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32. Burra Burra Copper in the Ducktown Mining District of Tennessee

Last Updated: 11th Oct 2018

By Frank Festa

Post Date: October 2018
Trip Date: Summer 2017

Burra Burra Copper in the Ducktown Mining District of Tennessee

Hi all.

If any of you have ever read any of my articles, you are well aware historical background material is normally included in the writing. Equating historical aspects of a particular site with rock collecting at that site enlarges the overall size of ones imagination when picturing the site as it may have been during its productive years. Historical accounts gives the site meaning and possibly a three dimensional appearance from mere words. Some of you may find historical information pertaining to the topic unnecessary, not in tune with a rock, mineral or mining or maybe not to your liking. Others may enjoy traveling back in time and having a story start from the very beginning. Personally, I enjoy reading the old dated geological reports when the authors include background material, maps, original photos, personal notes among other things. A rock or a mineral is simply something below ones feet, but add a story and you have instantly created imagination.

The Internet is a treasure trove of historical information. My articles include numerous website references and/or direct links to additional information. Please take advantage of the opportunity to research a topic farther.

Though not part of this article, one may find useful information in my previous article, #31 Gold Panning in Coker Creek Tennessee, as this writing is the beginning of the story.

Over-All View of Burra Burra Mine, Tennessee

The Ducktown Mining District of Tennessee lies in the far southeastern corner of Tennessee. It extends across state boundaries on into Georgia and North Carolina encompassing approx. 103 square miles, right in the heart of the Appalachian Mountains. Besides being called the Ducktown Mining District, the area is also called the Copper Basin or the Ducktown Basin.
Historically speaking, Ducktown was named after the great and powerful Cherokee Chief, Duck. Though according to the Museum no record of the chief exists. The Cherokee Indian controlled a vast area of southeastern U.S.A. at one time long before the Europeans arrived in North America, before settlers came and before precious metals had any meaning.

The Native Americans were forcibly removed from their ancestral home lands through deceit and trickery when gold was being discovered in several states within the Cherokee Federation. Please see my previous article.




In the middle of the nineteenth century, here in this area, gold was feverishly being sought after. The Cherokee resented the prospectors trespassing on their land. The U.S. government tried to appease both parties but to no avail. A renegade Cherokee chief who was supposedly representing the entire Cherokee Nation signed an agreement with the U.S. government relinquishing all rights to all Cherokee land in the disputed regions. The chief was but a pawn and merely the leader of a small group of Cherokee. After the agreement was signed, the chief was found murdered along with several of his cohorts. This entire deal smells of treachery and deceit.

After the Cherokee were forcefully removed, the land was scarcely populated by settlers. This was largely due to the lack of roads, as there were none. Remember this area was virgin forest void of roads and the like. Gold being on everyone’s mind in the southeastern states, settling down to a life of farming was not an option for most.

The presence of copper was not then known to the early settlers or prospectors. But, according to Emmons, W.H., Laney, F.B. Keith, A. collaborator, Geology and Ore Deposits of the Ducktown Mining District, Tennessee, Professional Paper 139, Dept. of the Interior, U.S. Geological Survey, 1926 …”Judge James Parks in 1880 found near the mouth of Mill Creek, pottery fragments, arrowheads, and other Indian relics, with pieces of copper ore, slag, and a slab of metallic copper. These relics, exposed by a recent freshet, he believed to antedate the coming of white men”. Should this notation prove truthful it would mean the Cherokee or an earlier group gathered copper, smelted it, formed and shaped it long before the “white man” arrived in this area.

As a side note...in my article concerning the vast deposits of copper on the Keweenaw Peninsula of Upper Michigan, it was suggested "early people", pre-european, were digging hundreds of open pits extracting and removing the copper ore. Theories abound but no conclusive evidence has proven exactly who these early people were. Here is a great story for interested parties.

Emmons, W.H., Laney, F.B. Keith, A. collaborator, Geology and Ore Deposits of the Ducktown Mining District, Tennessee, Professional Paper 139, Dept. of the Interior, U.S. Geological Survey, 1926…also notes in “Tennessee was vigorously prospected for gold, and in 1843 a prospector named Lemmons discovered metallic minerals”. “ This discovery was not followed up, however, and no systematic exploration was under taken”.

With the new lands acquired from the Cherokee, surveyors were contracted by the government to survey, mark and map all lands. The lands were then later put up for sale.

