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The Slate Valley Museum: Bridging the Past to the Present

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Most people in Washington County know that Granville, New York is "The Colored Slate Capital of the World." Since 1995, the Slate Valley Museum has been educating people about slate and why it is important to our community. The museum shows how the culture, the economics, and the education of Wales, Ireland, Slovakia, and Italy were brought to the slate quarries in the Slate Valley of New York and Vermont. This illustrates how American industry has been directly impacted by specialized immigration. These emigrants all left their countries for different reasons, but they came here to accomplish a common goal. They wanted to work in the slate industry so that they could better the lives of their families for the future.

Founded in 1780, Granville was predominantly built on the foundation of the slate industry. Originally known as Bishops Corners, Granville has access to the range of slate deposits throughout the area. Granville differed from all of the other towns in the Slate Valley because it was the railhead. All of the slate from surrounding towns had to come to Granville to be shipped out to the rest of the world. One way or another, Granville, New York is and always has been the center of the slate industry.

In the late 1800s and early 1900s many people immigrated to the Slate Valley seeking the "American Dream." Working in the slate industry may have been a difficult job for the immigrants when they arrived, but this gave hope to their children and to future generations. This hope improved the lives of the Welsh, the Irish, the Slovaks, and the Italians, and ultimately made Granville, New York the town that it is today.

Although much of Wales was agricultural, the industrial revolution transformed the region through the rapid development of coal mining in the southern valleys and of slate quarries in the northern mountains. In 1889, Wales had the largest slate quarries in the world, employing approximately 16,000 people. The Welsh did not just decide to come to America arbitrarily. With their experience working in slate quarries in Wales, they came to America to expand upon their abilities. Fleeing from low pay and poor working conditions in their homeland, the Welsh came to the Slate Valley from the 1850s through the 1920s. As time passed, some Welsh achieved the status of wealthy business owner-operators. The American public school system offered access to education in English and in Math that could not be found in Wales.

Based upon the growth in the potato industry in the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, Ireland experienced a population boom. Because a potato fungus destroyed the harvest between 1845 and 1851, Ireland experienced an extensive famine leading to widespread emigration to America. When the Irish arrived, they were in the poorest condition of all the immigrant groups because of the great famine. Like the Welsh immigrants, the Irish had developed valuable industrial skills from working in quarries in their own country. The Irish found education to be the key to acceptance and to success in American society.

Most of the Slovaks that came to the Slate Valley were peasants who had only been freed from serfdom in 1848. This freedom created a social and economic struggle which forced emigration, so assimilation into our culture was the most difficult Slovak immigrants. They began to arrive in the Slate Valley in the 1890s, filling the demand for laborers to work in the most dangerous parts of the quarries for very little pay. They began working for a measly 12 cents per hour. Before the Great Depression in the 1930s, American-born Slovak boys in the Slate Valley usually only finished grade school before they went to work in the quarries.

At the time that Italians were migrating to the United States, Italy could not support its poorest citizens. Because the poverty was chronic, the poor were actually encouraged to emigrate. Between 1880 and 1924, five million Italians emigrated to seek fortune elsewhere. In Italy, they worked primarily with marble and granite. On their way north to seek jobs in the stone industry, the Italians stopped in Granville where they ended up utilizing their experience working in the slate industry. Since the Italians came to the Slate Valley much later than other groups, they became viable replacements for the aging Welsh and Irish. Like other immigrant children, Italians were often taken out of school at a very young age to help work in the slate quarries.

When all of these immigrant groups arrived, they naturally gravitated to others from their old countries, due in part to language barriers and differences in cultures. The citizens of Granville tended to exclude the new immigrants, because they felt that they were inferior. The new immigrants were grateful that they were going to enjoy the new freedoms that came with living in America, but they knew that they were considered lower class, so they had to work hard for success. The immigrants made up a significant portion of the population in Granville and some of the native residents were not happy about this. In some cases, this even lead to violence.

World War I, The Great Depression and World War II all negatively impacted the slate industry and the economy of Granville. During World War II, the slate industry virtually



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