Welcome to Slate Tombstones of the Slate Belt
The earliest reference I could find to slate tombstones was from Donald Repsher, in a paper called, "FOUR ARTICLES PERTAINING TO TAMANEND". I will quote from his story.
"Tradition has it that Tammany, or Tamenend, who was head chief of the three tribes of the Lenapes, was being carried by some of his followers to a conference in Philadelphia, when they halted at a spring at the foot of Prospect Hill. There,
tired of their burden, the young Indians built a hut for the old man, presumably over 90 years of age, and leaving him in charge of a young Indian girl, suddenly after night had come on, abandoned him and went on to the treaty.
So enraged, humiliated and distressed was the aged chief, on awakening to find himself deserted, that he tried to commit suicide by stabbing himself, but his weak, trembling hand could not thrust the knife with effect. He afterwards sent the young girl to the spring, and during her absence set fire to his bed of leaves and threw himself upon it. The other Indians, who had been refused a hearing in the absence of Tammany, on arriving at the hut, found him dead with a hole burned in his side.
These graves were marked by two flat hewn slabs of slate from the Neshaminy creek, about three feet long and one and one-half feet wide, protruding about eight inches from the ground. About 1850, Adin H. Brinker, whose father then owned the farm on which the graves were located, dug up the stones and they were built into the wall of a new barn.
While slate was known and used by the native people of the area, it wasn't earnestly used by the earliest settlers of Northampton County.
The earliest residents, from the Hunter-Martin settlement and the area around Richmond, left no slate tombstones. The immigrants whose settled these areas, the Scots-Irish and, later, the PA German, did not have a tradition of quarrying and working slate.
Even after the slate quarries opened, the use of slate for tombstones in the outlying areas of the Slate Belt, was limited to support for more elaborate marble and granite tombstones, examples of which we will see in the next couple of slides.
This bed style of grave marker consists of a large piece of slate supporting a head and foot of marble. This type of monument is common in the Church Hill cemetery in Lower Mt. Bethel. Most of the stones in this style are from around 1880.
Another marble and slate bed in Centerville cemetery in Stone Church.
A less ornate version of the bed in St. Paul's cemetery in Stone Church.
Here we have an all-slate version of the bed found in Bruch's cemetery in Wind Gap.
A bed without a foot in Plainfield township cemetery. The well-off would have used all marble in their beds.
Nearer to the slate quarry regions, there is an increase in the number of slate tombstones, with the greatest amount in Bangor, Pen Argyl, and Roseto. As would be expected, the slate tombstones in the area commemorate families from the leading ethnic groups that settled here. Most of the surviving tombstones are from after 1860.
There were a number of reasons for the more frequent use of slate in the quarry regions.
1. Quarry workers from other slate producing countries were familiar with working in slate, rather than in marble or granite.
2. They were often poor and couldn't afford to buy the more expensive stones.
3. Slaters would receive slate for free from the quarry owners that they could work in their own time.
4. Quarry workers could make their own tombstones. Workers would often ask their compatriots at the quarry, who might be more proficient in relief carving or lettering, to help. Thus, the quarry workers could produce their own stones and create a personal expression of grief.
This 1917 stone is in Bruch's cemetery in Wind Gap.
It is clear that many slates were carved by hand by unskilled, but caring, laborers. Most of these stones were probably made by people who knew how to cut and incise slate but may not have had the artistic or typographic skills of the professional carver.
In other cases, the stones are perfectly, and artistically, carved. The lettering and decorative design and execution rivals the best stone carvers anywhere. Whether these were done by professional monument carvers or by highly creative quarry workers is impossible to say. But the results are incredible.
This is probably my favorite tombstone. It is a take-off of the bed motif but done entirely in slate. It was quite artistically carved. Notice that the supports were made as keys to hold the head and foot stones in place.
This stone is in Chapman which may explain why it is in such good shape. The slate in Chapman was very hard compared to Bangor slate.
Here is a close-up of the head of the previous marker. Note the textured carving around the letters which gives it real character.
It is likely that the person who made this stone was a slater, as a whole family is buried in Plainfield township cemetery and are remembered with slate.
The carving is quite crude and the ornamentation is very plain. It is a very primitive but lovely stone from 1906.
This Welsh tombstone is probably the most uniquely ornamented stone in the Slate Belt. The amount of work that went into this is amazing.
Notice the drilled holes, concave chained decoration to the left, and the beveled edges on the right. And this is only part of the decoration. I will show you more later.
This Welsh child's gravestone was traditionally and conservatively carved. It is in St. John's cemetery in Bangor.
This stone could be Welsh or Cornish and is done in a formal manner. Found in Fairview cemetery in Pen Argyl.
Another stone from Fairview cemetery in Pen Argyl. An Italian stone that appears to be professionally carved. But as we shall see, other stones like this one seem to be done by highly skilled amateurs.
In contrast to the proceeding slide, we have these handmade slates from East Bangor's pauper section. The devotion of the family shines through despite the very crude carving.
