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The Troup, Texas Clay Pits

Last Updated: 15th Mar 2020

By Charles Creekmur

The clay pits just south of Troup, Texas have been producing kaolin clay and ball clay for many years under the management of several companies including United Clays of Texas, Reliance Clay Products and General Refractories Company. There are many pits, both abandoned and active in a several square mile area but only one is of interest to the collector. The active ones are now being worked by the brick company in Henderson. Besides the red brick clay, some white to gray ball clay is produced. Ball clay is a finer quality kaolinitic sedimentary clay commonly consisting of 20-80% kaolinite, 10-25% mica, and 6-65% quartz and is used in porcelain and high temperature fire brick. The pit, often referred to as the Old Reliance Clay Pit, is located off of FM 13 near the historic Henry’s Chapel Church. The exact location of the specimen producing area is at coordinates 32°6’34” north, 95°3’39” west. The items of interest to the rockhound were well preserved and plentiful specimens of the Eocene pelecypod, Venericardia planicosta and some exceptional large and well-formed crystals of gypsum (variety selenite). A gravel road runs along the pits edge making for easy access to the water. Several years ago, the Smith Co. Sheriffs Dept. and the DPS dive team recovered a number of stolen cars, trucks and ATVs that had been stripped and dumped over the side. Some locals were using the pit for a trash dump, prompting the company to bulldoze a high dirt berm along the road to discourage that practice. Besides the Venericardia planicosta that were found in great abundance, a few gastropods (Turritella sp.) and some outstanding large and well-formed crystals of Gypsum var. Selenite were recovered. Over several years of frequent collecting, less than a dozen complete V. planicosta were recovered with both valves still attached. The fossil zone was near the very top of the workings. East Texas red clay is not a very good media for fossil preservation, so that made this a rare occurrence. But it, like so many other locations, is no longer available to the collector. The clays were being produced from the Eocene age Reklaw Formation (56-33.9 million years). It consists of sandstone and clay, fine to medium grained sand, abundant hematite, muscovite, glauconite, silty clays and lignite. It is friable to highly indurated, cross bedded and has a thickness of 50 to 80 feet. During the late 1970’s and early 80’s the author made frequent collecting trips to the locality and was able to preserve some nice specimens from a very unique occurrence.

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