Digging through History at Buckingham Slate Quarry

Hannah here, writing my last blog post about our amazing trip on Tuesday to Buckingham Slate Quarry in Arvonia, VA.

Looking into the main Quarry

The quarry is around 200 years old, and is the only slate quarry in Virginia.  They ship their slate as far as California, Washington and New York, and its durability and beauty make it a perfect material to use in architectural projects.

Chunk of slate with visible oxidation and many compressed layers

While designing Monticello, Thomas Jefferson settled on using Buckingham Slate for the roofs of the original University.  The University still uses this quarry’s slate in many of its projects, including the Jefferson Scholars Foundation building and decorative pieces in our own Hereford Residential College.  While walking around Grounds (or Charlottesville in general) keep an eye out for slate from the quarry, it’s everywhere!

Look for this slate all around Grounds

Brad Jones led Lily, Rachael, Erica, and me on a wonderful tour of the site where our future signage will come from, since we decided that slate’s physical characteristics, along with Jefferson’s interest in slate, make it the perfect material to use in our garden.

Lower-quality slate that is ground up for driveways, horse tracks, mulch, and other uses

We first saw the main quarry, where slate from as far as 350 feet into the ground is extracted.  The slate is blue-black with a beautiful sheen to it that is caused by mica.  The color also does not fade, which makes it an ideal material for long-lasting structures like UVA buildings.

Piece of slate with beautiful coloring

Another great asset is the fact that they use no chemicals on the slate, cut the pieces to size on-site, and that they are a domestic quarry, making them a sustainable option for building materials for LEED-certified UVA buildings.

Slate tiles ready for use

Large tiles ready to be shipped

I was especially impressed with how they use even imperfect pieces of slate.  Since the best quality slate is deeper down, upper levels of slate are ground up and used for paving roads and driveways.

Grinding slate for roads

Our tour ended at the original quarry site where the slate Thomas Jefferson used was found.  The large pit is nothing compared to the size of the current quarry, but the overgrown space is still amazing to see.

Old quarry site visible through the trees

We left with a few slabs of slate (thanks, Brad!), and Erica and I ended up doing some carving projects a few days later.

Plaque Erica & I made

I can’t wait to see how the garden markers will eventually look, as well as how the garden will continue to grow and flourish in the future.


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2 Responses to Digging through History at Buckingham Slate Quarry

  1. Pingback: Garden Journal: Week of 8/8 | Thomas Jefferson Demonstration Garden

  2. Pingback: Garden Journal: Week of 8/15 | Thomas Jefferson Demonstration Garden

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