Buckingham slate was being quarried at Arvonia by the mid-eighteenth century and was soon famous throughout Virginia. But because its weight made transportation difficult and poor quarrying techniques further decreased its marketability, it was only after the Civil War that it was widely used as a roofing material. The post-Civil War need for the physical reconstruction of the South created a soaring demand for roofing and other building materials. The development of canal transportation from the neighboring New Canton river port and, later, the railroad resolved transportation needs. Additionally, in the 1870s experienced Welsh quarrymen began arriving here and, along with other foreign workers, were part of a wave of immigration encouraged by the state to fill the vacuum left by the loss of slave labor.
Arvonia, the name the Welsh settlers gave their new settlement, derives from Carn arvon, a castle and port in the slate-mining district of Wales. By the early twentieth century, eight companies were quarrying slate in Buckingham and shipping their products all over the country. These extensive quarrying operations caused a local explosion of slate roofs, covering not only houses but barns, sheds, and privies. In several instances, entire houses were clad in slate and sidewalks were paved with it. Various quarrying activities continue in a number of areas not far from the center of town.
Although Arvonia was a single-industry community, it was never a one-company town. Perhaps for this reason, the controls demonstrated by the pervasive presence of the company at Schoolfield (PI65) in Danville or the looser organization at Pocahontas in Tazewell County did not materialize at Arvonia. At different locations in the town, some of the quarry workers' houses were built by a quarrying company, some by a development company, and some by the workers. The workers' houses were typical, modest, turn-of-the-twentieth-century company houses, weatherboarded frame, two-story dwellings with two rooms on each floor. Most have a one-bay, one-story porch along the front of the house. Built on a constricted budget, these residences offer a stark contrast to the houses of quarry owners.
Arvonia boasted an eighteen-room hotel, general store and post office, train station, and a bank. Many of those buildings are abandoned or have vanished altogether. Still standing are two notable Queen Anne houses, Bryn Arvon (c. 1891) and its close neighbor Gwyn Arvon (c. 1892) that are not visible from the road. They were constructed by Welsh brothers Evan and John Williams, owners of the Williams Slate Company, Arvonia's largest quarrying operation. The brothers built their frame houses to demonstrate the myriad uses of their blue-black slate but were not above using a modicum of red slate from Vermont and green from Pennsylvania as decorative accents. Slabs of slate were used for the foundations, patterned slates cover upper walls and roofs, and inside the material was used for baseboards, stair risers and treads, and even for kitchen sinks.
If SAH Archipedia has been useful to you, please consider supporting it.
SAH Archipedia tells the story of the United States through its buildings, landscapes, and cities. This freely available resource empowers the public with authoritative knowledge that deepens their understanding and appreciation of the built environment. But the Society of Architectural Historians, which created SAH Archipedia with University of Virginia Press, needs your support to maintain the high-caliber research, writing, photography, cartography, editing, design, and programming that make SAH Archipedia a trusted online resource available to all who value the history of place, heritage tourism, and learning.