According to The Mining Magazine, Tenney, W.J., editor, June to November issue, 1857. With gold prospecting reaching its apex in Northern Georgia, Northwestern Carolina and the mountain districts of East Tennessee, every stream, creek, alluvial deposit was panned and scoured over for the past several years. The legislature for the state of Tennessee wanting to know if valuable deposits of gold did in fact exist in their state they sent the state geologist to the area, who upon his return would report his findings. Dr. Troost after his investigations were completed he returned with his report… "gold is not so abundant in the Ocoee District as is generally supposed ". Dr Troost also reported that in several places in the Ducktown area “masses of hydroxide of iron” was found and these masses could have value. So, as far as the state of Tennessee was now concerned, the economic importance of gold lost its attraction.

A Mr. Duggar reading the state geologist report and being an iron master himself, had a small iron producing furnace built on Potato Creek. (see my article concerning old stone iron furnaces – “22. Iron and The Old Stone Furnaces of Western Pennsylvania”.

Iron was first produced from this furnace in 1848. The first several tons of iron however would show a very thin copper precipitate on the surface and would break as the iron cooled. After a number of trials and all the same disastrous results, Mr. Duggar decided to re-examine the ore outcroppings and possibly locate a different source. All the locatable iron ore up Potato Creek was deemed unsuitable. One source, 14 miles from the furnace was found to be suitable. The furnace operated for 2 years and produced about 500 ton of iron from this new source.

Back in 1843 a man named Mr. Lemmons while panning for gold on a small branch creek flowing into Potato Creek was celebrating his sudden “rise to riches” thinking he had “struck-it-rich” by finding gold. What Mr Lemmons found were large crystals of a deep rich red color. The next day upon examining his supposed “gold”, Lemmons discovered his gold had changed color. It went from a bright red color, to a dark, dingy brown. His gold turned out to be red oxide of copper in crystal form. Unfortunately no one knew what Lemmons samples actually were or even if they had value. Lemmons abandoned his so called “gold” and claims and moved on in search of gold.

Eventually, new owners took possession of the property and had a trench dug across it. Several ton of rock was broke up and a box full of the material was sent to Nicholas Haight of New York, for examination. Unknown at the time was that the rock they turned up was the black oxide of copper. Unfortunately while packing the samples for shipment very few pieces of the copper ore were placed in the sample boxes. The samples were mainly a valueless black and brown iron stone. The new owners like the last were disillusioned after receiving the report on their material. All mining operations were halted.

Unprocessed Copper Ore

Close-Up Unprocessed Copper Ore

The date was late April, 1847, A. J. Weaver, interested in the trench and the black rocks visited the site. After his visit, he informed the property owners that the black rocks were in fact rich copper ore. Mr. Weaver was given a lease to mine, paying out one fifteenth of the gross products of the mine. On the first of May, 1847, work was resumed in the old trench. Ninety casts of copper ore was extracted and due to the lack of roads, was shipped by mule to the nearest rail head at Dalton, Georgia. From there the copper was sent to Revere Smelting Works at Port Shiverly near Boston, Mass. Weaver, himself was in Boston when the ore was being assayed and sold. Mr. Weaver never went back to the Ducktown area. Early the next season he left for Mexico on an exploration for silver. During the journey he was killed by Indians while crossing the Plains of the U.S.A.

The property then became tied up with new leases for the next 3 years. During this time no farther mining was undertaken. In 1850 a mining lease was approved and mining was resumed on the School Section of the Hiwassee Property. Two shafts were sunk to less than 12 feet and both produced copper ore. The Hiwassee Mine was a success. In 1850 T. H. Calloway opened the Hiwassee mine (on what later was named the Burra Burra lode) and the Hiwassee mine became the first deep mine for copper.

Unprocessed Copper Ore

Due to its isolation, The Basin, was without a means of transportation to get the ore to market, cheaply and quickly, producing a large cache of ore was stymied. The lack of roads or a road hindered the shipment of goods and materials into and out of The Basin. Not only ore shipments to market, but goods in general, thus the basic reason for very little settlement.

Unprocessed Copper Ore

Unprocessed Copper Ore

In 1850, a rail line was completed between Dalton, Georgia and Cleveland, Tennessee. But, it would be years before a rail line would finally reach The Basin. It was still a long way from the Basin to Dalton.

Also in 1850, Hiwassee was established as the first community in The Basin. Hiwassee was later renamed Ducktown.

A collection was taken up at church mass for the construction of a road. The road had to be 40 miles long through an impassable desert, ascend nearly 1000 feet and would be no more than 10 foot above the Ocoee River. Community opinion of a road was not of great importance so no one showed up to help build the road. Ironically….a dozen Cherokee Indians who remained after all others were forced to move, were hired for the task of building a road. John Caldwell began mining on the Old Tennessee lode and with the aid of the Tennessee Co., the Hiwassee Co., and others, Caldwell built a wagon road from Ducktown to Cleveland, Tenn., providing a shorter route to rail. This work was commenced in October, 1851, and was completed in about two years. By 1853, what became known as the “Copper Road” finally connected to Dalton. Now “copper haulers” could make the round trip in four days.

