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Delta-Peach Bottom slate shingles: ‘Nothing works as good as this’

Donald Robinson demonstrates how to split slate near two stone cottages under renovation in Coulsontown. The cottage in the background is one of two private cottages. These four of the Welsh miners cottages stand near Slate Ridge, outside Delta. Background posts: 100 years later, Delta clock keeps on ticking, Wanted: One slate-roofed privy from Delta, Pa. Also of interest: All posts related to Coulsontown.

Don Robinson eats and sleeps the history of the Welsh, the group of slate miners from the British Isles who settled in the Delta area in the 1850s.

He and his wife Ruth Ann often can be found at the cottages giving tours or looking in on archaeological digs… .

Delta still boasts of slate sidewalks, made from rock mined further up Slate Ridge. The Friends of the Welsh Cottages is selling cookbooks that contain local and Welsh-inspired fare for $10 each. To order a cookbook, call 456-7124 or 410-452-0916.
He co-authored a book on Delta that shares top billing with West Manchester Township’s as the best-done local histories.
So it was fitting that he made the discovery of a most coveted artifact near the cottages.
Here’s the story:
Two tools of Welsh miners – two artifacts that typified their work – were the splitting chisel and hammer.
Robinson said he long sought a chisel – that’s the one artifact that he most wanted.
He traveled to Coulsontown one night after a parking area near the cottages had been cleared. He looked down, and there was an old chisel.
Just reward for persevering in the restoration of these irreplaceable cottages.
It’s invigorating to listen to Robinson and other volunteers talk about Old Line Museum’s restoration of cottages built by Welsh slate miners in the 1850s.
Here are some factoids about the Coulsontown cottages gleaned from a visit:

– At one time, the village had 14 houses, and the four stone cottages still standing are the oldest.
– The cottages are made from a conglomerate stone that is easy to work with. Slate, of course, was used for the roofs. The third stone mined in that area – green marble – was apparently not a staple in cottage construction.
– What appeared to be a china closet was built into the wall beside the fireplaces. The Welsh were readers, and those shelves would have held books along with dishes.
– The kitchen hearth, of course, was made of slate, and a slate warming tray protruded from the fireplace’s side, up in the chimney.
– The first floor contained the kitchen and a “good room,” a combination bedroom for adults and a parlor. The two upstairs rooms were for children.
– The low downstairs ceiling often prompts questions about the height of the Welsh. That’s a myth. Neither Welsh in Wales today nor those of Welsh descent around Delta today are short.

How slate shingles are made

The slate demonstration outlined how workers used mostly hand tools to turn pieces of slate into shingles for slate roofs.
A worker called a buster used a splitting chisel and a hammer to break off a large piece of slate. The rock was then sent to the splitter who, with a chisel and hammer, divided the slate length-wise to create 3/16-inch-thick rough shingles.
Next, a trimmer squared off the rough shingles into nearly perfect rectangles with a human-powered machine that looked like a giant paper cutter.
Robinson said slate roofs were born out of necessity because, unlike wooden or thatched roofs, slate won’t catch fire from embers that poured out of chimneys.
“Nothing works as good as this,” Robinson said.

(York Daily Record/Sunday News, 10/12/08)