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Roofing Specialists

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Home page logo: Ongong slate roof repair. Photo: Jeffrey S. Levine

The Repair, Replacement
& Maintenance of Historic
Slate Roofs

Jeffrey S. Levine

History of Slate Use
Character and Detailing
Where Does Slate Come From?
Deterioration of Slate and Slate Roofs
Repairing Slate Roofs
The Replacement of Deteriorated Roofs

History of Slate Use in the United States

Although slate quarrying was not common in the United States until the latter half of the nineteenth century, slate roofing is known to have been used prior to the Revolution. Archeological excavations at Jamestown, Virginia,have unearthed roofing slate in strata dating from 1625-1650 and 1640-1670. Slate roofs were introduced in Boston as early as 1654 and Philadelphia in 1699. Seventeenth century building ordinances of New York and Boston recommended the use of slate or tile roofs to ensure fireproof construction.

French Roof House in A.J. Downing's Victorian Cottage Residences
Architectural pattern books of the mid-19th century awakened Americans to the availability and quality of slate for roofing purposes. Drawing: Design XX, "A French Roof House," in A.J. Downing's Victorian Cottage Residences.

In the early years of the Colonies, nearly all roofing slate was imported from North Wales. It was not until 1785 that the first commercial slate quarry was opened in the United States, by William Docher in Peach Bottom Township, Pennsylvania. Production was limited to that which could be consumed in local markets until the middle of the nineteenth century. Knowledge of the nation's abundant stone resources was given commercial impetus at this time by several forces, including a rapidly growing population that demanded housing, advances in quarrying technology, and extension of the railroad system to previously inaccessible markets. Two additional factors helped push the slate industry to maturity: the immigration of Welsh slate workers to the United States and the introduction of architectural pattern and style books. Slate production increased dramatically in the years following the Civil War as quarries were opened in Vermont, New York, Virginia, and Lehigh and Northampton Counties, Pennsylvania. By 1876, roofing slate imports had all but dried up and the United States became a net exporter of the commodity.

The U.S. roofing slate industry reached its highest point in both quantity and value of output in the period from 1897 to 1914. In 1899, there were over 200 slate quarries operating in 13 states, Pennsylvania historically being the largest producer of all. The decline of the U.S. roofing slate industry began c.1915 and resulted from several factors, including a decline in skilled labor for both the fabrication and installation of slate and competition from substitute materials, such as asphalt shingles, which could be mass produced, transported and installed at a lower cost than slate. Only recently, with the increasing popularity of historic preservation and the recognition of the superiority of slate over other roofing materials, has slate usage begun to increase.

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East Coast Builders - Roofing Specialists

Granville, New York 12832
"Have Slate?... We'll Travel!"

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