If you remember your history…. on the opposite side of the U.S.A., in California at Sutter’s Mill, gold was discovered on in the American River in 1849. This discover set off a chain reaction which would change the very face of America.

According to: Ross, C. S., Origin of the Copper Deposits of the Ducktown Type in the Southern Appalachian Region, United States Dept. of the Interior, Geological Survey, Professional Paper 179, 1935

Most of the ore bodies were marked by well-defined gossans, before 1855 all the copper deposits in the Tennessee portion of the district had been discovered. A number of mines were in operation in the Ducktown District:

1. The Burra Burra Mine – drilling began in 1897, main shaft – Burra Burra, and McPherson shaft. Owned by the Tennessee Copper Co., is on the most continuous vein in the Ducktown district. The outcrop of the vein is almost continuous for about 3,000 feet.

2. London Mine – The ore bodies were 25 to 40 feet wide. Was finally abandoned and was used as a dump for the tailings from the flotation plant.

3. East Tennessee – one of the greatest early producers of copper in the district. Closed in 1926. Was noted for large masses of nearly pure calcite and for the abundance of talc. It contained unusually large crystals of zoisite, some single crystals being several feet long.

4. Ocoee Mine

5. Isabella Mine - owned by the Ducktown Sulphur, Copper & Iron Co., Iron ore was removed from a cut in the gossan 2,000 feet long. Large masses of magnetite are abundant in much of the ore.

6. Eureka Mine - owned by the Tennessee Copper Co.

***The Isabella-Eureka Mines are on the Isabella-Eureka vein which is the widest in the district and contains large reserves of sulphides. The ore in the Isabella-Eureka vein is very low in copper, slightly less than 1 percent, but it is high in sulphur due to the abundance of pyrite.

7. The Mary mine - was the principal producer of the Ducktown Sulphur, Copper & Iron Co. and was in continuous operation for about 35 years. The ores are more siliceous than those of the Burra Burra vein but are high in copper Was temporarily abandoned and finally flooded in 1932.

Other Mines:

The Polk County mine is just south of the Mary mine, owned by the Tennessee Copper Co.

The Galloway mine, owned by the Ducktown Sulphur, Copper & Iron Co., is about 2,600 feet northeast of theMary mine.

The Meed mine, owned by the Tennessee Copper Co., is a little less than 12 miles north of the smelter at Copper Hill.

The Old Tennessee Mine, owned by the Ducktown Sulphur, Copper & Iron Co.,

The Cherokee Mine, leased by the Tennessee Copper Co.

According to: Historic Resources of the Tennessee Copper Basin

In 1854, there were fourteen mining companies with charters in the Copper Basin. These companies concentrated on the developing their properties and not investing their monies in the everyday operation of the mines.

By 1857, just three short years later, only five of the fourteen mines were operating on a regular basis. Those mines being:

1. The Tennessee

2. Mary

3. Isabella

4. Eureka


In 1858 the mines in the Basin began to consolidate into three large companies:

1. The Union Consolidated Mining Company,

2. The Burra Burra Copper Company - consolidated the Hiwassee mine, the Cocheco mine, and the inactive Toccoee Mining Company.

3. The Ducktown Copper Company.

The American Civil War was slowly approaching. It would draw workmen away from the mines and into the face of bullets, cannon fire, death and destruction. During this war the Confederate States of America took control of the district and the mines. Many years later, after the war and the copper almost exhausted, an environmental catastrophe of epic proportions laid the forested landscape to ruin. That story is for you to discover.

From where I was staying in the Tellico Plains, Coker Creek area of Tennessee, to where I wanted to be, the Copper Basin and the Barra Bara Mine and museum at Ducktown, Tennessee, was only about a 25 mile drive down highway 68 south. Since the Copper Basin was just a short drive away, there was no need to get up early, repack the car, the drive. No, I traveled very light with one suitcase, my field clothes and shoes and a few basic rock collecting tools.

Highway 68 is not a heavily traveled road between these two towns and I would suggest to anyone in a hurry to avoid this section of roadway. Highway 68 is more of a local folks road, laid back slower paced, running one lane in each direction. The posted speed limit is maybe 35 - 45 mph if you’re lucky and only in selected spots. The speed limit is even slower when going around the continually winding mountain bends. The road probably does not entertain trailer trucks or semi’s either. This road is not quite what one would even call a normal sized road either. The road width of each lane is by no means normal, on the contrary, much narrower. Highway 68 south is a slow, narrow, beautifully scenic road on which to enjoy the scenic views of your surroundings. It winds down through the Cherokee National Forest and goes right through the Copper Basin of Tennessee.

