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An Artist's View of the New Jersey Iron Mines in 1860

Last Updated: 9th Feb 2008

By Daniel Russell

An Artist’s View of the Iron Mines of the
New Jersey Highlands (1860)

Iron mining has never borne the same romance as gold and silver mining, even though iron has played a far more utilitarian role in human civilization. Prior to the discovery of the enormous iron deposits in Michigan and Minnesota, the mines of the northern portion of New Jersey were among the most important sources of iron ore in North America.

In April, 1860, John Reuben Chapin, an artist with Harper’s Monthly, published a series of sketches of the iron mines around Dover, Morris County, New Jersey, where rich deposits of magnetite were worked for two centuries.

Chapin was born in Providence, Rhode Island in 1823; his family relocated to New York City in 1830. As a boy, Chapin showed great promise in art. A family friend, Samuel F B Morse (of telegraph fame) enabled him to enrolled in the Academy of Design in Manhattan at the age of 14. His father, a bibliophile who made musical instruments, secured him an appointment to West Point. John wanted instead to study art, so with the help of his mentor Morse a compromise was reached and John was enrolled as a law clerk to study law. After a mere six months of mind-numbing tedium, Chapin broke free and went to Boston to try to create a career as an illustrator. He managed to obtain a position with “Gleason's Pictorial Magazine,” a family magazine. Although the magazine folded after only a few years, it helped Chapin develop a reputation as a skilled illustrator.

In 1860, Harper and Brothers of New York City, the publishers of Harper’s Weekly and Harper’s Monthly, hired Chapin to take over the art department of their magazines. One of the first sets of illustrations he undertook for them was for a piece he wrote on the iron mines of the New Jersey Highlands, which appeared in Harper’s Monthly in April, 1860.

Chapin was neither a mining engineer nor a geologist. His prose is cumbersome, and his attempts to explain the how’s of mining in the 1860 to a popular audience are labored. However, his pen and ink illustrations offer a valuable record of mining in a historically important iron district. In a literary technique commonplace in 19th century, Chapin created the artifice of a character named “Neutral Tint” – “a tired artist in search of relaxation” – and his friends to stand surrogate for himself and interpret the action for his readers.

One of the first mines that Chapin examined was the Hibernia Mine, in Morris County, one of the older and more productive mines. This mine was started about 1721, and in the 1760’s and 1770’s was closely linked to prominent New Jersey iron founder William Alexander, the self-styled “Lord Stirling”. The site was worked for iron as recently as 1906.

This was followed by a visit to Swede’s (Sweed’s) Mine. This mine was begun sometime prior to 1855, and by 1860 had received considerable notice for the various mine-related machinery that was the company had installed. Next, Chapin visited the Byram Mine, which had opened in the early 1840’s. Finally, he toured the Dickerson Mine in Succasunna (“Suckasunny”), one of the largest in New Jersey, which like the Hibernia Mine, dates to the early 18th Century and was worked as recently as 1908. There he was briefly entertained by Frederick Canfield, superintendent of the mine, mineral collector, and father of “the” Frederick A Canfield who’s bequeathed his collection of 9,100 mineral specimens to the Smithsonian Institute.

A rather lengthy prequel to Chapin’s notice of the mines, involving fishing and swimming with polliwogs, has been discarded.

Artist-Life In The Highlands Of New Jersey
By John R Chapin Artist

…A drive of some four or five miles brought the party to a secluded and romantic valley, in which they passed several rude cabins, constructed, in the most primitive style, of logs and slabs chinked with mud, and each surrounded by a cabbage garden, in which a doubtful struggle for supremacy was going on between the rocks, weeds, and vegetables. Crossing a rustic bridge that spanned the Hibernia brook, the Doctor called attention to the ruins of an old mill whose blackened and worm eaten timbers proclaimed its antiquity, as the forge which was worked by Lord Stirling during the Revolutionary war, where many of the Hessian prisoners taken at Trenton were employed in casting balls for the use of the army. Just as the Doctor had pointed out, on the face of the mountain to the left, the various openings of the Hibernia mines, an individual was seen approaching from one of the log cabins by the side of the road, holding up his right hand, which was bound up with cloths, to attract their attention. He proved to be one of the miners who had met with an accident the day previous, by which he had crushed three of his fingers so badly as to render amputation necessary. The poor wretch had given himself up to drink, and was but one step removed from delirium tremens. This was an unlooked for episode, but the Doctor yielded to the calls of humanity; and while he and Snell entered the cabin to attend to the case, Tint occupied himself in sketching the old forge and other points of interest.

