PennDesign preservationists complete digital documentation of PA.’s slatelands

This month, Frank Matero, chair of the Graduate Program in Historic Preservation at PennDesign, and John Hinchman, a PennDesign lecturer, completed a massive, three-year digital humanities project focused on the Pennsylvania slatelands. The two released The Slate Belt, a web-based report that seeks to balance historical information about the slate extraction industry with visual appeal and adaptability.

John Hinchman and Frank Matero (Photo courtesy of PennDesign)

“Why invest in preserving these former industrial landscapes?” Matero asks in an introduction on the site. “As proven elsewhere, this legacy holds the key to revitalization of the region by ‘regeneration through heritage,’ not only in the preservation and possible re-use of these sites, but as catalysts for reviving and maintaining the social and cultural identity and fabric of their surrounding communities and reclamation of the natural environment. This has proven to be a successful approach at other such quarry sites around the world, including none other than the Welsh Slate Belt, now a World Heritage Site. While a few quarries remain open, providing a window onto a once-prolific industry, most of the region’s quarries are closed, [filled] in, or used as landfill dumps.”

The industry was so expansive and complex, Matero and Hinchman decided its reporting would work better as a digital resource than as a paper report. The site combines information about the geology of the slatelands, 3D models of quarries, photographs of the workers and tools that extracted slate from the ground and fashioned it into everyday articles and building materials, interactive illustrations of the incline cableways and railroads that carried the materials, and pages of history about the economic, social, and cultural impacts of the now nearly defunct industry.

Pennsylvania quarries were once among the biggest slate producers in the world. It “spawned an entire industry and landscape, that almost disappeared overnight. That’s what I think makes this all so interesting,” says Matero.

Read more at PennDesign news.