Small Stream Flowing From Toccoa River, Georgia

I used this slow pace of the road to my advantage. Usually a high speed, high traffic volume roadway makes it difficult to locate spots off the road affording a parking place to pull over, stop and get out of the car. Here, I was able to park the car in several spots and gold pan in the waters running down the mountain. I drove through towns like: Apalachia (one “p” not two), Farner, Turtletown, Harbuck and then Ducktown. One creek in particular, produced large amounts of “black sand” as seen in my pan. Remember from my previous article, black sand is a good thing to find. Should your pan contain gold, the gold will be lying directly below the black sand. Gold is heavier than the black sand (iron related products). I should have had a medium sized satchel and saved a bag full of black sand as a display piece. This would have looked great with my gold finds sprinkled over the sands.

The "black sand" associated with gold panning

The Ducktown Basin Museum is located at the old Burra Burra Mine, directly off of highway 68.


Follow the short drive up the hill and park at the small green roofed building. This will be the museum. You are on Burra Burra Mine property. Exit your vehicle and just stop of one minute. Imagine the activity that was taking place years ago when the mine was in production. Workers running about, horses or mules on site pulling equipment, dust in the air, the sounds of whines, air compressors, pumps… an entirely different environment than you will experience today.

The Burra Burra Mine & Museum

I love rock and mineral museums, old mining museums and will always visit the one at my particular location, should the locale have one. The Ducktown Basin Museum sits on the old Burra Burra Copper Mine in Tennessee. Like all of these type of museums, they detail the history of the area, the mine, the miners and the families living in the area, the rock and minerals dug from the Earth.

Satellite Image of Burra Burra Mine Area

From the Google Earth satellite view the local area is clearly viewable. The Burra Burra mining building are laid out around the horseshoe shaped roadway. Notice the massive sinkhole in the lower right side.

I was greeted at the museum door by the lady operating the museum for the day. Later I found out only volunteers work in the museum. We chatted for a short time and I paid the entry fee. Normally visitors tour the museum first, then later walk the grounds. This particular museum and mine complex have a wonderful “self-guided walking tour” of the entire site, the former mine buildings, and a view of the former mining area. Also, along the walking tour, informative sign posts with descriptive plaques containing old photos and a description of each point of interest. There is no underground tour here at Burra Burra.

Exploring the museum, for me was very exciting. And, like all museums, the building houses memorabilia from days gone by. Today we call these old items “antiques” but years ago the people actually used these items in their everyday lives. Think about the things we use in our everyday lives today. A hundred years from now they will all be antiques, possibly in a museum for that generation to look over and wonder about us.

Photo of Early Community

Map of Original Copper Ore Veins

Bottled Granulated Copper Sulfate

The museum exhibits included many many items, from the old photo of the early mining community to the map of the copper veins. The Burra Burra, over the course of its life span produced far more than just copper ore. And, this is why you have to read for yourself the intriguing history of the Copper Basin from inception to burial.

At the end of the visit, I spoke with the lady working inside. Her story was worth more than I could express. She stated she was born and raised in the area, her grandfather, father and husband all worked in the local copper mines. She was a wealth of personal information. This is the kind of stuff I enjoy. Talking with the locals, getting their views, their personal lives of a mine and a miner’s life. For those who merely pick a few rock samples up from the ground, you are missing far more than you realize. You have to be there, maybe not physically, but mentally try to put yourself at a mining site when it was active. Visualize what was taking place, smell the smells, taste the dust, in some areas the sound was deafening, walk the stopes, handle the blasting equipment, operate a drilling machine. Only then will that sample you have collected have true meaning.

Later, I set out on the walking tour to explore the old buildings and mining area of the Burra Burra Copper Mine. Personally, I must state the walking tour was most impressive and my photos can not fully capture just what it was like to physically be “on-site”. The tour begins at a specific spot and a specific sight. A sign post is located at each stopping spot with a large plaque containing an old photo of what you are supposed to be observing, along with a descriptive paragraph or two. Very interesting.

The Self Guided Walking Tour Begins Here

Follow me on the tour……….I’ll present plaques with photos and descriptions from long ago. We’ll also look at my photos from 2017 and see the changes that have taken place.

Here in this article, I have inserted a number of photos from those sign posts and plaques with their old photos and my current matching photo of how the mine complex appears now. Obviously, time has taken its toll on the old wooden framed buildings, concrete foundations, forms and all the original mine sights. Some of the structures seen in the old photos are no longer standing. Their ruins gone and the ground regraded. Metal structures or structural features made of metal are rusted, pitted and dented from years of use. Glass windows broken, buildings now void of the machinery that was the life’s blood of the mine, tools and equipment used in the operation of this mine. The former rail lines seen in the plaque photos have been removed, rail beds regraded erasing any evidence a rail line was there.

