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Moriah’s Iron Ore Operations

A recent newspaper article provided a public update of a proposed application to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission regarding the proposed re-development of the old iron ore mines in Mineville, Moriah, NY.  This proposal is to develop a 240-MW closed-loop pumped storage project to generate “green energy” – a renewable power source for the future.

Pumped Storage Facility Diagramed Credit: TVA

As it has been almost fifty years since the mines in that town have ceased to be active we here at the Ticonderoga Historical Society have routinely have been asked over the years about the old mines and their operations here in the Adirondack Region.  We have written several articles in the past few years to help inform in greater detail  to those that have shown an interest in this subject.

Early this year, while working with the Society’s archival library records, this writer came across a file donated in 1943 by J. R. (Joe) Linnery, Manager, Adirondack District, Republic Steel Corp. It contains a series of articles that provide both a historical and contemporary insight into the mines of the Adirondack Region.  Following are edited excerpts that may be a source for further investigation for researchers and the general interest of our readers.

Donald B. Gillies

The following edited text was in article written by D. B. Gillies, Vice President, Republic Steel Corp.

“In 1938 the Republic Steel Corp. announced that it had leased the ore mines and other property of the Witherbee Sherman Corp. at Port Henry, NY.  The announcement brought forth an interesting reaction:  (1) Is the iron product high grade? — and — (2) Is there a substantial reserve?.

Odd as it may seem, the ore mines in New York State are among the oldest in the country, but for many years were virtually forgotten by the steel industry.  The first mines were opened almost a century and half ago.  Benedict Arnold in his Regimental Book tells of sending men to Port Henry to dig iron ore in 1775. * Tradition says that the cannon at Fort Ticonderoga were made from this ore.  For many decades thereafter the Adirondack region supplied a large part of the iron ore used in our own expanding country.  Always, though, transportation difficulties were present; there was the problem of bringing ore from inaccessible mines in mountainous country to the market.

(* Historical Footnote:  Maj. Philip Skene of Skenesboro (now Whitehall) was working the Cheever Bed, near Port Henry, as early of 1766 to supply his forges at that place.  In 1771 Maj. Skene received from Governor Dunmore letters of patent for lands at Skenesboro and for the ore beds at Cheever.  Want to learn more about the development of iron ore in the Adirondacks?   Please see our article:  “The Story of Crown Point Iron” posted on August 21, 2016.)

In 1938, therefore, when Republic announced its entrance into the Adirondacks, the region was little know or appreciated.  Now why did Republic lease the Witherbee-Sherman property and one year later the Lyon Mountain mine of the Chateauguay Ore & Iron Co.?

Shortly after the middle of the 1930’s, studies confirmed the general realization that deposits of high-grade ore in the Lake Superior district were not unlimited and might well be economically exhausted sometime in the not too distant future.  As war clouds became faintly visible in European skies, Republic’s executives became genuinely concerned about the ore situation.  Should a widespread war start, there was every reason to believe that the United States would be expected to furnish munitions in quantity.  This would mean more rapid depletion of high-grade Lake Superior ores and would bring steel companies face to face with the serious question of decreased iron ore reserves, whose end, authorities  estimated, would come as early as 1950 to 1954.

Richest of the ore from our underground mines in the Adirondack region is that from the Old Bed deposit at Port Henry.  Approximately 20 per cent of the Old Bed production, or  140,000 long tons per year, can be separated form the total mine output into lump ore that will contain 61 per cent iron.  Operating cost figures indicate that this material can be delivered to steel plants in the Pittsburgh or Valley region at a cost that is competitive.

(of the second question) .. ore reserves — The answer to this question is no one knows exactly.  Approximately 12,000 square miles in northern New York State is iron-bearing territory, an area that stretches 100 miles from east to west and roughly 125 miles from north to south.  Many estimates have been made as to the reserves in the district.  In 1935, for instance, they were placed at  600 million tons of magnetite ore and two billion tons of titaniferous ore.

… productiveness of the region, the Witherbee-Sherman properties may be regarded as typical.  They have produced, since operation started in 1870, approximately 31 million long tons of ore, in spite of the fact the mines were closed for many of the intervening years.  That they are capable of a substantial expansion is shown by the fact that in 1935 the Adirondack district produced less than 300,000 long tons, whereas seven years later the  output was in excess of 3,000,000 long tons of crude ore.  This ore was chiefly magnetite, produced in the underground operations of Republic’s properties in this section.

Joseph (Joe) R.  Linney

The following historical edited article was written by J. R. (Joe) Linney, Manager, Adirondack District, Republic Steel Corp.

