Popular Posts


Sunday, May 29, 2011

Mining Mania in Grafton West

One of the earliest commercially quarried minerals in the area was limestone. Shown is the restored lime kiln, one of two built near Black Mountain in Haverhill for the purpose of burning limestone, a process essential to its use.

Pike Manufacturing Company works at Pike Station supplied natural whetstones to a worldwide market. In 1932, the company was bought out and the operation was moved to Littleton.

Employees of the Pike Manufacturing Company are shown hauling stone from the Haverhill quarry. Horses, such as "Old Phoebe," were relied upon to lighten the work load.

As printed in the Journal Opinion, -May 25, 2011

“What stores the bowels of the mountains contain, time must unfold; all searches for subterraneous treasures have hitherto proved fruitless. …But from the specimens which have appeared, there can be no doubt of the existence of mineral and fossil treasures, the search of which, future generations will find employment.”

This observation about New Hampshire was written by British writer William Winterbotham in 1795. He based it on the earlier writings of New Hampshire’s Jeremy Belknap. This column details some of the mineral treasures found in neighboring towns in Grafton County. It also examines some of what Belknap called, “the disappointments [and] air of mystery” of some local mining and quarrying enterprises.

Probably the earliest use of stone by the settlers of the area was fieldstones for foundations and stonewalls. The source was nearby pastures and woodlands. These practical uses also removed them as an obstacle to farming.

Soapstone, also known as cottonstone was one of the earliest commercially quarried minerals in the area. Easy to carve even with woodworking tools, this stone had many uses including gravestones, water pipes and stoves. One of the largest quarries was located two miles north of Orford village on Cottonstone Mountain. In 1825, Samuel Robinson, in his Catalogue of American Minerals, described it as “one of the finest localities of sealtite [soapstone] in the United States.” Two additional quarries were located in the village of Orfordville and north of Briar Hill in North Haverhill. Bittinger’s History of Haverhill states that attempts to bring the latter to market, “proved a financial failure.”

Limestone was used in the smelting of iron, for plastering or whitewashing walls and for agricultural use. It was found in a number of area towns. Limestone was found in Haverhill in 1837 and two kilns were built near Black Mountain for the burning of limestone, a process essential for its use. In his 1842 survey of the geology of New Hampshire, Charles Thomas Jackson wrote the “inexhaustible beds of limestone” in Haverhill, Lisbon and Lyme were of “incalculable importance” to the economy of the state.

Given the quantities of limestone and wood for the kilns, New Hampshire lime easily replaced more expensive lime from other states. The Haverhill Lime Company operated kilns from 1864 until about 1888. Jackson mentions that one of the several limestone quarries operating in Lisbon in 1844 was over 60 ft deep and 300 ft long.
While they appeared to have closed by the late 1880s, they were for a time, “quite an industry.”

It is for good cause that New Hampshire is known as “the Granite State.” Granite is its most common mineral. At one time or another, granite has been quarried in many local towns. From the earliest years, granite was used for fence posts, foundations, doorsteps and millstones. At first, the source was surface boulders, with quarrying beginning in New England about 1800. By then, granite was being used for buildings and monuments, uses that continue today.

The history of local granite operations, as well as other mines and quarries, is detailed in Katharine Blaisdell’s Over the River and Through the Years, Book Four.
She writes that there was quarrying of granite at the Catamount Ridge south of Haverhill Corner which began in the 1780’s. In 1844, C. T. Jackson observed that good quality granite existed there “abundantly” and was “extensively quarried.” A number of companies were established both at Catamount Ridge and Briar Hill in North Haverhill. One company featured pink granite from the latter. The granite from these locations was used in the construction of a number of local buildings.

In 1893, Stone magazine predicted that the granite industry in the Haverhill area would “develop into a great business in time.” However, competition from other states, including Vermont, ended that hope. By about 1900, the quarries, and the cutting sheds that serviced them, had ceased operation.

At Piermont’s Black Hill, granite was quarried for almost the same length of time. It was described as “a variety not found elsewhere in New Hampshire.” In 1890, the Black Hill Granite Company was incorporated to expand the existing operation with three quarries. While the granite took a beautiful polish, “it could not be quarried in large enough blocks free of imperfections to make the business profitable.” Prior to its demise, there was a plan to build a railroad to transport the granite to Bradford’s railroad connection.

Sythestones or whetstones were also quarried in Piermont and Haverhill, an industry that remained vibrant for over a century. Both towns had deposits of mica schist, a fine-grained stone hard enough to sharpen any steel. Robert Fillion of Haverhill describes the history of the industry in that town, beginning as early as 1820. Locally, it probably had its origins in the need of a farmer to sharpen an ax or scythe. He may have picked up a stone, found it served his purpose and a local industry was born.

A number of individuals including Isaac Pike of Haverhill and later Charles Dodge and W. H. Gannett of Piermont were involved in grinding whetstones, but it was Pike’s son Alonzo who transformed the industry. The A. F. Pike Company, incorporated in 1883, became the Pike Manufacturing Company. Using stone from its quarries in Haverhill, Lisbon and Piermont, it became the world’s largest manufacturer of natural whetstones. From its company town at Pike Station, it shipped products to domestic and foreign markets. The market for natural whetstones declined after 1920 and the company was bought out in 1932 and operations were moved to Littleton.

