeeded in saving every issue from the paper’s birth, over thirteen years ago. What a valuable chronicle of events and men of this section to be found in such a complete file!

Where they have shown such flattering interest we have decided to help those careful friends to keep perfect files as a valuable encyclopedia of local affairs or to hand down to posterity, and with that in view will agree to bind yearly volumes of the CITIZEN for them at $1 per volume.

If only more publishers had encouraged such preservation!

Thanks, again, to the dedicated staff at Virginia Chronicle for preserving Virginia’s local history in digital form.

July 12, 2018 / Joanne Yeck

Buckingham County Slate

Courtesy Richmond Times-Dispatch

Taking advantage of Frank Woodson’s comprehensive article about Buckingham County slate in the February 2, 1913 issue of Richmond’s Times-Dispatch, competing Buckingham County slate makers got together and ran a full-page advertisement touting “The Best Roofing Material on Earth.”

Click here for part one in the series about Buckingham County’s slate industry:

Slate Industry in Old Buckingham: Part I

July 9, 2018 / Joanne Yeck

Slate Industry in Old Buckingham: Part V

Courtesy Richmond Times-Dispatch

Click here to catch up: Slate Industry in Old Buckingham: Part I

Frank Woodson, in his 1913 article for Richmond’s Times-Dispatch, impressed upon his readers that Buckingham slate was now shipped all over the country, as well as exported to England and Scotland. He included a proud reminder that Buckingham quarries held medals one at the Centennial Exposition in 1876, and from international expositions held in London, Chicago, St. Louis, and the recent Jamestown Exhibition.

Naturally, the quarries were one of Buckingham significant employers. The Arvonia quarries collectively employed from 650-750 men, the majority of whom were skilled workmen called “slate makers,” who split and shaped the slate.  The machinery in the quarries was up-to-date and first-class, including “enormous steam boilers and engines, gravity cable ways, automatic self-dumping carriers, dressing machines, trimmers, cutters, etc.” Woodson continued:

All of the yards have ample side trackage and the loading of cars is done in a hurry. The Chesapeake and Ohio Railway, which operates the line in this County, known as the Buckingham branch, encourages and fosters this immense slate industry and the operators register no complaints about freight rates, and they very rarely suffer from car shortage, when they do it is only for a day or two at the farthest.

Woodson concluded:

Indeed slate getting and slate making in Buckingham is a great Virginia industry, and it is destined to become much greater, for there is no telling what capital and energy and hustle will not do with these immense deposits of the best roofing material the world has ever known. Truly it is an interesting subject, and I expect to write more about it.

For much more about Arvonia and the slate quarries in Buckingham County, try entering those search terms in the box to the right of this blog post. Enjoy the results!

July 5, 2018 / Joanne Yeck

Slate Industry in Old Buckingham: Part IV

Courtesy Richmond Times-Dispatch

Click here to catch up: Slate Industry in Old Buckingham: Part I

In his 1913 article for Richmond’s Times-Dispatch, Frank Woodson paused his narrative to enumerate some technicalities about the composition of Buckingham Slate, which contains little or no lime.

I am told that in the clay slates the percentage of lime is from five to fifteen times as great. To those who understand an analysis [of the slate] when they read it . . . [the metallic breakdown of Buckingham County slate] shows conclusively the tensile strength of this famous blue-black of Buckingham.

For the less technically inclined, Woodson explained the superiority of Buckingham’s deposit.

That which will not lose its color will not disintegrate, and that which will not discolor contains metallic constituents which give it a ringing sound when struck with and implement or with the hand. The clay slates that will discolor and then disintegrate will not ring. Every piece that is taken from this Buckingham deposit, when dressed and made into the shingle shape, will ring almost like a bell when held up and struck with the hand or with any kind of implement. The experts tell me that when a piece of slate stands this test it may be sure that it is indestructible.

In 1913, slate production was higher than ever, with distribution reaching far beyond Buckingham County and its immediate neighbors. Woodson pointed out several advantages for choosing a slate roof.

Customers were dissuaded of the myth that a house had to be constructed differently if it were to bear the weight of a slate roof rather than wooden or other shingles. According to Woodson, the difference in weight in winter need not be a concern. Snow clings to shingles while it slides off a slate roof. Also, in many areas, progressive fire ordinances prohibited the use of flammable materials for roofing, making slate an ideal option. A safeguard against lightning strikes, barns and other farm buildings were safer when covered by slate.

Coming next: Slate Industry in Old Buckingham: Part V

July 2, 2018 / Joanne Yeck

Slate Industry in Old Buckingham: Part III

Courtesy Richmond Times-Dispatch

Click here to catch up: Slate Industry in Old Buckingham: Part I

Writing about Buckingham slate, reporter Frank Woodson branched out to discuss two local mills.

There are two old mills near here [Arvonia], one known as the Virginia Mills and the other as the Trenton Mill. They were covered with Buckingham slate taken from a quarry within a stone’s throw of where I now sit. It is known that Virginia Mill[s] was built and roofed with this slate one hundred and twenty-five years ago, and it is known that the Trenton Mill is a hundred years old. The roofing was crudely done, but it was well done, and to-day it is as perfect as it was the day it was put on the buildings, and no man who has ever operated the Mills has ever been known to complain of leaking roofs.