Early Photo of Slag Pots Being Emptied

Original Slag Heaps at Copperhill

Liquid Slag Being Poured From Ore Pot

The #2 plaque was very interesting as the photo shows the dumping of hot slag from the smelting process down the road at Copperhill. After my visit at the mine, it is a very short drive down the road to Copperhill, it is absolutely unbelievable to see the massive heaps of slag (as seen in my photo). The piles form a long very tall mound half way around the property. How can this all be slag???

The black and white photo was taken from a very small pamphlet I either purchased or was being given away for free at the museum. The pamphlet is titled "Tennessee's Historic Copper Basin Area: An Overview", Keren Daniels, Historic Preservationist, Southeasern Tennessee Development District. Interesting enough the photo depicts liquid slag being poured from the slag pot down the already massive mound of slag. Ore cars are seen above and below the slag heap, with two workmen atop the mound.

Copperhill Industries has an operation going on at Copperhill. According to their website, they offer a variety of slag related products such as ...different grades of slag, sinter, graded iron oxide, iron pellets, magnetite.


The property is fenced in with barbed wire and posted. Their entryway has a guard station to stop incoming and outgoing vehicles. I did not want to dwell here long to get the photos I wanted. A panorama shot would have been great. Should you be interested, by using a satellite program (Google Earth) find Copperhill, Tennessee. And look over the size and vastness of the slag area. You will also notice the rail lines and several “sidings” for rail car storage.

An Over-All View of the Mine Complex

Over-All View of Remains of Mine Complex

The #15 plaque is of great interest. There is no date shown when the original photo was taken but the photo does show all the major above ground structures operating during the mines production years. Today the rail line is gone and the three cylindrical ore bins have fallen prey to age. The headframe, hoist house are gone also.

Viewing my photo, of basically the same shot, not much of the original remains. The rail lines are gone, several structures are gone, the ore bins, headframe. Time is but a thief.

It was interesting to see the remains of the Bit House. Its corrugated iron walls still standing, rusted and dented with windows void of glass, frames hanging like being suspended in time. And, its lifelong companion still at its side, the fuel tank. What a pair. These two have been together longer than some marriages.

Bit House

Early View of Bit House

The old Powder House stood next to the rail line. The rails long gone and the sound of the mine cars loaded with ore on their way to market gone too.

Powder House

Early View of Powder House

The 40 foot tall Ore Bins stored the precious ore, though they are gone, one can still see the foundations used to support these tall structures and the rail line that ran underneath and through the foundations. The ore was loaded into the ore cars from the ore bins above.

Early View Of the Ore Storage Bins

Remains of the Ore Bins Foundations

The Rail Line Ran Under the Ore Bins

The headframe / hoist house………….all remnants of day gone by.

Hoist House Early View

Next is the massive ladle, large enough for a grown man to stand in.

Plaque Describing Massive Ladle

Ladle is Large Enough For Man to Stand In

Ladle as Seen From the Side

Another plaque describing the large boulders of unprocessed ore being displayed for your examination. Though this ore does not look quite like one who expect to see for copper ore. According to Plaque #14, the ore in the basin is a massive sulfide. Copper, iron and zinc are in combination with sulfur. Pyrite (i.e. fool’s gold) the most abundant of the sulfide minerals is found in the form of iron sulfide. The copper is not in a pure form but is found as chalcopyrite. A copper iron sulfide mineral.

Description of the Minerals

Unprocessed Copper Ore on Display 1

Unprocessed Copper Ore on Display 2

On a trip to the Keweenaw Peninsula of Upper Michigan a few years ago, copper removed from the earth there was nearly 99% pure. This native copper had the appearance of what I personally perceive as copper..having the actual copper color, like looking at bare copper wire. The following two photos are native copper collected on the Keneewan in 2013.
(Please see my article: 23. Copper on the Keweenaw and Other Ponderables).

Native Copper From the Keweenaw

Native Copper From the Keweenaw

So, the copper here at the Copper Basin is as it was described in 1847 when A. J. Weaver visited the site when being interested in the” black rocks”.

Upon a close examination of one the boulders, chalcopyrite is quite obvious along with pyrite. The other boulder is bland and covered in iron oxide. It has no resemblance to copper what’s- so- ever. In the field, I would probably step over this rock and pass it by. It appears as decomposed iron or pyrite. Not a glamorous specimen many rock hounds would stop to collect.


As stated at the above website operated by The Georgia Mineral Society, Inc. 4138 Steve Reynolds Blvd., Norcross, Georgia 30093-3059: The Copper Basin, “Minerals and Mining of the Copper Basin, Kim Cochran.

