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Alabastine Mine, Kent Co., Michigan, USA

NW/4 Sec 2 T6N R12W

The Alabastine Gypsum Mine

The ground was broken for the first shaft in 1907, and by mid 1908 the hand dug shaft had reached the twelve foot thick gypsum seam with a floor about 85 feet underground at 1200 Judd St. S.W., in Wyoming, Michigan. A wooden stairwell surrounding the shaft was completed by the end of the year. The first 20 feet of the shaft was thru dirt, sand, and glacial gravel before bedrock was reached.

The next requirement of the Alabastine Company was digging a well in the mine to supply fresh water for the workers, and the mules that would be pulling the mine carts. The mules were housed in an underground stable that was completed in 1909. The well, completed the same year, went to a porus rock layer 160 feet underground.

Most of the output of the mine was used to produce plaster for stucco, and as a sparkly filler for alabastine paint. In later years the mine output was used to make gypsum wallboard. The Alabastine Company went bankrupt 40 years later due to poor management.

Mining was done by drilling two inch diameter holes six to ten feet into the walls during the day. In the evening dynamite would be placed and set off. By morning the dust would have settled and the miners would come in, clear the rubble, and hopefully drill the holes for the next day's 'shot'.

The mine has four main tunnels with 75 'rooms' branching off them (only one is completely filled with rubble, the rest are at least passable, but you have to crawl in some). Each room averages 75 x 700 feet. Each tunnel is about 30 feet wide. The mine workings comprise about 7 million cubic feet of gypsum that was removed, 800,000 square feet of floor space, and left behind almost 100 thousand cubic feed of gangue, much of which has been cleared so the mine could be used for storage. But there is still a big (unlighted) section of the mine that is not being used other than for collecting and has not been cleaned. The parts of the mine used for storage have cement floors.

The temperature of the mine is a natural 50-52 degrees. When the mine went bankrupt the Michigan Natural Storage Company was formed to take advantage of this natural refrigerator. Many Michigan crops are stored in the mine and released throughout the year for sale. Some of the 'rooms' are refrigerated to lower temperatures, and only rise two degrees a month. Some rooms are rented to companies for records storage, and today there is a data center located in the mine.

The Michigan Natural Storage Company sank two additional shafts to the mine in the late 1960s at a cost of $1.25 a foot. The original shaft is no longer used. For many years the mine was designated as a 'Fallout Shelter' that could hold a hundred thousand people. BTW, the company pays taxes on both their surface and underground land rights.

The mine is famous for its white alabaster with large crystals that sparkle, and for its honey colored selenite (the orange color is due to an iron impurity), with pencil crystals up to a foot long. There are also vugs containing perfect clear selenite crystals. The shale seams at the top and bottom of the gypsum layer contain shark and plant fossils. There is a half inch thick layer of clear selenite near the ceiling in most of the mine. Thin seams of satin spar gypsum can be found. Epsomite can be found growing as fine hairs out of the ceiling in most of the mine.

The family owned Storage Company had a long history of allowing public access to the mine. In the 1960s they had multiple tours a day and charged a quarter. By the late 1980s it was up to a dollar. In the 1990s they switched to only allowing non-profit groups access by lottery. The family company was sold around 2000 and public access disappeared; admission price at that time was $2. The local rock clubs still have limited collecting access due to an arrangement via a local college.

Mineral List

Epsomite
Gypsum


2 entries listed. 2 valid minerals.

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References

Summary of several papers published by Kreigh Tomaszewski across 50 years of collecting and research at his 'local' mine. Also includes some details from papers published by Dr. Mary Jane Dockery, Geologist with the Grand Rapids Public Museum, and details published by Dr. Kevin Cole, Geology Professor at Grand Valley State University.

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