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What's this slate box in the basement floor?


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This morning I did a wood frame house that was built in 1860. Below the basement floor was a box constructed of slate. It measures 15" X 30" and is at least 26" deep. I don't know just how deep it is because there is a mound of dirt in it. The top of the box is flush with the concrete basement floor, but the floor slab certainly isn't original. The original basement floor could have been slate.

Does anyone have any idea of the purpose of this box? I didn't see any evidence that a spring ever ran through the basement, so I doubt that it was a cooler.

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Also, the house a slate foundation. I've wondered if slate foundations were used in any other parts of the country. Does anybody else ever see them?

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In addition to the slate foundation, the roof was slate. Where was the house with all this slate located? Slatington, PA, of course.

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Now, that is cool. Never seen, nor heard, of a slate foundation before.

Could the box have been an old water service entrance shutoff?

Around here, they'd put them below the floor in a box because the old lead pipe swaged joints & valve would leak; leak water would simply percolate into the dirt.

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I don't go up and over that far, but I know Slatington was a little pocket of Welshmen (amongst the Germans) who discovered and worked the quarries. Not great slate though - S2 grade w/29% absorption.

Does anyone have any idea of the purpose of this box?

Nope.

I've wondered if slate foundations were used in any other parts of the country. Does anybody else ever see them?

I've only seen a handful in the PA slate belt and in Wales. I've seen slate for other items like dry-laid field walls, tombstones and a clock.

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Could the box have been an old water service entrance shutoff?

Around here, they'd put them below the floor in a box because the old lead pipe swaged joints & valve would leak; leak water would simply percolate into the dirt.

I doubt it. The box wasn't near a wall and was in the rear of the basement. I've never seen what you described, but around here, just about all of the lead service lines have been replaced long ago.

my basement had a sandstone sump built in that drained to daylight through clay tile

This was a city house with not nearly enough elevation change to drain to daylight.

To eliminate my sump pump, I've wanted to put such a drain in my house, but when I think about the 7 foot trench I'd have to dig, it somehow keeps getting put off til 'next year'.

Any chance it was for stashing valuables?

In that dampness? Not likely.

There's a waterline on the side of that box, so I'd guess that it was for a pump or simply a place for water to collect and gradually disperse.

Athough the slab doesn't slope towards it, I think that's the most plausible explanation, Mike.

Now, that is cool. Never seen, nor heard, of a slate foundation before.

You haven't? Then I take it you've never seen a house constructed of slate.

Large http://farm1.static.flickr.com/181/438230830_cce64cb5d5_o.jpg

Small http://farm1.static.flickr.com/181/438230830_2559ce5621.jpg

Or how about a slate smokestack?

Large http://farm1.static.flickr.com/178/438228920_9d52494fe8_o.jpg

Small http://farm1.static.flickr.com/178/438228920_e2b9c2cfe5.jpg

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Small http://farm1.static.flickr.com/162/438226039_4a55af5777.jpg

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Or, instead of a slate house, how about a slate sided house? For those on dial-up, it's worth waiting for the big one.

Large http://farm1.static.flickr.com/182/438233080_942e02398a_o.jpg

Small http://farm1.static.flickr.com/182/438233080_51c282ff79.jpg

I've only seen a handful in the PA slate belt and in Wales. I've seen slate for other items like dry-laid field walls, tombstones and a clock.

The tiny boro of Chapman (population 234) is a few miles to the West of me. It started as a company town, Chapman Quarries. I stopped there this afternoon and walked around town. All the pictures here were taken today in Chapman. I saw lots of slate foundations (well, at least the parts that were above grade).

Here are some other slate objects I saw:

Sidewalk

Medium http://farm1.static.flickr.com/161/438229701_fe1a7d55e8_b.jpg

Small http://farm1.static.flickr.com/161/438229701_fe1a7d55e8.jpg

Gate posts. I wonder when a gate last swung here.

Medium http://farm1.static.flickr.com/173/438235824_78a005068d_b.jpg

Small http://farm1.static.flickr.com/173/438235824_78a005068d.jpg

Steps

Medium http://farm1.static.flickr.com/156/438223813_8abb1e0f80_b.jpg

Small http://farm1.static.flickr.com/156/438223813_8abb1e0f80.jpg

More steps

Medium http://farm1.static.flickr.com/180/438234554_d56a8e7003_b.jpg

Small http://farm1.static.flickr.com/180/438234554_d56a8e7003.jpg

And this very well preserved tombstone

Medium http://farm1.static.flickr.com/180/438228189_e71ee1a537_b.jpg

Small http://farm1.static.flickr.com/180/438228189_e71ee1a537.jpg

History of Chapman

http://www.chapmanquarriesumc.org/history-of-chapman-quarries.html

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Cool bunch of pic's. I think I like the smokestack best. What do you think it was for? Powerplant/steam?

