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The "Lost Spinel" Locality of Orange County, NY

Last Updated: 20th Jan 2008

By Daniel Russell

The Lost Spinel Mine of Orange County, New York

New York's Mineralogical “Flying Dutchman”


by Daniel E Russell


In the mid 19th Century, two mineral collectors discovered a fantastic occurrence of enormous spinel crystals in Orange County, New York – a mere 40 or 50 miles from the center of midtown Manhattan.

Sometime prior to 1854, amateur mineralogists Silas R. Horton and John Jenkins, both of Orange County, New York, discovered a locality for spinel that produced modified octahedral crystals to 4 inches in diameter, as well as clusters of crystals that were even larger. The Mining Magazine reported on the
…monster spinels of Monroe, Warwick, and other neighboring towns of Orange county, which have been brought to light by the exertions of Messrs. Horton and Jenkins, of Monroe. Some perfect and well modified black octahedra have been found, and were exhibited over 4 inches in diameter, and groups of a much larger size. The well known species hornblende, Biotite, and many others, for which this county is so celebrated, were also fully represented. These species were included in the selections from the cabinets already named. (Anon, 1854)
Some of the finest examples of the spinel crystals that Horton and Jenkins recovered were placed on public display at the New York City Crystal Palace Exhibition which opened in 1853. Examples of the spinel crystals made their way into both the W.S. Vaux and C. S. Bement collections. However, neither Horton nor Jenkins revealed the exact locality of their find.

Horton and Jenkins were both well-known mineral collectors in the southern-New York State region, and often supplied specimens to university professors for study. In 1853, mineralogist Charles Upham Shepard of Amherst University named a green, velvety coating found on magnetite crystals from the O'Neil Mine in Orange County, NY jenkinsite in honor of John Jenkins; this material would later be proven to be antigorite. Similarly, Silas R. Horton was honored by Yale's eminent mineralogist George J Brush with "hortonolite", aslso from Orange county, which was later discredited as merely a variety of fayalite.

In 1883, gemologist George F Kunz revived interest in the Orange County site by publishing a brief note on it in his “American Gems and Precious Stones”.
The locality known as Monroe, New York, which furnished the monster spinel crystals so well known to collectors of twenty years ago, is really somewhere between Monroe and Southfield. Its exact location was known only to two persons, Mr. Silas Horton and Mr. John Jenkins, both mineralogists, who worked it for some years by moonlight for secrecy, and from it took crystals that realized over $6,000. The locality furnished many fine crystals that were ruined in blasting and breaking out. Since the death of the former miners the position of this most wonderful locality has been unknown. [Emphasis mine] (Kunz, 1883)
In 1890, Kunz revisited the story a second time:
The finest crystals from the locality known as Monroe, N. Y., are in the Vaux and Bement Collections, Philadelphia, and in the Amherst College Collection. The place that furnished the monster spinel crystals so well-known to collectors of twenty years ago, is probably somewhere between Monroe and Southfield. Its exact situation was known only to the two collectors, Silas Horton and John Jenkins, both now deceased, who secretly worked the locality some years by moonlight, and from it took crystals that realized for them over $6,000, although many fine crystals were ruined in blasting and breaking out . Since the death of these workers the location has been lost.
In the same year, the New York Times published a short article on the “lost spinel locality” in Orange County. After quoting Kunz’s comments, the Times observed of Horton and Jenkins:
They could not have worked the mine very successfully, for neither of them acquired great wealth. The only reasonable theory that has been suggested for the failure to work the mine more thoroughly, and for the profound secrecy observed by the two discoverers, is that the find was situated on lands owned by other parties, and they wanted to buy the land before disclosing their knowledge of the precious deposit hidden beneath the soil. They died without having been able to accomplish the purchase.
The story of the famous spinel mine remains as one of the most interesting and mysterious of local traditions. Every part of the mineral-bearing region along the New York and New Jersey border has been explored again and again by enthusiastic mineralogists and prospectors of all degrees, but the rich mine has never been rediscovered.
The Times added that a un-named “near relation” of Horton or Jenkins had recently stepped forward, claiming that he had helped Horton and Jenkins in their spinel recovery efforts and could lead others to the fabled locality. For a price. Presumably, his offer went unanswered.




Bibliography:

Anonymous “Notice Of The Mineralogical Collection In The Crystal Palace” The Mining Magazine, William Tenney, Ed. Vol 2 New York City 1854

Kunz, George F. American Gems Precious Stones Washington DC US Government Printing Office 1883

Kunz, George F. Gems And Precious Stones Of North America New York 1890

New York Times “Looking for a Lost Mine” 24 May 1890




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