Hibernia Mine, circa 1860
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In the course of an hour the poor miner's hand had been duly doctored, the horses were secured to a neighboring tree, and our friends had scrambled up the mountain to the entrance of one of the mines which are now in operation. Before entering the mine let us sit down here upon this huge boulder with the Doctor, and from this elevated stand point get an intelligible idea of the location and nature of the metalliferous deposits, the working of which we are about to witness.

If you consult a map of the State of New Jersey, you will find that the highland region is composed of a series of mountain ranges, which are a continuation of the highlands of the lower portion of the State of New York. The ridges are not continuous and parallel, but are of short duration, rising at their northeastern terminations with a gentle ascent, while their southwestern terminations are abrupt and sudden. Their stratification corresponds with their formation, and evidences of an elevating power in the direction of northeast to southwest, together with a lateral power acting from the southeast to northwest, are apparent throughout the entire region. Take a large volume, and, laying its back upon the map in the direction of the mountain ranges, inclining it at an angle of 45° toward the northwest, imagine some twenty leaves in the centre of the book to be iron ore, and you will have a tolerably correct idea of the situation, direction, and dip of the metalliferous veins, which correspond, of course, with the direction and dip of the rocks with which they are connected.

The metal lies in veins varying in thickness from three feet to eighty feet, the average ranging from six to ten feet. Often-times it is found in successive strata, overlapping each other and outcropping at the surface, although its exposure is generally of a limited extent on account of its pitch beneath the superincumbent rocks. The outcrop of the ore generally occurs on the top of the ridges, and is discovered in various ways. To a person thoroughly conversant with the geology of the region, and the nature of the deposits in those localities that have been worked, the overlapping rocks – which possess the same general characteristics for a considerable distance – will serve as a guide. The surveyor's compass is, however, the most frequent means made use of to discover the presence of a deposit of ore, which, being of a highly magnetic character, attracts the needle, and points out the spot where a bed of metal may be found. It does not always indicate the extent of the deposit, however; for it may be deflected powerfully where there is but a small amount of ore near the surface, or but weakly where there may be a large body of it at some considerable distance beneath.

Underground at the Hibernia Mine, circa 1860
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A deposit of ore having been located, and its probable extent ascertained by means of trial shafts, cross cuttings, boring, etc., the miner decides as to which of the several modes of working he will adopt to bring the ore to the surface in the most economical manner. Where the mineral is in large quantities, and not at any very great depth, open working is the most simple. In this case the superincumbent earth or rock is taken off, and he proceeds to remove the ore by successive terraces, guarding against the crumbling or falling in of the sides by giving them a proper slope, or by props of timber. Ditches are dug to conduct to the surface the water, which, in rainy weather and in the winter, would inundate the workings. From the nature of the deposit this plan can rarely be followed to any great extent, and underground mining is resorted to. This is conducted by shafts, levels, or sinks, as is found to he most convenient and economical. A reference to the diagram on the next page will convey to the reader's mind a better idea of these several modes than any other description that could be given. The figure represents a transverse section of a mountain range, running in a northeast and southwest direction. AB is the vein of ore to he worked, outcropping at A, and dipping at an angle of 45° toward the southeast. C is what is called an adit level cut through the bill from the lowest point in the valley to the vein of ore. Where the distance to be cut is not too great, this is by all odds the best and most economical mode of working, because, after the vein is reached, galleries are cut right and left, and all that portion of the ore between D and A, and ranging to an indefinite extent on either side, may be brought to the surface, and the mine
Parts of Mine

