Slate walls provide solid foundation

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When looking at historic homes in older towns like Salem, Ohio, there are many things to consider. Look at the slate roofs, the sidewalks, the flagstone walkways and the older cellar floors.

History of slate. Some of the best slate was quarried near Guilford, Vt. Many older homes there, like some in Salem, have slate from cellar floor to roof. This includes slate shelves in the basement, slate in large pieces for a foundation, posts and doorsteps.

Quarrying of slate near Guilford ceased when railroads were introduced there. Prior to this, canals hauled slate to the market, as railroad costs prohibited such shipments.

Using railroads, slate came from Fair Haven, Vt. and Granville, N.Y.

Guilford slate was heavy and dark gray, while the Fair Haven type was green and thinner.

Heavier than you think. Slate is heavier than some people realize. A story has it that one captain of a barge wished to attain more and more profit.

By placing the slate on edge, quite a bit could be taken on board. When the captain was satisfied it was enough, the barge moved away from the dock and immediately slid on its end into the deep water.

Slate was also used for posts and steps. Today, a few thick heavy slate steps can be located in Salem, Ohio. I picked up and loaded two several years ago; these were about 3 feet long and weighed at least 300 pounds.

The large flagstones usually are 4 to 5 feet square and about 4 inches thick, and these are about 300 pounds also.

Good for patios. They serve as the best patio material and my family had one in Damascus that size from the C.D. Harris homestead. They can also be used for front walks.

After several years of use, the slate will shatter if a hole is attempted to be drilled through it. The holes seen in slate were punched through immediately after quarrying, what is termed “quarry damp”.

In the manufacture of slate products, the only machine in the 1800s was a 6-horse dump cart; all the rest of the labor was done by hand.

Wherever the land had been leveled and covered with the glaciers, there were flat and round stones of various kinds and sizes. Some were granite, sandstone and igneous types.

Building walls. Forming a sturdy flat stone wall requires practice. One secret is to make any one stone touch as many others as possible.

Odd shaped stones that will not lay flat – named “rubble” – are best placed in the middle of the row.

Flat, or near flat, stones can dress up a fence serving as “capstones” on top. The large flat stones turned sideways also will help stabilize a wall.

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