Woodson further observed that the City Gas House in Norfolk, Virginia was covered with Buckingham County-quarried slate. More than sixty years old, even leaking gases had not compromised it. When the building had to be rebuilt to better contain noxious fumes, the roof was carefully removed, found to be in perfect condition, and the new building was reroofed with the same material. After another twenty years, the gas house was rebuilt again, the roof removed, and used for a third time. Now that’s staying power!

Another well-known building topped with Buckingham County slate was the Richmond Theatre on Broad Street. Several years before 1913, the old theater was pulled down and the contractor, who found the roof in perfect condition, saved the slate and used it to roof smaller houses in the northern part of the city.

Coming next: Slate Industry in Old Buckingham: Part IV

June 28, 2018 / Joanne Yeck

Slate Industry in Old Buckingham: Part II

Courtesy Richmond Times-Dispatch

Click here to catch up: Slate Industry in Old Buckingham: Part I

Frank Woodson, in his 1913 article about the slate industry in Buckingham County, observed that slate had been mined and used locally for considerably more than a century. Those who know Buckingham well are aware that even the county’s chicken coops can be roofed with slate.

When Woodson’s article was published, quarries had operated for about fifty years. By 1913, sons of the original quarrymen had inherited thriving operations.

Woodson wrote:

I had heard that the Buckingham slate is superior for all purposes, especially for roofing, to any that is mined or quarried anywhere else in the world. I had an idea that perhaps that was merely an off-handed Virginia boast, for in my ignorance on the subject I supposed that slate was simply slate and that all slate was alike. An investigation convinces me that I was wrong, and that the claim for the superiority of Buckingham slate is well-founded.

Geologists, the journalist noted, categorize slate by grade. Some is worthless for roofing, while some will last virtually forever exposed to the elements. Many slates are merely slag and, when exposed to air and weather, change and discolor making “an unsightly roof.” There were many products on the market guaranteed to last for about ten to fifteen years. The only slate that is absolutely unfading is the blue-black metallic slate which fills Buckingham County’s quarries.

Coming next: Slate Industry in Old Buckingham: Part III

June 27, 2018 / Joanne Yeck

Book News: Central Virginia Heritage, Summer 2018

The Summer 2018 issue of Central Virginia Heritage features Buckingham County’s beautiful courthouse on the cover!

Not only does it include my article, “Lost Jeffersons,” but also contains a transcription of Robert T. Hubard’s “Register of Negroes Owned in Buckingham County.”

Robert Thruston Hubard (1808-1871) was a planter at “Rosney” and, later, at “Chellowe.” The register is part of the collection of Hubard Family Papers, held at the University of Virginia Library.

Copies of Central Virginia Heritage (Summer 2018) can be ordered from Amazon.

Central Virginia Heritage is published by the Central Virginia Genealogy Association, click here to learn more: Central Virginia Genealogy Association.

Consider becoming a member!

June 25, 2018 / Joanne Yeck

Slate Industry in Old Buckingham: Part I

In early 1913, Richmond’s Times-Dispatch ran a lengthy article on the slate industry in Buckingham County. Heavily illustrated, the article was given impressive space in the “Industrial Section” of the Sunday, February 2 edition.  Written by Frank S. Woodson, the article began:

— Of course, I knew, and I have known for a long time, that the hills of some part of Buckingham County were choked up with a very fine slate, and I knew that a great deal of it was dug out of the hills and shipped to various parts of the country to be used for roofing, but until I came here to see for myself I had no idea of the wealth represented in slate, that is hidden away in the hills aforesaid. I suppose the knowledge of this source of Virginia wealth is as limited with 90% of The Times-Dispatch readers as it was with me, hence I can conceive of no better service two columns of space can do than to allow me to tell all about Buckingham slate.

Woodson went on to explain the modest expanse of the deposit—about two thirds of a mile in width and ten miles in length, running from near the James River southward into the county. The depth, however, was impressive—“The slate is found in paying quantities 50 feet under the surface, and no man knows how deep it goes.”

He noted that Arvonia was at the center of the richest and most extensive deposits. Some believe, said Woodson, that the quarries were almost inexhaustible.

Coming next: Slate Industry in Old Buckingham: Part II



June 21, 2018 / Joanne Yeck

Buckingham County: A New Railroad

Courtesy TrainWeb.


Over many years, Buckingham County struggled to provide railroad service for its citizens. In March of 1881, the following announcement ran in Charlottesville’s Jeffersonian Republican:

A new Railroad known as the “Buckingham Road” is to be built at once. It will connect with the Richmond and Allegheny Railroad at Bremo, opposite New Canton, and will cross James River on a bridge to be built on the substantial piers and abutments now standing ready to receive the structure. The road will pierce the slate district and enter the famous iron and gold region of Buckingham, passing Buckingham Court-house to some point on the Atlantic, Mississippi and Ohio Railroad. The officers are F. O. French, Pres.; Jas. B. Ficklin, vice president; E. R. Leland, secretary and treasurer; R. H. Temple, chief engineer.

This vision was realized, in part, with the branch line running to Dillwyn. See:

Buckingham County: 1874, Part II

James B. Ficklin was involved with post-Civil War politics in Buckingham County, representing District 5 as Magistrate. For more, follow these links:

Buckingham Courthouse: Following the Fire

Reconstruction in Buckingham County, Part IV