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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

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