“After the turn of the century, products from the Basin became more diversified”. At the beginning of World War I, TNT was produced here and sold to the Russian government.

In 1922, a flotation plant was opened at nearby London, Tennessee. This plant concentrated copper for the production of copper sulfate. Iron concentrate was produced in 1925. In 1927, the London Mill produced the first zinc concentrate.

By 1936, the Tennessee Copper Company was the only remaining company operating in the Copper Basin. The company provided housing for the miners. It was pointed out that when one miner would be promoted, the miner would move to another house higher up on the hill. Then another miner would move into the promoted miner’s old house. The company store provided food, clothing, and hardware items through paycheck deductions. In many cases, many miners drew no paychecks on payday once their deductions were subtracted.

Here in Pennsylvania, the coal mine operators used the same goods purchasing system. The coal operators owned the houses the miners lived in, the miner paid rent to the coal operator. The Infamous “company store” was owned by and operated by the coal operators. Prices were inflated many times higher than they were originally purchased for. The coal operators basically owned their miners. You lived in a company house, bought goods at the company store, you had to purchase your tools for work in the mine at the company store. You had to purchase blasting powder, fuses, picks, shovels and the like at the company store. Come payday, the miner received pennies for weeks for work.

In West Virginia the conditions were far worse. Several attempts were made to unionize the miners. Gun battles erupted, miners lay dead, families evicted from the company owned housing. The company employed spies to poise as miners, infiltrate their ranks and report activity back to the company. The company owned the local police forces, the governor of West Virginia backed the coal companies and turned a blind eye to their cause. One union organizer accused of a petty crime was on the steps of the courthouse about to entry for a hearing when gun fire rang out, he was gunned down and murdered. No suspects were found.

In 1942, a large sulfuric acid plant was built at Copperhill and liquid sulfur dioxide plant was produced in 1949.

The Burra Burra Mine closed in 1959. It was in operation for over 80 years. The mine is reported to have removed 15 million metric tons of copper ore from the Earth.

Ground water is always a major concern for any underground mining operation. Large pumps are employed at strategic spots to pump this ground water out of the mine. Why use pumps? Without the use of pumping equipment a mine could not operate as the incoming water would soon rise within the mine possibly even flooding the mine. When the Burra Burra and others in the Copper Basin closed and the mining ceased the pumps that once were used to pump ground water from the mine were also shut down. This action allowed the underground workings to flood. As the ground water levels rose widespread surface collapses occurred. Large open cracks formed in a number of areas. The old cemetery at the Mary Mine disappeared, swallowed up by the sinking surface. The large lake/pond seen in the satellite photo also occurred. At the time, it was even said to be quite dangerous to travel across the area without staying on the roadway.

In 1960, the Central Mine, a new comer, began operation. This was a central point between the Boyd, Cherokee, and Calloway Mines. Drifts (tunnels) were cut to connect the mines. The new tunnels were used as haulage ways. The ore was transported to the Central Mine, and brought to the surface from there.

Plaque Describing Ore Roasting

Copper ore was originally “roasted” Please read the plaque. According to Wikipedia: Oxidizing roasting, the most commonly practiced roasting process, involves heating the ore in excess of air or oxygen, to burn out or replace the impurity element, generally sulfur, partly or completely by oxygen. For sulfide roasting, the general reaction can be given by:
2MS (s) + 3O2 (g) = 2MO (s) + 2SO2 (g)

So the sulfide rich copper ore was roasted to burn out as much of the sulfur as possible before the ore went to the smelter. According to the plaque this process required an enormous amount of wood and two to three months to accomplish. What this means is: the mines had to employ workmen to cut down the forest trees, haul the wood by horse or mule to the roasting areas and attend each roast as the process continued day and night. Now, here is a thought...we all know the smell of burning sulfur. Would the entire area smell of sulfur?

Early View of The Shop Building

Shop Building of Today

The Shop Building hasn’t changed much. The tall metal iron beam tower still intact. The building housed the carpenters, blacksmiths and drill repair shop, equipment was fabricated or repaired here.

Early View of the Geology Lab

Geology Lab as Seen From the Side

Geology Lab as Seen From the Front

The geology lab and time office seem to be frozen in time. At one time this building saw more activity then we can imagine. Mineral samples being tested continually.

Early View of the Boiler House

The Boiler House

View From Inside the Boiler House

The Boiler House now inactive , void of machinery, quiet and solemn as if pouting. The Boiler House served as the hub of the mine supplying pressurized steam to operate the equipment. Steam power was exclusively used here and at various industrial sites around the world until electricity and electric motors became available.