Looking carefully at the slate, you can see where old lettering existed. Note also the cross on a base, which is a common decoration.
This stone no longer exists. It was removed by the cemetery board.
This Welsh stone in Evergreen cemetery in Plainfield township shows a carving style unmatched by any other stone in the slate belt. It is from 1899.
A large number of the slate tombstones were made for children. Some of the markers are very elaborate.
The horizontal line decoration may be a Welsh theme. This stone is from St. John's cemetery.
This stone from Mt. Carmel cemetery in Roseto shows a common design: a cross in a circle with cross-hatching used as a border.
This tombstone for two Turzo children in Mt. Carmel cemetery in Roseto is a beautifully made tribute.
Another beautiful but deteriorating stone from Mt. Carmel cemetery in Roseto. It is from 1905.
A formal child's headstone in the Evangelical cemetery in Roseto from 1896.
This stone is in Fairview cemetery. Notice the rosettes and the sharply carved arch at the top. The child was 4 days old.
Again, the cross and circle. This stone is in Fairview cemetery.
Another cross and circle. It seems strange to see this elaborate stone for a child of 3 years. It looks more like an adult's stone. Again, from Fairview cemetery.
This one is probably the saddest of all gravestones in the area. Baby Willie Kline is all that it says. It is one of 4 Kline children tombstones found in Plainfield Township cemetery.
Slate is a very easy stone to carve. It can be sawn, drilled, or incised with ordinary tools. Some of the techniques used to create the lettering and decoration of the tombstones are:
V Cut Lettering
Square Cut Lettering, and
We will look at a few of these. This one is from Fairview cemetery.
This is the top edge of the Welsh tombstone found at Salem Lutheran Church cemetery in Bangor, which I showed you before. The drilled circles cover the entire top and sides of the stone. These drilled indentations are easy to make but very time consuming. You can see this type of decoration on a lot of Welsh slate carvings.
Notice also the beveled edges.
This is the whole tombstone which we just looked at. It is from 1869.
These two stones also exhibit the drilled circles common in Welsh slate carving. These are found in Fairview cemetery. My guess is that it is a husband and wife but there are only initials on them. From around 1899.
We have seen this tombstone before but it is a fine example of relief carving.
This stone exhibits v-cut lettering, where a v-shaped chisel is used to incise the letters. It is an elegant and traditional method of cutting letters. From North Bangor cemetery.
This stone also has v-cut lettering but there is much more than that present. It is almost a study in all of the different kinds of slate carving. The word Williams is raised lettering, but there is also carved ivy, italic text and gothic lettering.
Whoever created this stone was a real expert. It is in St. John's cemetery, Bangor.
This stone represents square-cut lettering. You can see that a flat chisel was used to cut the letters into square shapes. This was another of the Kline family in Plainfield cemetery.
Finally, a wonderful example of raised lettering, where the slate around the letters is what is removed, not from the letters themselves. This lends itself to a very bold presentation. Notice that it was probably a homemade stone as the letter spacing between the P and A in Parry is off. It is one of 3 Parry's buried and marked with slate in Plainfield Township cemetery.
The main reason slate was considered a "poor person's" stone is that it deteriorates rapidly. Slate from the Slate Belt was generally considered a soft slate and has not fared well over the years.
The sun is the main culprit behind the splitting effect of slate. Unless slate is treated, the sun will expand the rock, opening the block along the cleavage lines. Frost and ice in the winter expand these cracks until the whole block crumbles apart.
Slate can be treated and will last a long time if the treatment is applied regularly. Lampblack, lacquer, polyurethane, or other types of sealers can be used.
This stone is in the Mennonite cemetery behind Trinity Lutheran church in Bangor.
Here you can see the how the slate is splitting along the cleavage lines. Water will get in these cracks, freeze and force the slate apart. Later a rock thrown from a lawn mower will break the slate as in the previous slide.
Here the slate has split and a portion of it has disintegrated. This is in Trinity Lutheran cemetery.
Here the stem wasn't strong enough to support the cross. Slate is not a very strong stone. This is in Fairview cemetery.
The rough hand of time has whittled away Mama May's marker in Trinity Lutheran church cemetery.
Daniel's stone is going back to the earth in St. John's cemetery in Bangor.
The few remains of an unknown grave. This is what will happen to all slate eventually. This is in St. John's cemetery in Bangor.
Many of the slate tombstones in the area are decorated only with lettering. However, some have ornaments that are quite beautiful.
There were only two types of decorations that I believe represent a tradition. These were crosses and drilled circles. The crosses were mostly Italian. The drilled circles, Welsh.
Most other embellishments are individualized like this stone, which we saw earlier but from a distance. It is in Fairview cemetery and the star may represent the Eastern Star of the Masons.
Here you can see another Welsh tombstone in Salem Lutheran cemetery in Bangor. Notice the multiple lines of Welsh drilling that wrap around the stone. It is from 1870.
Here the tombstone itself is a decoration: a cross on a base. This is in Fairview cemetery in Pen Argyl.
