Heritage is important to the people of Cardiff.
Many of the nearly 500 residents of this sleepy little town in northern Harford County are descendants of a band of Welsh miners who migrated to this country to work in the slate industry in which they had formerly worked in their own country.
The historical marker on a road outside of town proclaims"Peach Bottom Slate Region first used in 1734, is the oldest in America. The first commercial cut having been made by workmen who were primarily Welsh. At the London Crystal Palace Exposition, 1850, Peach Bottom slate was judged best in the world."
For nearly 200 years, quarries on the 10-mile ridge from the present village of Whiteford toward Peach Bottom on the Susquehanna River produced slate used for roofing, walkways, burial vaults and tombstones.
The industry, like many others, could not stand competition, increased production costs and the introduction of new roofing materials. By 1930 almost every one of the 200-foot shafts ceased to operate. The scars of this forgotten industry remain. A score of immense caverns are now filled with water. They serve as reminders of the discovery of slate by the Welsh.
The people who came from Wales to operate and work in the slate quarries settled along the ridge in towns now known as Whiteford, Cardiff and Delta. While few except the older generation speak Welsh, the custom of singing in that language is now used only on special occasions.
One of those who speak the language is Gwen Roberts Kilburn, who at 85 is Cardiff's oldest living inhabitant of Welsh descent.
"Our heritage is all that remains," said Mrs. Kilburn, whose great-grandfather Richard Roberts named the town after the one in Wales. "When the quarries closed in 1930 the men had to seek employment elsewhere."
Today, Cardiff offers little in the way of commercialism. What you will find, however, is a friendliness that has all but disappeared in many communities.
"I've only been here eight months but I feel like a native son," said John Holts, officer-in-charge of the town's post office. "I'm on a first-name basis with nearly everyone in town. The people make me feel like one of their own. I'll miss them when I leave."
Mr. Holts, the only government employee in Cardiff, is near the end of his tour of duty as OIC. The town hasn't had a postmaster since Maggie Harrison retired last year. Someone else will take Mr. Holts' place shortly "and I feel he or she will get the same warm response I have. I wouldn't mind retiring here someday."
It's understandable. In a span of less than an hour a few of the townsfolk stopped in to pick up their mail (there is no delivery in Cardiff) and exchange pleasantries. Margaret Warner, Mary Little, Delma Welsh and Jake Jones all stopped in for mail and conversation.
Dorothy Cox has operated a beauty salon on Main Street for 46 years and still averages about seven appointments a day, 5 1/2 days a week. "I guess my shop and the post office are about the only places in town where people gather on a regular basis to exchange news," she said while washing the hair of Esther Richardson.
Other businesses on Main Street include Rick's Rookie Sports Cards, Delta-Cardiff Pools Inc., and Cardiff Auto Repairs. George's Body Shop is on Church Street and Heaps Oil Co. can be found on Green Marble Road about a block off Main.
"Everything else is gone," sighed Mrs. Kilburn. "The general store, the movie theater, the school, the railroad station -- all gone."
Sure the town has changed as have many small towns in America where industry has died. But Cardiff is still very much alive. It is alive in the people and their heritage.
One only has to visit the Slate Ridge Cemetery which overlooks the town and the quarries beyond to realize that something special happened here. The roll call of those who left their mark include: Roberts, Jones, Griffith, Williams, Hughes, Reese, McCandles, Lewis.
They were a sturdy, patriotic and religious people whose influence has been felt in the community for generations.
No. of police cars: 0.
No. of churches: 1.
No. of traffic lights: 0.
No. of government employees: 1.
Oldest living person of Welsh descent: Gwen Roberts Kilburn.
Historical sites: The quarries of Slate Ridge.