I was quite disappointed with the viewing of one very important sight on the mine property however. The steep hillside and the lake/pond as seen in the satellite photo were very difficult to see. Yes, the hillside is a potential hazard and does pose a dangerous situation but some type of viewing area… possibly an elevated large fenced in deck would certainly be appropriate. I took a number of photos and was disappointed with the results. A drone would have been great to use for capturing this sight on film. There are several websites where these sights can be viewed. From what I was able to see the sinkhole is massive. On a sunny cloudless day the water reflects the blue sky making it appear as if the water itself is blue.

The Massive Sinkhole

After a number of hours here at Burra Burra, my visit was over. I stopped back in the museum to thank the volunteer for a wonderful day. Wow, did she have a surprise for me. She handed me a key, supplied me with information and pointed to where I should visit.

On the back side of the Shop Building, fenced in and having a padlocked gate, several rather large heaps of unprocessed ore were dumped. I was permitted to enter this area, relocking the gate behind me, examine the piles and collect what I wanted. I was thrilled. My visit lasted another two hours as I examined possibly every rock there. The relative weight of even the cabinet sized specimens were great.

Unprocessed Ore 1

Unprocessed Ore 2

Unprocessed Ore 3

Unprocessed Ore 4

When collecting specimens, I usually go for larger cabinet sized pieces. But, as we all know, you collect what is available. Larger specimens have the advantage in their size in that they can be made smaller into that perfect sample. I collected a few specimens of various minerals on Randy Slater’s mineral list, the copper ore was what intrigued me the most. With the ore being black in color I questioned just how to list and name the material on the MinDat upload page. Since the Burra Burra and the Copper Basin ore is a combination of copper, zinc, iron, sulfur I posted a question to the “message board” asking for help in exactly how to identifying the material. Please follow the web link to the message board to read the comments.


Stated in the: Geology and Ore Deposits of the Ducktown Mining District, Tenessee by W. H. Emmons and F. B. Laney with the Active Collaboration of Arthur Keith, U. S. Geological Survey, Professional Paper 139, 1926.

They are defining gangue minerals “minerals that are not of economic importance”. “Gangue in one deposit may be considered to be ore in another deposit”.

A number of minerals have been identified in the Copper Basin area, as stated in the paper by Randy Slater, Chief Geologist, Cities Service Company, Industrial Chemicals Operations, Copperhill, Tennessee: Slater Mineral List, October 30, 1980

Posted here are a few photos of the unprocessed copper ore and two or three photos of common garnet and pyrite. I did not want to post an excessive number of specimens so as to detract from the ore itself.





Native Copper

Unprocessed Copper Ore with Pyrite

Unprocessed Copper Ore with Pyrite



Stated in the paper: Massive Deposits of the Ducktown Mining District, Tennessee by Randy Slater, Chief Geologist, Cities Service Company, Industrial Chemicals Operations, Copperhill, Tennessee, 1982:

The Ducktown, Tennessee deposits consist of nine massive sulfide deposits within the highly folded and metamorphosed clastic sediments. The total tonnage of the combined deposits could be in excess of 180 million tons…with an average grade of:
1.04% copper
0.89% zinc
24.3% sulfur
35.4% iron

For those interested in farther information and the complete story of the Copper Basin including the destruction of 32,000 acres of woodland please follow some of the links provided. Presented here is a only a “quick view” of the Burra Burra Mine, Ducktown and Copperhill.

When leaving the Burra Burra, I stopped at several sites to get photographs. The Tennessee State road markers and the roadways which lead to the Mary Mine and the Central Shaft. Being posted as “no trespassing” I did not venture onto private property so no detailed photos are available.

Hiwassee Mine Tennessee State Marker

"Discovery of Copper" State Marker

Entrance to "Central Shaft"

Entrance to Former Mary Mine

When this trip was originally planned, the Copper Basin was intended to be a sight seeing excursion. Which it was. I did not plan to do field work or to explore the area or the mines. Therefore the proper maps, for trails, entry spots, mine locations, vehicle parking areas and everything else involved in exploration was not considered. Looking back, I now see this was a mistake. There is a wealth of photos to be gotten from this area along with possible specimens. However, I also see that the vast majority of the area is posted and potentially dangerous. Maybe next time.

I did cross the bridge over the Ocoee River in Copperhill right at the border of Tennessee and Georgia. Since this trip was a gold panning trip and I was in gold country, anywhere there is water gold is possible. I followed the road along the Ocoee River to a spot where I could safely park my vehicle, got out my pan and headed for the river. I panned in the Ocoee River and a feeder stream named Fightingtown Creek for maybe an hour or two. Several young spectators on bicycles watched while laughing. I eventually won their confidence and invited them to join me. The teenaged kids had a great time panning. They took photos, and it is possible you may see me on Facebook.

