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Former Funkhouser Quarry in Delta to be sold at auction

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The former Funkhouser Quarry in Delta, Pa., one of the last active quarries in the slate and rock industry along the Mason-Dixon Line, is set to be sold at auction in Baltimore early next week.

The 124.7-acre property along Atom Road, owned by Slateridge Limited Partnership, will be sold to the highest bidder by A.J. Billig and Co., at noon on Tuesday, at 6500 Falls Road in Baltimore.

The old quarry, which has become better known as a site for drunken parties and a prospective target for a landfill, is valued at $160,000.

Ruth Ann Robinson, curator of The Old Line Museum in Delta, said it was originally thought to be worth millions.

"It's one of our older quarries," Robinson said. "Unfortunately, in more recent histories, it's been used by kids and young adults who use it for parties."

She said the quarry dates back to the 1840s, when speculators from Lancaster County started moving west to York County.

Slate's heyday was around the early 1900s and it was primarily used as roofing material, until the Industrial Revolution produced synthetic shingles that were cheaper, she said.

The quarry's manpower largely left during World War I, she said.

Robinson noted the site still contains slate, and remaining piles of it were used for various purposes. In the 1950s, the slate was taken for highway paving material.

Hard facts about Funkhouser Quarry's operating history are hard to come by.

Catherine Bilger, manager of Peach Bottom Township, could only say it stopped functioning at least 30 years ago.

Since that time, however, the quarry has been proposed to be used for everything from a landfill to a county park.

Most recently, Robinson said she heard within the past five years from someone considering using the site to hold deposits from the Conowingo Dam.

The U.S. Geological Survey has warned the dam's sediment levels would reach capacity within 10 years, and The Susquehanna River Basin Commission planned to launch a sediment study by the end of the year.

"The last person who contacted me was trying to find the volume of [the quarry site], for the purpose of dumping Conowingo silt," Robinson said. "They have done similar things [with quarries] in the Poconos. They have filled them in with waste, I think from the coal industry."

Previous attempts to make the quarry useful were not successful.

"I know the water sits on top of an underground estuary, so the community's always been concerned about what goes in there. In the '70s, they were trying to sell it to be used for a landfill," she said. "The community got up in arms, really. Over the years, it's been used by speculators who thought it would be a gold mine someday for something like [a landfill]."

Another community member also tried to drum up interest several years ago to use the site for a park, Robinson said.

Meanwhile, at least six people have died in the quarry since 1993, almost all from drowning, according to records from the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection.

(The only death not listed as a drowning was that of a 28-year-old person in 1996 who jumped from a 125-foot-high wall.)

"Years ago, the property owners were worried about trespassing there," Robinson said. "The families had threatened to sue."

Auctioneer Jack Billig said Wednesday he is not sure who may be interested in the property, but the online auction listing had received about 1,000 hits.

"The quarry was supposed to be the biggest slate-producing quarry in the United States," Billig said. "The nuclear guys [from the nearby Peach Bottom Atomic Power Station] sold off a portion of the acreage that's below the quarry."

Billig said the site's tricky geography required the sale to be held in Baltimore.

"I rode out there and it's impossible to have the sale there. You've got to climb up this dirt road to see it," he said.

The quarry's fate, at least for now, is in the hands of prospective buyers.

"Whatever it brings, it brings," Billig said.

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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