drained, without the use of any power whatever. The cars are run out on the slightly inclined track, and the water is conducted through the same channel. And when that portion of the ore which lies above the adit is removed, the miner has but to commence the use of that power which his neighbor, who works a shaft, has been compelled to use from the start. Next in point of economy is the inclined shaft, or sink, shown at A. In working by this mode the miner commences at the outcrop, and drives his shaft directly down into the deposit, and at various depths makes galleries to the right and left, takes out the ore, as in the former case, and it is brought to the foot of the incline in cars, in which it is drawn to the surface. Formerly the surface ore which was removed in sinking a shaft of this kind was thrown aside as worthless, on account of its admixture with foreign substances, but it is now considered nearly as valuable as the purer ore, the foreign material serving as a flux, which, in smelting the purer ore, has to be supplied. At E is shown a perpendicular shaft, which is sunk through the overlying rock until it strikes the ore bed at D, when a similar course is pursued as in the former cases. In some instances all of these modes of working are in use in a single mine. As we shall visit different localities where these several methods of working have been adopted, we will reserve further details until we come to describe each.

The Hibernia mining tract is situated in Rockaway township, about four miles from the Morris Canal, and embraces the “Beach,” “Lower Wood,” “Glenn,” “Upper Wood,” and “Willis” mines. It outcrops on the surface of a mountain ridge, which, commencing at Hibernia Brook, rises, somewhat abruptly, to a height of nearly four hundred feet, and runs in a northeasterly direction. It is one of the oldest mining tracts in the Highlands, having been worked long anterior to the Revolution, and is now divided into mining lots that derive their names from the persons owning or working them. There are two, and in some places three, separate layers or strata of ore, interstratified with micaceous or hornblende schists. The location of this deposit is such that it might be most advantageously worked on a large scale by extending the adit level, which enters at the foot of the hill, or near it. The whole of the ore above the level of the valley might be removed without the expense of machinery for hoisting and pumping; and as the Morris Canal is forty-seven feet below the entrance of the mine, a gravity road, four miles in length, from the mine to the canal, might be constructed, by which means the cars which are loaded in the mine would discharge their contents into the canal-boats destined to convey it to a market at the iron smelting furnaces of New Jersey and Pennsylvania. Do you ask why it is not done? “Alas!” we answer, “the iron of other countries can be manufactured and transported to these regions cheaper than it can be mined and smelted, even with such facilities; and this mining tract, which might give employment to hundreds of workmen, and be of incalculable benefit to the adjacent country, lapses to decay. The timbers rot, and allow the soil to cave in and fill up the levels; the water floods the mines, and the works are deserted except semi occasionally, when a scarcity in the foreign market enables some enterprising individual to take out a few hundred tons of ore, which are sent to market and manufactured; but by the time he gets well to work the price falls, he can not compete with foreign iron, and is compelled to desist.”

Our friends stood at the entrance of an adit of recent formation, and, after procuring candles, proceeded to enter the opening. For a hundred feet or more the ore has been entirely removed from the vein, and the foot and hanging walls are exposed to the light of day, forming what I have been describing as open workings. At the end of this open gallery the vein of ore is distinctly seen lying between the rocks, and dipping at an angle of about sixty degrees. A dark and dismal looking hole, about six feet square, offered an entrance into the bowels of the earth; and, sticking their candles into lumps of clay for candlesticks, our friends entered the dark passage. For a short distance the daylight which lighted up the opening enabled them to grope their way over the sleepers of the track without difficulty; hut a slight curve soon shut off this advantage, and they found themselves surrounded by a thick, impenetrable darkness, only made more tangible by the flickering light cast by their candles and reflected by the damp walls on either side. It was only by holding their lights low down that they were enabled to pick their way; and notwithstanding their care, they now and then stepped into a mud hole between the sleepers, or bumped their heads against the hanging walls, or against the timbers which stretched across their way. The faint clink of hammers was now heard, becoming more and more audible as they proceeded, until it rang and reverberated all about them, and they were told by their guide to halt and look up.

