On June 14, 2017

History of schoolhouse slates presented in hometown of Slate-Pencil Mill

Wednesday, June 21, 6 p.m.—CASTLETON—A presentation, “19th Century Tablets: Schoolhouse Slates,” will be hosted by the Castleton Historical Society Wednesday, June 21, 6 p.m. The program is free and open to the public, and will be held at the wheelchair-accessible Castleton Community (Senior) Center just east of Castleton Corners. Light refreshments will be available after the program. Researchers and collectors Dale and Joan Prouty of Washington County, N.Y., will present the program on America’s early student slate tablet industry, illustrated with antique examples.

The slates that the Proutys will show trace the various improvements in the designs and marketing of slates as they met the needs of schools and young scholars in the era from the mid-19th through the mid-20th century. The Proutys are members of the Country School Association of America, for which both serve on the board of directors.

Castleton is geologically and historically part of the Vermont-New York Slate Belt. West Castleton and Blissville are areas of town that have been actively quarried continuously for 177 years, since it began at Fair Haven in 1839. In countless thousands of one-room schools, pupils sat at stationary desks and scratched out their assigned lessons using slate pencils to mark slate tablets.

According to the roadside history marker that was placed at the corner of Pencil Mill Road and North Road in Castleton, “In 1843, John Cain erected a slate pencil mill along Sucker Brook. Benjamin and James Adams bought the mill in 1853, and began mass-producing slate pencils as The Adams Manufacturing Co. Soon the company was renamed Vermont Slate and Alum. At its peak, the company produced up to 100,000 pencils per day, which were shipped throughout the world. By the mid-1860s, slate pencil manufacturing began to wane as wood and graphite pencils took over the marketplace. The company ceased production following a devastating fire in 1876 and foreclosed two years later. Remnants of the pencil mill can be seen along the brook.”

Photo courtesy of Tom Hughes

Displayed is an antique wood-framed student slate tablet and slate pencil, as used in many thousands of rural schools in the 1800s.

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