It was almost certainly for the boilers. At one time they used steam to power the hoists that carried the slate up out of the quarry and they also used steam to power the pumps that kept the groundwater from filling the pit.

The smokestack is perched literally on the edge of a cliff above one of the quarries. In this picture, the stack is less than six feet behind me. You can see what happens to the pit when the pumping ends.

http://farm1.static.flickr.com/174/442597115_a0f2012340_o.jpg

Certainly another place in time.

That it is - especially when you consider how much the Lehigh Valley has changed in the last two decades, with all of the development brought on by the influx of people from NJ & NY seeking affordable housing. Very little around here hasn't seen drastic change.

I thoroughly enjoyed my visit and wish I'd had more time to spend there that day. The people that I encountered were very friendly and I had several interesting conversations.

I found out that the slate house that I posted a picture of was originally the school house. What I didn't notice when I took the pictures (from the car) was the building was symmetrical, right down to the twin entrance doors. I could kick myself, because one of the guys I had a conversation with told me that his friend owned it and would probably be glad to give me a tour.

http://farm1.static.flickr.com/181/438230830_2559ce5621.jpg

http://farm1.static.flickr.com/202/442229128_c9a3c38782_o.jpg

http://farm1.static.flickr.com/187/442229374_6da6758cd3_o.jpg

I saw several hand pumps in front of houses on Main Street. I didn't try any to see if they still worked.

http://farm1.static.flickr.com/177/442229960_b7ca708494_o.jpg

I call this "privy row". I wonder if the seats were slate?

http://farm1.static.flickr.com/172/442230627_9607ac16f7_o.jpg

There was an ancient old man out painting this picket fence the first time I passed it. I couldn't understand him very well, but I bet he could have filled the whole afternoon with stories from the past - stories soon to be lost forever when he passes on.

http://farm1.static.flickr.com/192/442231839_f4f5254d5b_o.jpg

I have a short truth is stranger than fiction story.

In the spring 0f ’81, my girlfriend at the time told me about a cool old abandoned estate that she knew about. It was very cool, but that’s another story for another time. In the woods surrounding the estate were long abandoned slate fence posts that bordered what had long ago been fields. Many of the posts were broken off, probably by vandals, but there were still quite a few that were still intact.

I was fascinated by these posts, and wanted one in the worst way (one of my strange hobbies is collecting historic and unusual building materials). Thinking about the logistics of finding the owner of the property, getting permission to take one and the task of physically removing it from a remote area, I put the idea on the back burner, where it stayed.

Fast forward to 1996, when I bought my current house. The garage was jam packed full of stuff. The seller said that it would be cleared out, but asked if he could leave some fence posts behind. I asked to see them and my eyes almost popped out when I saw that they were slate fence posts. “Where did you get themâ€

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  • 4 weeks later...
I thoroughly enjoyed my visit and wish I'd had more time to spend there that day. The people that I encountered were very friendly and I had several interesting conversations.

I stop at every slate quarry I see. When I stopped at the Chapman quarry a couple years ago, I was greeted by old farts yelling obscenities and threatening to call the police.

I'm joining a field trip with a geologist this summer to Delta, PA (where slate was first discovered in America, the first commercial quarry was established and the "best slate in the world" was quarried). I'll also be visiting a 200 year old church there that has it's original slate roof.

This clock is also preserved there. It's 7.5' tall and is made with slate from Delta & Bangor, PA and Vermont.

200742820717_slateclock.JPG%20

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Cool clock! Seeing some of the intricate detail work, I'm sure the picture doesn't do it justice.

I stop at every slate quarry I see. When I stopped at the Chapman quarry a couple years ago, I was greeted by old farts yelling obscenities and threatening to call the police.

Wow, what a different reception you got. Did you have a camera hanging around your neck? I've found that if I'm in a place I'm not supposed to be, having at least one big, complicated looking camera on me puts people at ease as to what I might be up to.

I saw something new tody: Slate cast into the face of a concrete foundation. It was in an addition probably built between 1910 - 1920. There was a band of them about 3 feet above the floor.

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  • 2 weeks later...
Originally posted by Inspectorjoe

Quote:Cool bunch of pic's. I think I like the smokestack best. What do you think it was for? Powerplant/steam?

It was almost certainly for the boilers. At one time they used steam to power the hoists that carried the slate up out of the quarry and they also used steam to power the pumps that kept the groundwater from filling the pit.

The smokestack is perched literally on the edge of a cliff above one of the quarries. In this picture, the stack is less than six feet behind me. You can see what happens to the pit when the pumping ends.

http://farm1.static.flickr.com/174/442597115_a0f2012340_o.jpg

Quote:Certainly another place in time.