For a few moments they could discern nothing but their own ghastly looking faces by the light of the candles, and a number of faint specks of light, like glow worm tapers, far above them. Gradually, however, their eyes began to penetrate the surrounding darkness, and a sight indescribably grand began to develop itself to their vision. Standing upon detached pieces of rock, in a pool of water which had collected in a basin from which the ore had been removed to too great a depth, they could discern the sombre walls of the cavern towering up before and behind them, until it was lost in solid blackness; except in one place where the ore had been taken out too near the surface, and a faint ray of daylight struggled through an opening where the soil had caved in, but soon graduated into the surrounding darkness, as though unable to cope with the monarch which there reigned supreme. To the right was the mass of black ore, rising shelf above shelf in the form of steps, and on each shelf men were dimly seen drilling, picking and prying off the metal, which was pushed down from step to step, as it accumulated, to the bottom, where others were engaged in shoveling it into a car that was to convey it out of the mine. Lighted candles were affixed to the walls of the mine, or were borne upon the heads of the miners, and emitted a feeble light, scarcely sufficient to enable the eye to distinguish them in the surrounding shadow. Timbers were stretched across from wall to wall in every conceivable direction, to prevent them from falling in, and gave the cavern a peculiarly weird appearance. The mode of extracting the ore here practiced is called “stoping” by the miners; and there are two ways of doing it one called “overhand,” and the other “underhand stoping.” In the former the ore is removed from below upward, and in the latter it is removed from above downward. The last is most generally practiced in this region, being considered the most economical. As the ore is removed timbers are inserted, reaching across from wall to wall, and upon these are piled the rubbish and “ lean ore, forming what are called “stulls.” In many of the mines the deposit is so pure that it is removed without leaving sufficient rubbish to support the walls, and so much stoping surface being exposed renders the mines dangerous to the workmen.

After our friends had satisfied their curiosity they returned to the outer world by the path. they came, and scrambled up a series of rude steps cut in the rock to a spot where two or three workmen were engaged in getting out “surface ore.” Here the soil had been removed for a space of some twenty feet long by six wide, and the ore lay exposed, presenting the appearance of a laminated sandstone discolored with oxide of iron. The application of the pick showed it to be very friable, breaking up into cubical pieces about an inch square, some of which were pocketed as specimens. At various distances along the surface of the mountain openings have been made, and a greater or less quantity of ore taken out; but our party being short of time, and having made up their minds to visit other localities where the operations were carried on upon a larger scale, they did not visit them. After having enjoyed a long “sniff of the rural aspect” from the elevated position which they occupied, they started down the mountain, on their way to the Sweed’s mine, situated on the Morris Canal, about a mile east of the village of Dover.

This deposit of ore outcrops on the southeastern slope of a hill, about seventy five feet above the level of the water in the canal, and is a valuable one, both on account of its proximity to the canal and of the immense quantity and valuable quality of the material obtained. The workings are not deep, but extend six hundred and eighty feet from the inclined plane in one direction, and nearly two hundred feet in the opposite direction. The deepest portion is about two hundred feet below the surface. The thickness of the vein varies, being at some places thirteen feet, at others ten, and again only one and a half feet through. There are two shafts and two adits open to the surface; the shafts being respectively eighty five feet, and one hundred and eighty eight feet deep.

They were unfortunate in not finding any one disposed to act as their guide, or explain to them the working of the mine, and were obliged to wander about the surface, picking up such scraps of information as they could gather from the workmen, some of whom they met with at the top, taking out surface ore with a kibble and windlass, very much in the same way as well-diggers carry on their operations. A very limited idea of a mine can be formed, of course, from the operations carried on upon the surface, and they were anxious to descend into the shafts; but the agent being absent, and a request to one of the foremen being met with a surly refusal, they were obliged to content themselves with a view of the exterior, except a short trip into one of the adits. Descending the hill in the direction of the canal, they came upon a solitary miner who, with the assistance of a boy about thirteen years old, was washing lean ore at the mouth of a hole in the side of the hill which was timbered up, and out of which the water that he was using ran. Upon inquiry, they learned that this was the opening of an adit which led in to the vein of ore, and that the water was that which was pumped up from the bottom of the mine to this level, and here discharged. While in conversation with the miner, and listening to a peculiar rumbling sound that came from the bowels of the earth, and which appeared to come nearer and nearer, they were startled by the apparition of a head with a pair of long ears attached, issuing from the aforesaid hole, which head was immediately followed by the body of a jack attached to a car loaded with ore.