Several types of slate have been quarried in the local area. In his 1870 report on the geology of the state, Charles Henry Hitchcock describes the considerable amount of clay slate that had recently been located along the Connecticut River. The slate found in Littleton was suitable for roofing and marbleizing and other “practical purposes.” He mentions that “excellent specimens” indicated the presence of slate in Piermont and south into Hanover and Lebanon. While the southern locations proved commercially successful, I could find no evidence of a quarry in Piermont at that time.

While clay slate was found along the Connecticut, mica slate was quarried on the hillsides. At its best, mica can be mined in “books” and processed in sheets that are semi-transparent and capable of withstanding high temperatures. It was often used in place of glass, when that was unavailable or not suitable, as in stoves or oil lamps. The discovery of vast quantities of this mineral overseas in the 19th century discouraged local operations.

The most important site for open pit mica mining was at the Ruggles Mine at Glass Mountain in Grafton, NH, where mica was discovered in 1803. As late as 1906, they were supplying mica for the Mica Crystal Works grinding plant in Warren. During World War II, the Woodward mica quarry was in operation south of Orford village. According to a 1953 U.S. Geological Survey, the quarry produced a “fine grain quartz-mica” from a pit that was 140 ft. long, 25 ft. wide and up to 40 ft. deep.

Iron ore was mined in several area towns. One of the most productive mines was at Cross or Iron Ore Hill near the Piermont-Warren town line. In 1844, it was reported that immense quantity of, “specular and magnetic iron of superior quality” was found there and over 100 tons had been transported to a Vermont smelting furnace. In 1861, it was described as one of the richest ores in the nation. It was suggested that the availability of local firewood and limestone would make this a very profitable location, but apparently this did not materialize. The 1886 Grafton County gazetteer makes no mention of any iron mining in Piermont. There were prospects for iron at Holt’s Hill in Lyme also, but no active mining. The 1844 report mentioned two “nefarious swindling” proposals that lost money for investors.

One of the most interesting stories of a hoax involving mining mania is related in
Little’s History of Warren. A group of 19th century tourists from New York were visiting Mt. Moosilauke. “There they fell in with a spiritualist who went into a fit, and looking with shut eyes toward Sentinel mountain saw fourteen different mines upon that green wooded eminence…the oracle was believed, a company was organized and they actually worked a year and a half at the spot indicated.” The minerals found did not pay and the investors lost thousands of dollars.

But at Ore Hill in western Warren deposits of copper, lead, silver and zinc deposits were found. Attempt to mine these began in the 1830’s and continued until 1959. Some attempts in the 1860s resulted in short term success, to the point of creating an active village of miners. Most, however, were thwarted by high processing and shipping costs, failure to find sufficient resources and fire.

The best local example of mining mania was caused by the discovery of gold in Lisbon in 1864. Within a year, three companies had been formed with interests in Lyman, Lisbon, Bath and Monroe. The area was given the name “Ammonoosuc Gold Field.” By 1877, one company had shipped 500 tons of ore to crushing mills in the area. Hitchcock reported that the best part of the Lyman vein produced about $18 of gold per ton of rock.

He predicted that these mines would only be profitable with luck and the expenditure of considerable capital. Luck was not on the side of the prospectors and the gold produced was less than mining and processing costs. The whole business was based on speculation and mine salting was common. Some were fooled by gold lookalikes. Doubt led to decline and even an attempt to reestablish the mine in Lyman in the early 1900’s failed. With that, the dreams of a “new Eldorado” vanished.

In addition to these commercial enterprises, the minerals of the area attracted “mineralogical tourists.” From the first half of the 19th century to the present, these “rock hounds”, cold-chisel and hammer in hand, have scoured the area for cabinet specimens. In 1844, James Dana listed the minerals to be found in area towns. They included in Haverhill: garnet and natural arsenic; Lyme: kyanite and black tourmaline, and Warren: quartz and termolite.

New Hampshire is still described as “an excellent location for the amateur mineral field collector,” and recreational gold panning is popular on several local streams and rivers, including the Wild Ammonoosuc. Many of the abandoned mines and quarries mentioned above are sites for those seeking specimens.

Few companies other than gravel, sand and crushed rock remains from the various local enterprises mentioned in this column. Many of the abandoned quarries and piles of tailings from those mining operations are overgrown and forgotten, except as they pollute neighboring streams.

That is not to say that the hills that hosted these mines and quarries no longer have treasures to offer. Abandoned mining roads have become hiking trails. Mountain sides offer sites for recreation and forestry operations. Seasons are heralded by their changing colors. And for those of us who have grown up in their shadows, they provide the reassurance of having a horizon against which you can rest your eyes.

1 comment:

  1. In the mid to late ‘60s, my father, John M. Robinson, a mining engineer, worked at mica mining in a couple of mines in the Grafton area. (We lived a couple of miles from the Ruggles mine). He worked this mine in 1968 and early 1969. I was 9 years old at the time, but I remember going to the mine on Saturdays, when my father and mother would pick over the mining dump to get the mica that had been overlooked during the week, (and there was a good bit that had been), they usually found 3 to 4 big burlap sacks full, about 400 lbs worth, (mica was sold by the ton). Overall, the “Mud” mine produced quite a large amount of mica, making it a fairly profitable mine. My father shipped the mica to a processing plant in Spruce Pine, North Carolina. We were from North Carolina, which is a big mineral producing state in its own right. We moved back to North Carolina in mid 1969, so that my mother could be close to her terminally ill younger brother. We never went back to New Hampshire, my parents had decided in not to move back because of the harsh winters,(the blizzard of 1969 convinced them it was better to remain in the South). But, during the years we were in New Hampshire, my father did a lot of mica mining and made a very good living.