Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Going Underground in Ogdensburg, NJ

Going Underground in Ogdensburg, NJ
Written by NJ Historian

In the small town of Ogdensburg, New Jersey in Sussex County, is a very important historic and geological site. In addition to being the Crossroads of the American Revolution, the site of the first planned industrial city (Paterson), and home to inventor and entrepreneur Thomas Edison, New Jersey can boast having one of the most renowned mineral districts in the world! In total, 357 types of minerals have been found in the mineral district at Sterling Hill Mine. These 357 types account for approximately ten percent of the minerals known to science. Additionally, thirty-five of these minerals have not been found anywhere else and an astounding ninety-one of these minerals fluoresce.

Inside the Sterling Hill Mine Adit.
Sterling Hill is an area rich in iron and zinc deposits. The ore is unusual, being composed of franklinite (an iron, zinc and manganese oxide), zincite (zinc oxide) and willemite (zinc silicate). Another mineral at the site which was mined at the site in early to mid-nineteenth century was hemimorphite, (a zinc silicate) also called "calamine" or "maggot ore". Franklin, New Jersey, two miles north of Sterling Hill is the only similar deposit known in the world. The ore bodies at the Sterling Hill Mine lie within a formation called the Reading Prong massif. The ores are contained within the Franklin Marble, which was deposited as limestone in a Precambrian oceanic rift trough. It underwent an extensive metamorphosis approximately 1.15 billion years ago. Uplift and erosion during the late Mesozoic and the Tertiary eras exposed the ore at the surface.

The area around the Sterling Hill Mine has been mined since the 1730s. Although there have been claims that Dutch immigrants explored and attempted to mine in this region of New Jersey as early as the 1640s, no such evidence exists. The earliest documented mining activities on the Sterling Hill site date from 1730, when the property, then known as the "Copper Mine Tract" was divided to the heirs of Anthony Rutgers by the Proprietors of New Jersey. Bright blue and green copper minerals at the surface led some to mistakenly assume that Sterling Hill was a copper deposit. Not much is known about these mines or their operation, as no records remain. The hills around the Copper Mine Tract were well-known for rich iron and zinc deposits.

Sterling Hill Mining Complex, circa 1920.
In 1769, the Copper Mine Tract was acquired by William Alexander (Lord Stirling), who primarily mined iron for his furnace in Hibernia, New Jersey. After Stirling's death in 1783, the property was acquired by Robert Ogden of Sussex County and later his son, Elias, circa 1795. Elias Ogden died in 1805, and his estate was divided into three separate lots for Robert Ogden, Thomas A. Ogden, and Elias Ogden, Jr. Between 1818 and 1824, the three properties were acquired by Samuel Fowler, a physician and amateur mineralogist who lived in Franklin, New Jersey. In 1810, he purchased Mine Hill in Franklin with John O. Ford; in 1816-1817, he bought out Ford’s interest. In 1818 and 1824, he acquired the Sterling Mine from the Ogden family. He had married Rebecca Ogden in 1816 after the early death of his first wife, Ann Thomson.

Samuel Fowler was very instrumental in stimulating the interests of geologists in the deposits. Although he invested substantial amounts of his own capital, his strong efforts to develop a great commercial zinc industry here were largely unsuccessful. Despite his unsuccessful efforts in profiting from the industry, he was able to catch the attention of Dr. Archibald Bruce, a mineralogist from New York City. While exploring the mines of Ogdensburg, he discovered zincite. Bruce published one of the earliest mineralogical papers in U.S. scientific literature in 1810, devoted to zincite. In his paper, he described the zincite and called attention to its abundance and value as a zinc ore, which was the first step toward understanding its chemical composition.

The mine shaft inside Sterling Hill Mine in Ogdensburg, NJ.
During Fowler's tenure, each of the three lots became known by a distinct name. Lot 8, known as the Sterling Mine, and Lot 10, the Noble Mine, primarily concentrated on the open-face mining of zinc and iron from 1818 to 1897 and 1847 to 1897, respectively. Using manual and blasting methods, blocks of ore were removed from a vertical cliff-face. Between 1848 to 1896. these two surface pits were mined for hemimorphite, a valuable zinc ore mineral.

Lot 9, the Passaic Mine, primarily concentrated on the open-pit mining of zinc and iron during the period 1824 to 1897. Toward the south end of Sterling Hill the franklinite ran unusually high in iron and correspondingly low in zinc, and thus made a good iron ore. The presence of some manganese in the ore was beneficial because it made the iron recovered by smelting much tougher and less brittle.