Jack hauling ore, circa 1860
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Having no driver, they were curious to watch his operations, and saw him proceed very methodically along the windings of the track to the dock – a distance of one or two hundred yards – where the car was discharged by workmen into a canal boat – and then as methodically turn about and return into the mine. Getting the miner to furnish them with a candle, they waited the forthcoming of the mule, and as soon as he made his appearance in the outer air they started to enter. The mouth of the adit was about five feet high and about three feet wide, allowing just space enough for the car and mule to pass. The timbers looked very much as though the superincumbent earth would crush them in; and after passing in about twenty feet they came to what had been another adit, running off to the right, the timbers of which had been crushed in; here they were called upon to contemplate the fate which would have befallen any unlucky wight who might have happened to be under the mass of earth and rock that now filled the opening. Hurrying along by the light of their solitary flickering “dip” to get out of the way of the returning mule, Tint suddenly became conscious of the presence of more stars than were ever supposed to exist in the firmament above, and found himself on his hands and knees in a puddle of water between the sleepers, and in total darkness. His first thought upon returning consciousness was that the mine had caved in, and that he had been hurried before his time into that region which is not to be named to ears polite; but as no very sulphurous odor saluted his nostrils he called out to his comrade, and being reassured by his answering call that they were yet on, or at least near, the surface, he gathered himself up and endeavored to regain his candle.

Adit at Sweed’s Mine, circa 1860
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It appeared that, in his too great haste to avoid the incoming team, he had forgotten the limited height of the passage, and had struck his head a severe blow against one of the overstretching timbers, which had knocked him off his feet and extinguished the light. Here was a dilemma! The sound of the wheels of the car on the track warned them that the mule was already returning; and to go onward seemed desperate. They, however, concluded to feel their way along, and, as a last resource, to try and stop the enemy in their rear. Fortunately they had not proceeded far before they discovered a faint gleam of light in front of them; and in a moment more, guided by its ray, they found themselves in a space about six or eight feet square, and at the mouth of an inclined shaft about two hundred feet deep. The ore had been removed from the vein above the point where they stood to a point as near to the surface as it was safe, and it was now being taken out below the adit, and brought up to this point in cars which were drawn out by the mule. A miner stood here for the purpose of shifting the cars – sending the empty ones down the incline, and those containing the ore out of the adit. Our friends had scarcely reached their stand point, and recognized in the dim, uncertain gloom the solitary individual whose time seemed only computed by the transit of the cars, and whose monotonous employment was but seldom relieved by the advent of visitors, ere the mule passed them, and running his empty vehicle upon a rude turntable, in a hole which had been cut into the solid rock, turned it about and stood ready for another trip. The chain which raised the cars from the depths below ran upon rollers fixed in the foot wall up to the surface, where it was wound upon the drum of a wheel driven by water power, and its action was reversed by means of a long rod within the miner's reach. Being informed by him that it was contrary to orders to allow visitors to descend the plane, our friends followed their long eared guide to the surface again; and their curiosity being satisfied for the time being, they returned to Dover.

A Miner, circa 1860
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The next morning the Doctor drove them over to Lake Hopatcong, where they spent the day, returning at evening with their baskets filled with fish, trophies of their skill; and the day following they paid a visit to Budd's Lake, where they were equally rewarded for their time and patience. It was not until the morning of the third day after their visit to Sweed's Mine that they were prepared to visit the Byram and Dickerson mines, which are located between two and three miles southwest of Dover, on Mine Hill, or Mount Ferrum. They had formed the acquaintance of Mr. Henry Byram, the son of the proprietor of the Byram Mine, at Dover, and were prepared on their arrival at his residence to make themselves perfectly at home. As they contemplated spending the day the horses were put out, and the party started on a prospecting tour.

