PennPraxis

  • National Portland Cement Complex. Lehigh Valley, Pennsylvania. Photo Credit: Preston Hull

  • Lafarge Holcim- Whitehall. Lehigh Valley, Pennsylvania. Photo Credit: Preston Hull

  • American Bangor. Former Slate Quarry, Lehigh Valley, Pennsylvania. Photo Credit: Preston Hull

  • Alpha Cement Silos. Lehigh Valley, Pennsylvania. Photo Credit: Preston Hull

  • Spring 2016 Slate class visiting American Bangor. Photo Credit: Preston Hull

  • American Bangor. Former slate quarry of the Historic Lehigh Valley Slate Belt, Pennsylvania. Photo credit: Evan Oxland

Pit and Quarry: The Cement and Slate Industries of Lehigh Valley

The value of Lehigh Valley is visualized across its industrial landscapes where the architectural remains of quarries, kilns and mills from the last two centuries are part of the history of the nation’s great industrial era. During the 19th century and into the early 20th century, Lehigh Valley, Pennsylvania was a major player in the development of extractive industries including steel and cement production, coal mining, and slate quarrying. Between 1830 and the start of World War I, Lehigh Valley, which stretches over Pennsylvania’s “Slate Belt”—an area of only 22 square miles—became the greatest producer of slate in the world. In 1871, the first Portland cement plants in the country were built at Lehigh Valley; concrete, which would revolutionize modern construction, is made from Portland cement.

The ultimate intention of the Pit and Quarry research, which included an associated course in Historic Preservation, was to produce a well-documented and methodologically-driven study that identified the critical components of this industrial landscape and explore options for its preservation. The project was divided into four phases, the final of which included recording and documenting selected sites, and collecting oral histories in collaboration with Muhlenberg College, and prepare conservation management plans.  With the understanding that the region’s industrial legacy is key to its revitalization, the project aims to preserve the physical fabric of these sites, together with the more intangible social and cultural structures with which they coexist. These less adaptable sites, like quarries, pose enormous challenges for preservation and reuse.  Despite these challenges, the project aims to steer the reuse and preservation of these industrial sites away from becoming devoid of meaning and interpretation, attracting unwanted comparisons to the popular industrial chic movement, as described by Frank Matero.  

“Despite the recent popularity of industrial chic, critics now question whether this form of “adhocism” – that is, the improvisation of new, unrelated uses devoid of meaning and interpretation—has led to, at best, a polite taming of industrial heritage, and, at worst, its grotesque disfigurement in the name of gentrification and short-sighted corporate marketing.”

The documentation and ongoing work of this project can be viewed on the project's website: https://sites.google.com/view/theslatebelt/introduction 

PennPraxis began work in Summer 2018 to provide concept design and planning services to the Delaware and Lehigh National Heritage Corridor (D&LNHC), to support the development of new sections of the Heritage Corridor between the Route 329 Bridge in Cementon, PA and the Hamilton Bridge in Allentown on both sides of the Lehigh River. This work will build on the Pit & Quarry research, and seek to expand the recognized heritage of the area to include the Lehigh Valley cement and slate belt.  PennPraxis Executive Director Ellen Neises will direct this project. 

The Pit & Quarry research was led by Principal investigator Frank Matero, Professor of Architecture and Historic Preservation at the School of Design, University of Pennsylvania. Joseph Elliott, professional photographer, photography teacher and HABS/HAER photographer contributed. Collaboration for this project includes local, state and federal partners: National Park Service-Historic American Landscape Survey (HALS), the Historic American Engineering Record (HAER), the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission, the D&LNHC, and local community partners. Funding provided by the The J.M. Kaplan Fund