A deep issue

They're dubious landmarks with the look of a low-budget post apocalyptic movie, a fascinating history and an ironic geographic anomaly.

The recently-sold Funkhouser Quarry property on the Mason-Dixon Line in the Delta-Cardiff-Whiteford area was a major source of slate from the era in U.S. history when slate was the preferred material for roofing shingles. The durability of slate is evident in buildings throughout the region whose roofs, shingled with the flat rocks a century ago, remain largely as they were even as more modern roofs have been replaced two and three times in the time since mining slate became unprofitable.

Quarried from pits dug deep into the earth, the valuable slate was carted away, but massive amounts of rock and dirt were left behind in huge piles near the pits. Though the pits are noteworthy for their depth, the piles of rock and dirt (politely referred to in the mining business as overburden) are among some of the highest geographic points in Harford County.

Though the slate business in northern Harford and southern York counties has been defunct for decades, the various slate mining properties along the Mason-Dixon line remain known for their former uses, and are generally referred to as quarries.

The private properties have been largely secured against trespassing in recent years, though there have been times in the past when they were the scene of tragic accidents; most of the old quarries, dug well below the waterline, have filled with clear water that's so deep, it turns blue before you can see the bottom. At times, the promise of a quick dip in cool water has been too much for some trespassers to resist. Similarly, the depth and steep quarry walls above the waterline have made the pits attractive to car thieves, who have, over the years, pushed stolen vehicles into the depths.

Many uses have been proposed for the former quarries and surrounding properties. No doubt, speculation will be renewed to some extent now that the Funkhouser property has been sold to an as-yet undisclosed buyer. The purchase price of $170,000 for the 124.7-acre property comes to a little more than $1,360 an acre. This is substantially less than the millions it was once believed the property was worth, and is low enough to make redevelopment of the territory for residential, commercial or business uses a financially-practical option.

Hopefully, this latest financial transaction will result in a business proposal that won't draw the public anger of some past proposals (notably that the quarries be used as a dump), yet still improve the overall economic viability of the area even while adding to the quality of life.

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