Surface Works at Byram Mine circa 1860
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The Byram is one of thirty or more mines which are worked on this metalliferous belt of the Ringwood, Copperas, Split rock, Hibernia, Mount Hope, Mount Pleasant, and Mount Ferrum mountain range, extending northeast and southwest over thirty miles of country. The dip of this vein varies in different mines, being at an angle of 50° at this one, while its thickness averages about six feet. It is more regular in this respect than most of the deposits of this belt, although it is very much dislocated by faults or “offsets.” The geologist will, of course, readily understand this term; but to the unscientific reader it may be necessary to explain that a fault is created by a crevice or split in the body of the
Fault induced offsets
mountain, caused, probably, by some terrible convulsion of nature, by which the continuity of the stratification is severed, and one portion is set off from the others to various distances. The accompanying horizontal diagram of this mine will convey this idea clearly to the reader's mind. Looking down upon a section of the mountain, there appear to be six of those crevices or faults (a, b, c, d, e, f) by which the ore bed is set off to various distances – in one case fourteen feet.

There are three slopes, or inclined planes, sunk into the vein, two of which are not now worked. The third is a new slope that has been sunk a distance of two hundred feet in depth, from which the ore is being taken by a horse whim at present, although a beautiful 40 horse power engine is in the course of erection.

After visiting the engine houses, pump house, and the various other surface works, extending over a considerable extent of ground, they approached the opening of the new slope, which they proposed to descend to inspect the operations underground. In passing over the ground Byram seemed to be at some pains to point out several disabled and smashed up cars, the results of the accidental breaking of chains, by which they had been allowed to descend to the bottom of the slope with tremendous force, in one instance resulting in the death of two miners who were unfortunately in their way. This was done, however, not with any idea of inducing them to desist from going down the slope, hut simply with the view of making the descent more interesting. Arrived at the mouth of the slope, Tint looked down, and could see a faint speck of light, like a solitary star on a dark night, and could bear occasional sharp discharges, accompanied by rolling reverberations, not unlike the sound of artillery echoing among the mountains. The appearance of this hole was exceedingly “pokerish,” and Tint half regretted having expressed a wish to enter it, although he kept his thoughts to himself; and one of the empty cars being about to descend, he prepared to enter it in company with Snell, who, whatever were his sentiments, had maintained an owl like silence. The car was about three feet long by two feet six inches wide, and as many deep. Snell entered first, and crouching down in the front of it on his knees, held on to the side with one hand, while in the other he held a dip candle stuck in a lump of clay. Tint took his position, with his heels resting on the back end of the floor of the car (that end being open), and held on to the sides. Just as they were about to start he inquired of Mr. B. how he was going down.

“Oh! I am going down afoot and alone, unless the Doctor will accompany me,” said he. But the Doctor was very busy examining some specimens of ore, and desired to remain on the surface.

“What! you don't pretend to say that you are going down that plane, at an angle of 50°, two hundred and fifty feet, on foot ?” said Tint.

Descending In An Ore Car, Byram Mine circa 1860
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“Certainly,” replied Byram; “nothing is easier. The miners run up and down the slope like squirrels,” and to show how easily it was done, he ran down a short distance and returned. Tint watched him, and saw that the sleepers of the track formed excellent steps by which to ascend and descend, and concluded, as it was so easy, he would himself go down in that way. He was overruled by Mr. B., however, who pointed out how much safer and more comfortably they would descend in the car; and he resumed his place, squatting like a toad to keep his head clear of the timbers, and the word was given to start.

For twenty five feet or more the track curved gently from the platform on which the cars were emptied to the grade, and the vehicle moved smoothly along until it reached a point where the actual descent began, when, as if preconcerted, the driver chirruped to the horse, who started off on a trot, the chains rattled as they ran off the whim, and the car commenced a suddenly accelerated speed down the plane at an angle of 50°.

