They're the last of a dying breed.
The only one of its kind in the area, Penn Big Bed Slate Company has survived four generations, and is the last working slate quarry in the state.
It's no wonder, then, why the prestige of Business of the Month has been bestowed upon the company by the Greater Northern Lehigh Chamber of Commerce.
With offices in two locations, 8450 Brown Street, Slatington, and another in Pen Argyl, the business is run by a management team of Peter J. Papay Sr., president, Peter J. Papay Jr., quarry supervisor; Erik Eitner, office and general manager; and John Dally Jr., general manager at Dally Division in Pen Argyl.
Peter Papay Sr. said the business is "unique in several ways."
"We make slate products mined and manufactured here in Lehigh County and Northampton County," Papay said. "We ship all over the United States and North America."
At one time, Papay noted there were over 160 quarries operating in the Slate District.
Roofing slate, floor tile, windowsills, treads and risers, fire place surrounds, mantels, counter tops, vanity tops, blackboards, stepping stones, craft slate and slate for turkey calls and many other slate items are among the company's various products.
The business was started in 1934. Later on, Pete's grandfather, Jake Papay, and his son-in-law, Steve Babyak, along with Jake's four sons, John, Tom, Steve and Mike Papay, decided to "go on their own ".
Jake, Steve Babyak and John Papay had the experience from working in other quarries. They started by paying royalty to work quarries that were owned by other families. When they had enough "money, manpower and guts", they bought one of the first quarry sites from the Shenton family, which had been opened in 1845, right where it's located today. They bought it from the Shenton family, as Labarr and Shenton were two of the early quarry men that picked Slatedale to be "home".
Over the years, the company has supplied many jobs with its "Pa.Gray Slate ". Part of the company is in many schools and colleges all over the country, from their roof slate, blackboards and floor tile to the lab counter tops, wall cladding, treads and risers, as their slate is well known to the architects.
"We supplied famous people and institutions, from Jackie Gleason in the older days, to several other well known movie stars of today, to well known places like Ellis Island and West Point," Papay said. "If we had degrees from all of them, we would all be Masters and Doctors."
Papay said the goal "is to continue making Slate products with the same quality and hand craftsmanship that made us the last survivor in our state."
"Our Pennsylvania Big Bed Slate, that we are named for, is prominent and known around the world," he said. "Our future plans are to keep at it and continue to look for new ways of quarrying and manufacturing."
The newest product to be marketed, Papay said, is Slate Aggregate, locally known as crushed stone.
Papay said State Rep. Julie Harhart (R-Lehigh/Northampton) has gone to bat for the business for several years, and has submitted a resolution that has passed and is now being worked on by the state Department of Transportation.
The resolution, Papay said, is an ambitious plan to reuse the old slate piles that are at any location that had a slate quarry.
"Our mine site in Slatedale has a crushing operation called Slatedale Aggregate Materials," he said. "We have already been supplying several municipalities and local contractors."
It is their hope, Papay said, that PennDOT will find the company's product beneficial to more state wide use.
"This could help create jobs, cut expense for business in the Lehigh Valley and reclaim land in the process," he said. "When this is accomplished, our own state Rep will be able to say she made one of the best real positive improvements for small business and government in our time."
Anyone interested in any of the products offered can contact Papay at 610-767-4601, 610-767-9252, fax, or visit www.pennbigbedslate.com .