That it is - especially when you consider how much the Lehigh Valley has changed in the last two decades, with all of the development brought on by the influx of people from NJ & NY seeking affordable housing. Very little around here hasn't seen drastic change.

I thoroughly enjoyed my visit and wish I'd had more time to spend there that day. The people that I encountered were very friendly and I had several interesting conversations.

I found out that the slate house that I posted a picture of was originally the school house. What I didn't notice when I took the pictures (from the car) was the building was symmetrical, right down to the twin entrance doors. I could kick myself, because one of the guys I had a conversation with told me that his friend owned it and would probably be glad to give me a tour.

http://farm1.static.flickr.com/181/438230830_2559ce5621.jpg

http://farm1.static.flickr.com/202/442229128_c9a3c38782_o.jpg

http://farm1.static.flickr.com/187/442229374_6da6758cd3_o.jpg

I saw several hand pumps in front of houses on Main Street. I didn't try any to see if they still worked.

http://farm1.static.flickr.com/177/442229960_b7ca708494_o.jpg

I call this "privy row". I wonder if the seats were slate?

http://farm1.static.flickr.com/172/442230627_9607ac16f7_o.jpg

There was an ancient old man out painting this picket fence the first time I passed it. I couldn't understand him very well, but I bet he could have filled the whole afternoon with stories from the past - stories soon to be lost forever when he passes on.

http://farm1.static.flickr.com/192/442231839_f4f5254d5b_o.jpg

I have a short truth is stranger than fiction story.

In the spring 0f ’81, my girlfriend at the time told me about a cool old abandoned estate that she knew about. It was very cool, but that’s another story for another time. In the woods surrounding the estate were long abandoned slate fence posts that bordered what had long ago been fields. Many of the posts were broken off, probably by vandals, but there were still quite a few that were still intact.

I was fascinated by these posts, and wanted one in the worst way (one of my strange hobbies is collecting historic and unusual building materials). Thinking about the logistics of finding the owner of the property, getting permission to take one and the task of physically removing it from a remote area, I put the idea on the back burner, where it stayed.

Fast forward to 1996, when I bought my current house. The garage was jam packed full of stuff. The seller said that it would be cleared out, but asked if he could leave some fence posts behind. I asked to see them and my eyes almost popped out when I saw that they were slate fence posts. “Where did you get themâ€

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[Joe - specifically where is this place with the pits filled with water and is it freely accessable to the public? Looks like a place I might want to drag my SCUBA equipment to. There can be some really neat old stuff at the bottom of things like this.

Kyle:

It's in the Boro of Chapman in Pennsylvania's Lehigh Valley. It's about 10 miles as the crow flies from the NJ border.

In that picture of the quarries http://farm1.static.flickr.com/174/442597115_a0f2012340_o.jpg the one at the rear appears to be very small, but an arial view shows that it's much larger than the one in the foreground. http://www.geonomy.com/geonomy/viewHome.do?lat=40.758432196630125&lon=-75.40000677108765&zoom=17&searchText=quarry# The place where I stood I stood to take the picture is in the lower left corner, to the left of the M in Main Street (click and drag the picture).

There are dozens of abandoned quarries here in the Lehigh Valley. Quarries have about the clearest water you will find. They make great swimming spots, so I'd imagine that they would also be good for diving. The problem is, people do dumb things and get killed while swimming, so it would be tough to find a quarry where you can park close enough to carry your gear in and not draw attention and get hassled by the law, or even risk a fine or arrest.

Why risk that when just a few miles away is Dutch Springs. DS is a SCUBA diving center based in an abandoned cement quarry. For $26 a day, you can dive worry-free. They have entertainment for the family while you're exploring the submerged tanker truck, airplane, helicopter, boat, fire truck, trolley car, etc.

http://www.dutchsprings.com

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Joe

Thanks for the info. I'm aware of Dutch Springs. Did alot of my Advanced Cert. Training there. Likely going there this coming Sunday to check out a new Drysuit. Places not often visited by divers have an attractive mystery about what could be found. There is nothing undiscovered in Dutch... I do alot of Wreck diving off the coast here so I'm aware of the inherent dangers.

You a diver?

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Kyle:

You ask if I'm a diver. Ha! the closest I ever got to diving was when I tried to fix my pool drain by wearing a face mask while breathing through a plastic hose as my wife stood on my back to weigh me down. It took less than 20 seconds for me to get claustrophobic and panicky. I got on the phone and called a pool guy to fix it.

If you're going to be at Dutch Springs on Sunday and have some extra time, I'd be happy to take you to that quarry. It's only a few miles away. I'd also be happy to take you to some quarries that I used to swim in in my younger days. I haven't been to any of them in 20 odd years, so I'm sure access has changed quite a bit.

If you're interested, give me a call at 610-392-3741.

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