New Main Street banners unveiled
Robert Stettner, a member of Northern Lehigh Future Focus, speaks during a news conference at D.L. Stevens Antiques on Tuesday for the unveiling of the new Main Street banners that will grace the new General Morgan Bridge in Slatington.
At one point in time, Slatington was recognized the world over as the Blackboard Capital of America.
With its steeped and storied tradition of slate, the borough played a vital role in the manufacturing of school slates and blackboards that would go on to help shape the educational process.
Over a century and a half later, the new Main Street banners will be hung on the light poles on the new General Morgan Bridge and its approaches.
The banners were unveiled during a news conference held by Northern Lehigh Future Focus Tuesday at D.L. Stevens Antiques in Slatington.
Robert Stettner, a member of Northern Lehigh Future Focus, said the school slates and blackboards produced in the borough were "far-reaching."
"The banners will recognize Slatington's slate heritage," Stettner said. "Slatington's school slate was an important part of American history."
Funding for the bridge banners was made possible with a Street Amenities Grant from Lehigh County, said Virginia Savage, manager of Main Street Initiatives, Lehigh County.
"We are delighted to be able to assist with the project," Savage said. "Keep up the good work."
Designed by local artist Patrick Bechtel of Slatington, the designs are based on old school slates, which were produced in large quantities at the turn of the century in the borough.
The 16 24-inch-by-18-inch double sided banners depict a school slate, and also include the writing on the "slate portion" with the words "Slatington established in 1864," the year of the borough's incorporation.
Also, the words "Blackboard capital of America" are included, which is a nod to Slatington's one time distinction of producing more school slates and blackboards at the height of the local slate industry than anywhere in the country.
Stettner said the borough will maintain the banners. He said the NLFF, a Slatington-based community visioning group that serves the Northern Lehigh area, coordinated the banner project.
Savage said previous banners were erected along Main Street in 2004 in recognition of Slatington's new National Register Historic District, and to welcome people to the borough.
The new banners will complement the existing banners in town, and will also be displayed yearly from spring to fall.
Slatington was a leading manufacturer of school slates. These slates were individual pieces of slate, on which students did their lessons. Slates were framed with wood and stitched together, and measured 4-6 inches by 9 1/2-14 inches.
School slates enjoyed widespread use until they were replaced by paper in post World War 1 classrooms.
William Roberts opened the first school slate factory in the country on Factory Street in Slatington in 1847. Five years later, blackboard making began in the borough.
However, with the arrival of cheap paper, and complaints of the unsanitary nature of personal school slates, domestic use declined during the first few decades of the 20th century.
By 1940, nearly all school slates were exported, with Central and South America, along with South Africa as the prime destinations.
At its peak, the region produced over 1,500,000 slates a year. In 1940, over 1,000,000 pieces of slate were produced in Lehigh County.
By World War II, the Lehigh Valley supplied nearly half of the slate produced in the country.
Today, blackboards are still locally produced at Penn Big Bed Slate Company in nearly Slatedale, but on a much smaller scale, often purchased as a novelty.
Slatington's many slate quarries also produced large amounts of roofing slate and other slate products in the 19th and early part of the 20th centuries.