The three properties evolved in a similar manner until 1897 when they were consolidated under the New Jersey Zinc Company. The above ground mining efforts were abandoned and the mining company now focused on underground mining. The new mining venture began producing ore in 1912. Four years later, a mill was constructed on-site to begin grinding and beneficiating the ore before it was sent via railcar to the company's refinery in Palmerton, Pennsylvania.

Fluorescent rocks on display at the Sterling Hill Mining Museum.
Thomas Alva Edison was influential in the mining activity near the Sterling Hill mine. Edison purchased an iron mine in Sparta in the 1890s. The operation was called the New Jersey and Pennsylvania Concentrating Works. Edison invested approximately $2 million of his own funds and another million of investor money. The operation employed over 500 workers at its height and he introduced new techniques in blasting, conveying, crushing, and magnetic separation. Because of its remote location at the time, Edison built housing for the workers and introduced electricity to their homes, a first for this rural area of Sussex County. This expensive venture almost cost Edison to go broke but he managed to break even in the end and recovered his costs. Edison actively corresponded with the officers and management of the New Jersey Zinc Co., offering detailed advice on process technology, as well as designing equipment for the the company.

The underground mines at Sterling Hill were continually excavated. Shafts and tunnels were built deep into the ground. By 1922, tunnels went down as far as 1,680 feet. By the 1960s, tunnels going 2,550 feet deep. The New Jersey Zinc Co. abandoned the site in 1986, after more than 138 years of almost continuous production, due to the low price of zinc on the world markets at the time and a property tax assessment dispute with the Borough of Ogdensburg. When it closed, it was the last underground mine operating in New Jersey. This situation made the continued operation of the mine financially unsound,despite up to ten years of zinc ore unmined. The mine property was deeded to the Borough of Ogdensburg in lieu of back taxes. The property was sold at auction in 1989 to brothers Richard and Robert Hauck of Bloomfield, New Jersey, for $750,000. Together, Richard and Robert converted the facility into a museum, which opened to the public on August 4, 1990, dedicated to the history of mining at Sterling Hill, general mining history, and the mineralogy of the Sterling Hill orebody. The site was added to the New Jersey and National Registers of Historic Places in 1991.

Ore loading bins and conveyor system at the Sterling Hill Mine in Ogdensburg, NJ.
Today, thirty-five miles of tunnels remain, going down to 2,065 feet below the surface on the main shaft and 2,675 feet on the lower shaft. The mine remains at a constant fifty-six degrees Fahrenheit all year. Visitors to the site can tour 1,300 feet of the mine at the ground level, taking visitors through the adit to the lamp room, mine shaft, and past tunnels that lead to other sections of the mine.

The original change house for the miners, constructed about 1913, was once filled with about 300 lockers for the miners to change into and out of their work clothes. At the end of the workday, miners would put their wet, dirty clothes on a hanger and hoist them toward the ceiling to dry. Their boots were kept in baskets that were also raised to the ceiling at the end of each day. Today, the change house is filled with 12,000 items, including the Oreck Mineral Gallery which contains hundreds of fine mineral specimens, mining equipment and memorabilia, fossils, meteorites, gold, silver, and copper displays, and other local Ogdensburg and Sussex County artifacts.

The Thomas S. Warren Museum of Fluorescence is housed in the foundation ruins of the original 1916 mill building at Sterling Hill. Dedicated on October 16, 1999, the museum occupies four rooms of exhibit space, highlighting many different species of fluorescent minerals and products. In 2005, an astronomical observatory was built on the museum grounds, which houses several telescopes. The grounds also feature many pieces of industrial mining equipment including an early ball mill, stamp mill, sheave wheels, and ore carts. More buildings associated with the mine are slated to be open in the future, as funding allows. The Sterling Hill Mine remains the only site in New Jersey where visitors can learn about the mining process, the miners who worked tirelessly in the dark, cramped, and dangerous spaces, and explore the ground level of the mine in one of the world's most famous and notable mineral localities.

Additional photos of my trip to the Sterling Hill Mining Museum on Pinterest

Sterling Hill Mine Podcast (right click and choose "save target/link as" to save to your hard drive)

For More Information


bob and dick hauk are personal freinds of mine a. e. burr

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