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Rochester Lead Mine, Ulster County, New York

Last Updated: 6th Jan 2008

By Daniel Russell

Rochester Lead Mine
Rochester, Ulster County, New York

By Daniel E Russell

Mindat Locality Page: The Rochester Lead Mine

Throughout the 17th, 18th and early 19th Centuries, dozens of small lead mines and prospects were developed in Ulster and Sullivan Counties, New York. Each carried the promise of great mineral riches from both lead and the silver. Very few – if any - ever delivered on that promise, and even as late as 1877 a New York Times headline blared:

“Infatuation In Ulster County: A Fruitless Search Of 200 Years For Mineral Wealth
Early And Late Efforts Of Adventurous Seekers After Sudden Riches
The Shawangunk Mountains Riddled With Shafts”

The earliest record of the Rochester Lead Mine dates to 1732. In April of that year, one of the mine’s shareholders ) – a wealthy New York City lawyer named James Alexander (born 1688, died 1756) – recorded having paid one pound and six shillings "on account of the lead mine at Rochester". Over the next several years Alexander would pay out even more towards the mine… in June, 1732, seven pounds went "towards the charge of the Rochester Mine” and in November 1732, another five pounds, eight shillings and eleven pence. His accounts also show substantial mine-related payments to a “Henry Lane” (possibly the mine owner or agent) in 1735 totaling more than nineteen pounds, and in 1739 for more than five pounds. It should not, however, be concluded that the Rochester Mine was a “money pit” into which investors were throwing more money in a desperate effort to recoup their investments (although this is possibly the case). The costs may simply represent monies required for site development. Shareholders of Cornish mines were routinely required to shoulder the burden of development, and failure to pay monies due for such work would result in forfeiture of stocks. Anecdotally, Alexander was the father of William Alexander, the self styled “Lord Stirling”, who decades later would play a major role in the iron industry of northern New Jersey.

Contemporaneously William Cosby, New York’s provincial governor, reported:
"Some lead mines have been found in severall parts of this Colony, but they have hitherto not been farr quit of cost expended on them, and if they happen to prove good, I believe the proprietors will rather send it home in Oar [ore] than be at the charge to erect Smelting houses here."
Nothing more appears in the historical record until 1778, at which point it would appear that the Rochester Lead Mine is abandoned.

In that year, a major effort was made to develop sufficient lead mines in New York and Pennsylvania to answer the desperate needs of the Patriot Army. New York Governor George Clinton instructed Matthew Cantine, a member of the Provincial Congress and native of Ulster County, to determine whether or not the Rochester Lead Mine could be worked to the advantage of the patriot cause. John McDonald, an experienced miner, was engaged to undertake a survey of several lead mines, the Rochester Mine being one.

Cantine’s report to Clinton was rather depressing. “I do not Conceive it will turn out to any advantage to Continue the works upon the present plan any longer…”he wrote, and included McDonald’s detailed report on the mine for Clinton’s review.

McDonald’s description of his work on the site, written on June 3rd, 1778 indicates that there were at least two open-cast pits or prospects and a “level” or adit on the site. One of the pits was located “next to the Top of the Mine Mountain”. He cleared the pit, and found nothing, then opened two prospects nearby which yielded only 200 pounds of galena before playing out.

Next was the “Large Pit”:
”As to my Searching by Blasting with Powder into the Large pit, would be so precarious with Green hands, when my Setting a fire to the Matches in the Bottom therein, might, through their Ignorance in the hurry fetching me up, get themselves so Entangled handling the tools, that thereby getting lost both' them & I…”
The “matches” of which McDonald speaks are simple (and somewhat unpredictable) fuses made by impregnating cotton string with black powder made into a paste with alcohol.

He noted that he had observed ore in six different places, but that water accumulating in the pit would prove a major impediment to mining. This could be rectified by “making a form of Communication between the Level & the pit [which] Would prevent all the Obstructions of the Water.

Frustratingly, McDonald offers no description of the “Level” or adit.

McDonald recommended a series of “Tryals” to determine whether or not the mine could be made profitable enough to work, adding that unless this work was undertaken “my hearty advice in the Behalf of the Public is to give up prosecuting [the mine].”

The first “tryal” would be to further investigate the ore outcrops he had noted in the large pit, by excavating “to the Extent of 12 yards to the South East, 6 feet in Depth & 3 feet in Breadth or more if Occasion requires”. The next trial would be to create a way for the water of the large pit to drain into the adit. McDonald then informed Clinton that an excavation 12 yds long from the bottom of the pit along the vein is a south-easterly direction, followed by excavating pits six feet long, six feet in deep & three feet in wide at four different spots in an effort to strike ore. He estimated that Province of New York would have to be willing to expend up to £4,000 in order to develop the mine.

It would appear that the provincial government made no further effort in mining the Rochester Lead Mine. No record of 19th century efforts to mine at the Rochester Lead Mine have been discovered.


• Anon. "Infatuation In Ulster County: New York Times 13 July 1877

• Anon. “Minor Matters” The Mafazine Of History With Notes And Queries VOL. 3 JANUARY—JUNE, 1906 p68

• New York Colonial Documents, Volume 6 page 20

• Public Papers Of George Clinton, First Governor Of New York.
1777-1795 — 1801-1804. Volume 3 1900 Pp.391–394

Completed: 31 December 2007

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