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Director's Column

PLSJC Director Alan Hall writes a weekly column discussing library and community news, history, and other interesting subjects.

There's a Slate in the Gutter

By Alan Hall, Director, PLSJ
Publish Date - Sunday, June 19, 2011

“There’s a slate in the gutter.”


Every couple of years that comment is made at the Main Library.  During the winter months, it is common for a roof slate to come loose, and slide down the steep roof, landing in the gutter.


By summer, the slate is retrieved and sometimes the missing slate is replaced, sometimes not.


The loss of a roof slate may or may not result in a leak, as they overlap each other and usually the redundancy prevents an actual leak from taking place.


The problem is that the roof on the old Carnegie is quite high, and we have no means to access it without hiring a contractor.


The original 1902 roof was red clay tiles, and by the 1940s many of the tiles were broken from bricks and stones falling from the higher tower.


A 1948 report showed severe strains on the inside walls of the library from the damage.  Around the tower, the tiles had been removed and replaced with roll roofing.


In 1956, the deteriorated top of the tower was removed, and the roof was replaced with a slate roof, which was estimated to last 100 years.


We have passed the 50 year mark, and except for a slate here and there, it will likely make it to 100 years.


The bigger problem is the huge gutters that drain the water from the roof.  They become clogged with dirt and leaves (and stuff) and need constant maintenance.


Maintaining a 110 year old building has its challenges, especially one that has the beloved status that Mr. Carnegie’s does in our community.


“There’s a slate in the gutter” is not a new comment to me.


Growing up in a Victorian house with a slate roof, I heard the same phrase many times.


Sometimes it was from my father, or our neighbor telling my father with a certain delight, that a piece of his roof was no longer attached.


My father would mutter and grumble, and go up into the attic to “see if you could see light.”


If not, he would calm himself and say that he would get to it one of these days, perhaps with a little piece of tin, or a piece of roofing material.


When the day arrived for repairs, the 36 ft. extension ladders would come out of the garage, and we would all gather to watch my father’s climbing skills as the slate was recovered and the spot fixed.


I am unsure when this process officially ended for my father, but he discussed it well into his 80s.


I even told him about the occasional slate sliding off the library roof, which only brought a grumble from him.


That house is now owned by my brother and me, and last year he said to me, “there’s a slate in the gutter.”


My comment was that if it doesn’t leak, don’t worry about it, just reach out the bedroom window and try to knock the slate out of the gutter to end discussion.


I also remembered that there are some extra slates in the crawl space under the house if needed.


Each time I pull into my driveway at my house, I am so glad to look at the roof and see no slate.