Underground at Byram Mine circa 1860
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Now I would not have the reader suppose that our friends are cowardly, or even timorous, but there are some things and some occasions which “Make cowards of us all.” It is not surprising, therefore, that for an instant he should have felt a tremor of fear as the car suddenly sprang forward down the slope, and was disposed to leap clear of it and cling to the timbers on the side of the plane. The feeling was but momentary, however, and, as the descent became more regular and uniform, he rather enjoyed the novelty of it. They were
again startled out of their propriety, when, having descended about one hundred and fifty feet, the bottom of the car leaped up very suddenly from the track, and struck the wall above them with a bump which threw Snell back upon his companion and upset the latter out upon the track. They were restored to their equanimity by the uproarious laughter which greeted their accident; and as soon as they could pick themselves up, and their eyes became accustomed to the gloom, they discovered that they had arrived at the mouth of a Turntablegallery running off to the right of the track, and the car had run upon a turntable at the entrance thereof. By the light of several candles they discovered their friend, Byram, who had preceded them, surrounded by three or four miners, who seemed highly amused at the result of their seeming accident. Upon entering the gallery they were cautioned to be careful where they trod, else they might descend to the bottom of the mine rather more rapidly than might be pleasant. Examining rather more closely their footing, they found that they were standing upon a “stull” which had been formed by timbers placed between the foot and hanging wall, on which the lean ore had been piled, and on this a track had been laid to a breast which was being driven some one hundred and fifty feet distant from the plane. In this stull, at various places, the rubbish had fallen through between the timbers, leaving large and seemingly very dangerous apertures, in some instances large enough for an ox to fall through; yet the miners pass back and forth along the gallery, by the dim light of their candles, with great apparent carelessness.

All of the operations or “workings” at this mine are carried on by means of inclined shafts sunk into the vein of ore on the plane of its dip, by which method all of the material raised to the surface is marketable. In commencing his operations on this plan, the miner, after removing the soil, opens a well, or “sink,” from six to eight feet square, from which he removes the ore, generally by means of a windlass and kibble or tub, until he reaches a depth of thirty or thirty five feet. This done; he puts in a gang of men who commence to take off the ore from the side of the well at about twenty feet from the surface, and, after they have worked off about ten feet, another gang is put in who commence about five or six feet below, and follow them. A third and a fourth gang are put in, who follow each other, keeping always about the same distance apart and below each other. This is called “driving a breast,” and the method of doing it is called “stoping.” When the last gang have worked away from the bottom of the well some distance, a gang is put into the “sink,” who drive it down thirty or forty feet deeper; and other gangs are set to work to drive another breast. A horse whim is erected, a track laid down, and the ore is now drawn up in cars. When the first breast is driven to a distance from the well or shaft, a stull is formed, as before explained, a track is laid upon it, upon which the cars containing the ore are run out to the shaft, and, by means of a turn table, are shifted upon the track in the shaft and raised to the surface. This turn table is a simple platform hinged to the hanging wall and raised at pleasure by means of a windlass to enable cars to pass to the lower gallery. The second series of gangs work off all the ore from the bottom of the sink up to the first stull or gallery, and thus the breasts are driven to the right or left of the shaft, or both, as the case may be, as far as circumstances or the rights and privileges of the miner will allow. Masses of rock are frequently met with by the miners, penetrating the mass of ore, parallel to the walls, and are termed “horsers” or “horses,” from some fancied resemblance to the back of that animal.

Our friends were conducted by their guide, Mr. B., along the gallery on which they stood, to the stopes where the miners were at work driving the breast. They were obliged to creep cautiously along for fear of the man traps in the stull, bending low down on account of the timbers. A short distance from the shaft they met a car filled with ore and propelled by one of the miners, to avoid which they were compelled to scramble up on the foot wall and hold on by the timbers until it passed. The motive power of this machine was a young man, black, grimed, and greasy, from a small oil lamp which he carried secured in his cap or turban, and which, from the position he assumed in pushing the car forward, threw a faint light upon the track just before him, the sleepers of which furnished him with a foot hold.