Afterward, it was on to my next destination, Ellijay, Georgia. My lodgings had earlier been located when plans were originally being made. But, after staying in Ellijay and driving to several panning spots, I found this area was too far north of where I really wanted to be. The ideal location would have been twenty to twenty five miles farther south, closer to the Pine Log Wildlife Area. This would have cut my driving distances and saved time. But, who can complain? I was here and the smell of gold permeated the air.


New information has just come my way…

Being curious as to just how and when the Burra Burra headframe and the ore bins met their final resting place, I emailed the Burra Burra Museum with a few questions. The response was quick and certainly not what was expected.

The mine’s original headframe and ore bins had to have been built from timbers and cut wood, bolted, wired and nailed together. And as such, with age the structures would be vulnerable to the elements, rot and deterioration. When the mine closed in 1958, any farther repairs or maintenance on the structures would have ceased and nature would have run her course.

Ken Rush, the Director Ducktown of the Basin Museum replied to my email. His words seemed to question “where did you get that idea”. He stated, “the ore bins and headframe at Burra Burra, did not collapse or fall. The headframe and ore bins at Burra were dismantled in the early 1960's”. Wow, surprise!

Yes, the mine closed in 1958 but “the engineering, geology and repair portion of the complex was in use until 1975.

Mr. Rush was kind enough to send me a digital copy of “Tennessee Corporation Topics” from two different dates (Sept 1966, vol. 15, no. 6 and October 1966, vol. 15, no. 7). The short flyer, as stated on the front cover, “Published monthly by and for the employees of the Tennessee Copper Company”. Contained within the flyers are the photos of the dismantling of the headframe and ore bins taking place.

Tennessee Copper Co. Photo of Headframe and Ore Bins 1966

Burra Burra Mine, Ducktown District, Polk Co., Tennessee, USA

Wood Framed Headframe at Burra Burra Until 1917

Burra Burra Mine, Ducktown District, Polk Co., Tennessee, USA

The original wooden headframe was blown up using explosives to make way for the new steel framed structure. That was in 1917. The ore was then hoisted to the surface from the McPherson Shaft while construction continued on the new headframe. Along with a new steel headframe electric power was now going to be employed for hoisting. Thus ending the era of steam power. The frame stood 105 feet tall.

The Burra Burra was the Tennessee Copper Company main source of raw materials and ore from 1900 to 1941. When the mine closed in 1958, it had produced 15 million ton of ore. But, that was not the end of the story. In 1966, what was once the “new” steel headframe and ore bins were themselves taken down, dismantled.

Crane Lowers Structural Members to the Ground

Burra Burra Mine, Ducktown District, Polk Co., Tennessee, USA

The Last of the Structure Being Hoised Away

Burra Burra Mine, Ducktown District, Polk Co., Tennessee, USA

Sometime in 1970-71, the vary steel used at the former Burra Burra was once again given new life. That same material was used to erect a new headframe at the Eureka Mine, which was about one mile to the east.

What an incredible story.

Thank you

Keep the pan swirling


Historic Resources of the Tennessee Copper Basin

The Mining Magazine, Tenney, W.J., editor, June to November issue, 1857, Copper Region of Tennessee. A sketch of the Geology of Tennessee, Currey, R.O., MD, page 156.

Emmons, W.H., Laney, F.B. Keith, A. collaborator, Geology and Ore Deposits of the Ducktown Mining District, Tennessee, Professional Paper 139, Dept. of the Interior, U.S. Geological Survey, 1926

Ross, C. S., Origin of the Copper Deposits of the Ducktown Type in the Southern Appalachian Region, United States Dept. of the Interior, Geological Survey, Professional Paper 179, 1935


Excellent resource with maps of mines and mining sites http://www.minsocam.org/msa/openaccess_publications/MSA_ACAfieldtrip_Trip_2.pdf

Excellent historical reference reading:

History of Tennessee Copper Company and Successor Firms at the Copperhill Plant and the Ducktown Mining District, Copper Basin, Tennessee. Prepared by Science Applications International Corporation, 18912 North Creek Parkway, Suite 101, Bothell, WA 98011, Contract DACW62-03-D-0003, Task Order 07, Subtask 18, SAIC Project No.: 06-5124-04-2241-180,
March 2008, Tom Dubé, Prepared for: U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Nashville District, and U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Region 4

Many thanks to:

Google Earth for satellite imagery
Wikipedia for reference material
Website links listed in this article

And special thanks to the volunteers at the Burra Burra Museum for keeping the story alive.

Thank you Ken Rush

Article has been viewed at least 611 times.


Great historical article
Well done and thanks


Keith Compton
11th Oct 2018 12:46pm

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