Notice the cross on a base on this slate. Also, notice the stylized "R"s and the spacing of the dates, which point to a hand-made origin. This is in Bruch's cemetery in Wind Gap.
Another take on the cross with a base. Obviously, this was hand-carved. Many of the slate stones in Bruch's cemetery are hand-carved.
The cross in a circle is a very common decoration. Notice how the raised lettering stands out from the stone. 1919 stone in Fairview cemetery.
Another cross in a circle. Notice the intricate cross hatching on the border. It is also very well preserved because the edges are protected from the sun. Found in Fairview cemetery.
Again the cross in a circle and the cross-hatching around the border. You might think this was professionally carved by the detail of the cross and border but take a look at the dates. Again, the spacing is off, revealing the hand of someone unskilled in typeography. This is in Fairview cemetery.
A beautifully stylized cross and lettering in Fairview cemetery. The lettering is almost Egyptian.
We saw this stone earlier but here are a couple of close shots of the decorations. It is from Evergreen cemetery in Plainfield Township.
The same stone as before in Evergreen cemetery.
This handmade child's stone is very touching with the one tiny star-like decoration. In Bruch's cemetery in Wind Gap.
A very simple tombstone shape and leaf decoration. From St. John's cemetery in Bangor.
Slate tombstones are still being made. In some cases it is because the person worked in a quarry. Most of these newer tombstones appear darker in color than the older ones. It may be that this is due to the sealers used.
This stone is in Bender's church cemetery in Plainfield township.
This stone is found in Evergreen cemetery. Very plain
Again, this stone is in Evergreen cemetery and is right behind the previous one.
Evergreen cemetery again.
This green slate tombstone was made for a slater. The stone is from Vermont and is located in East Bangor.
Slate in the cemeteries wasn't just limited to tombstones. It was actually used in a number of different ways, as we shall see over the next few slides.
Signs are very common. In fact most of the cemeteries use some kind of slate sign. This cemetery is in Mt. Bethel.
As discussed before, slate was used as the support for a better quality stone. This bed style monument is in Chapman.
Slate was often used as a base for marble or granite monuments. This pillar is in the Trinity Lutheran cemetery in Bangor.
Some clever person made a bench in the cemetery on the East end of Chapman. There are two cemeteries in Chapman. One is on the East side of town, the other on the west. The west side is more interesting in my opinion.
Lengths of thin slate were used to create a border around this stone in Evergreen cemetery.
At one time a slate fence surrounded the entire cemetery at the west end of Chapman. This is about all that remains of this fence.
A slate fence also stood at Plainfield cemetery. This is all that is left. Notice that this slate was not useful as structural slate because of the ribbons in it. Also notice the hole near the top. A pipe or rail may have been fitted to this stone at one time.
Here we find the most unusual use of slate that I found. These are the posts that surrounded a family plot. A brass rail would have been threaded through these holes creating a fence. I only saw two of these in all of the slate belt. This one is in the Evangelical cemetery in Roseto. The other one is in Bruch's cemetery in Wind Gap.
A close-up of the slate fence post.
This is a marker not a fence. Also found in Bruch's cemetery in Wind Gap.
There are so many slate tombstones in the area but the talk would be too long to show them all. I have a few highlights to finish my talk. This is in the Mt. Carmel cemetery in Roseto.
A classic Italian tombstone in the Mt. Carmel cemetery in Roseto.
A very plain and striking tombstone. You can see some rays coming off the cross, which may have been painted on. It looks as if the cross itself was painted in black at one point. It is found in St. Joseph's cemetery in West Bangor.
A hand-lettered slate in St. John's cemetery in Bangor. Notice the very rough way the lettering was done. It is clear this person was not comfortable with the chisel.
Here is a row of four slate stones with no markings. An additional slate stands behind two of them. This is in Centerville cemetery in Stone Church.
A cross-shaped slate in Fairview cemetery. It has very nice curved arms.
Here is another example of v-cut letters. This is in Plainfield cemetery.
This stone in Chapman has raised lettering on a textured background. It is surprising to me that this slate is still standing because of the ribbons, which are impurities in the slate.
Here is a very basic stone in Chapman. Notice the horizontal line and dots that decorate the stone.
Another Welsh stone in Chapman. Again the horizontal line.
Here is another variation of the cross. There is a faint 2nd cross at the bottom and the lettering is unusual in that it is done in outline. This is in Bruch's cemetery in Wind Gap
Hand-lettering is very poignant, as in this child's stone. I think it is because the person making the stone is the one who is suffering.
This is a most unusual stone. It is a slate slab with a piece of metal attached to it. It is a child's stone from 1894 in Bruch's cemetery, Wind Gap.
I am sure the metal plate came later.
Another hand-made stone in Bruch's cemetery.
Lastly a stone I made in 2002 before I ever knew anything about slate. It was for a very special cat of ours that died in February of 2002, whose name was Foo. I carved it with a screwdriver. It says, "Foo, a valiant spirit." This slate is at our former residence in Mt. Bethel.
This is the list of cemeteries where slate can be found in approximately the order I visited them.