Pushing an ore car, circa 1860
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Arrived at the stopes, they witnessed a scene similar to that already described at the Hibernia mine. As at that place, the ore had been taken out rather too close to the surface, and, in consequence thereof, about half an acre of one of the miners' cabbage gardens had slid into the mine, leaving an immense hole open to the daylight. Fortunately the accident had occurred at a time when the workmen were at dinner, and no one was injured. As the miners were about to fire a blast our friends returned to the shaft, where they entered a car, and the turn table being raised, they passed down to the bottom of the mine, where a gang of men were at work in the sink, and others on stopes, to the right and left of the shaft. Having spent an hour or more in inspecting the various operations going on in the mine our friends prepared to return to the surface, but just as they were about to enter a car for that purpose, three or four of the dirt begrimed miners stepped forward and claimed their “footing.” As they had heretofore overlooked this time honored custom of “paying the shot,” the demand was met in a liberal spirit, and, taking their places in the car, the word was given, and they began the ascent of nearly two hundred and fifty feet. At this moment two sharp discharges rang upon their ears, followed by rolling reverberations, which were repeated again and again as the sounds reached the several breasts, and being thus returned to the ear, produced upon that organ an effect similar to a severe and close clap of thunder. With the grumblings and mutterings of this grand climax to all the awe inspiring wonders of the place still lingering in their minds, our friends reached the surface and stepped upon the platform whence they had started, glad once more to breathe the fresh air of heaven, and have its blue canopy above them. Tint found an elevated point from which to make a sketch of the works, on the top of a miner's cabin, while the Doctor and Snell visited various interesting objects in the vicinity. In this way the forenoon was passed, and after dinner the party walked over to the Dickerson Mine, about half a mile distant.

Surface Works at Dickerson Mine circa 1860
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This is said to be the oldest mine in Morris County, the land, together with the mine, being taken up by Joseph Kirkbride, in 1713; previous to which time the ore was free to all. For a long time the only means of conveying the ore to the various forges and furnaces for manufacture was in leathern or canvas bags, on the backs of horses. The Hon. Mahlon Dickerson, Ex-Governor of New Jersey, purchased the property in 1807, and worked the mine up to the time of his death. Soon after that event the Dickerson Suckasunny Mining Company became its owners, and are now prosecuting the workings. The deposit outcrops on the surface of a hill which runs in a northeasterly and southwesterly direction. The vein dips at an angle of about 50°, and is, in some places, thirty feet thick. In others it is not more than three feet in thickness. The ore is very pure, being upward of 83 per cent. iron, and is composed of a very pulverulent although closely compacted mixture of small angular grains of magnetic iron ore, or magnetite, with small round granules of phosphate of lime or apatite. Such ore is called "shot ore" by the miners, from its crumbling easily into small fragments, from the size of a small shot to that of a large pea. The mine is at present worked by means of a perpendicular shaft, which is sunk through the soil and rock about forty or fifty feet, where it strikes the vein, and the kibbles or iron tubs which are used for hoisting the ore, from that point descend on the foot wall to the bottom of the mine, where they are loaded from the cars which are used in the galleries. The view of this mine shows the group of buildings covering the engine, pump, and shaft, and also the opening into that portion of the vein of ore which lies above the surface. The descent into the mine is accomplished by means of ladders and steps cut in the rock and ore, through an opening made by the caving in of a portion of the soil; but as it neither offered any new experiences nor presented any very attractive features, our friends were content with a peep down the shaft and a visit to the various buildings, including the residence of the agent of the Company, Mr. Canfield, whose scientific taste has adorned its walls with one of the finest mineralogical and entomological collections to he found in this country.

In their peregrinations about the mine property our friends had visited a pile of ore containing four thousand five hundred tons, every pound of which had been brought from the mouth of the shaft to the place where it lay – waiting a market – on a railroad track which was laid with English iron. The distance from this mine and the others in its immediate vicinity, to the Morris Canal – the great channel of communication with the manufacturing establishments of Pennsylvania and New Jersey – is between one and a half and three miles; yet it would not pay to convey the ore to market.

Our friends, after inspecting the various points of interest about the mine, spent the balance of the afternoon in conversation with Mr. C(anfield), in examining his beautiful cabinets, and in admiring the charming view from the top of his residence, which embraced a wide extent of country in every direction. Returning to Mr. Byram's in time for tea, they spent the evening in arranging for the morrow a trip to the complete and extensive furnaces and mills at Boonton, about nine miles east of Dover. Having witnessed the operations necessary to bring the ore to the surface, they were desirous of seeing it manufactured into bars, sheets, rods, and nails, ready for market...


Chapin, John Reuben “Artist-Life In The Highlands Of New Jersey”
Harper's New Monthly Magazine. Volume 20, Issue 119 April 1860 pp. 577-598

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