“Presence of large quantities of iron ore in Mineville, within the limits of the town of Moriah, was indicated during the earliest compass surveys in 1810, when what was known as the “Kellogg Survey” was being made.  So strong was the evidence that certain lots were called the “Iron Ore Tract.”  Fine specimens of iron ore were found but the mines thus indicated were not opened until fourteen years later, in 1824, when Harry Sherman and Elijah Bishop each agreed to pay D. E. Sandford $100 for a fourth interest in his property, and active operations were begun, most of the ore being hauled by ox teams over a plank road* to Port Henry for smelting.

(*Want to learn more about the Moriah Plank Road?  Please visit our article posted on January 24, 2016.)

On April 21, 1851 – “We, the Commissioners of the Town of Moriah, agree to take five hundred dollars for the highway or as much or said highway as the Moriah Plank Road company may use in construction of plank road in the Town of Moriah, the above five hundred dollars to be paid as follows:  to wit: One hundred dollars down, one hundred on the lst day of May, 1852; one hundred dollars the first day of May, 1853; one hundred dollars on the lst day of 1854; one hundred dollars on the lst day of May, 1855, making in all five hundred dollars (for) that portion of the road that the commissioners laid out last fall.”

Another deposit, the Cheever ore bed, had been discovered in 1804, but not to much progress had been made toward developing it until 1821, when Charles Fisher obtained a lease, paying an annual rental of ten tons of “bloom iron.” The ore was smelted in Major Dalliba’s blast furnace at Port Henry.

(In 1822, Major James Dalliba, in connection with John D. Dickension, of Troy, erected the first furnace at Port Henry.  The ore used was obtained form a vein near the furnace, the same vein from which Arnold secured his ore a half century before.)

In 1849 the Sandford ore bed came into the possession of S.H. & J. G. Witherbee and the descendants of Sherman, who later incorporated as Witherbee, Sherman & Co., and still later took over the mines of the Port Henry Iron Ore Co.

Witherbee Sherman, through the aggressiveness of its ownership and management, developed into one of the most successful and prosperous enterprises of its day.  Through the inventive efforts of its engineers and management, the famous Ball & Norton magnetic separator was developed.  This company plowed back a great deal of its earnings into acquiring additional iron ore lands, exploration work, including diamond drilling, and the opening of new ore beds, such as Old Bed, Harmony, New Bed, Barton Hill, bonanza, Fisher Hill, Cook, and Sherman.  During the first World War the company was an important contributor to the country’s supply of iron.  Then, because of vast changes in the iron and steel industry, such as the trend from cast iron to steel, the company suffered severe setbacks and decided in 1938 to lese its iron-ore properties to Republic Steel.

Republic, through its engineering and metallurgical talent, made a complete  and comprehensive study of the property; it quickly recognized the advantage that might be obtained form this high-grade iron ore; at the same time realizing the economic difficulties in producing this ore in competition with the relatively low-cost iron ores from the Great Lakes district.  Plans were made, now successfully carried out, for the sinking of new shafts, opening additional ore mines, proper development, changes in mining practice, the purchase of up-to-date mining equipment, including wet drilling and adequate ventilation and the building of a wet concentrator –  all to eliminate the hazards of silicosis and to secure the most economical operation.  The blast furnaces at Port Henry, idle from any years, were scrapped in 1940, as the ore was shipped direct to the company’s blast furnaces and elsewhere. ”

Robert (Bob) J. Linney

The third piece are edited excerpts from a paper by Robert J. (Bob) Linney.   General Superintendent, Port Henry Division, Republic Steel Corp.

Geology of the Deposits:  “..In this district, the richest ore body is the Old Bed at Mineville.  the Harmony Bed contains less iron than the Old Bed, averaging from 35 to 40 percent iron.  The Fisher Hill ..deposit yield from 25 to 30 per cent iron ore.

… mining operations are now carried on in the Mineville properties at a depth of 7000 ft. along the dip, or 1350 ft. below the level of Lake Champlain, the ore reserves unquestionably are vast. Fisher Hill a diamond-drill hole cut the ore bed at a distance of approximately 8000 ft. along the dip from the surface outcroppings.

Mining Operations in Two Beds: “The Mineville mines operate in two distinct beds of ore one lying above the other.  both beds strike southeast and northwest, dipping at approximately 30 degree to the southwest.  The upper vein is known as Harmony and the lower vein as Old Bed.  Each vein, although connected underground at two different elevations, has been mined separately, including  hoisting through separate shafts.  The Harmony shaft is vertical, approximately 450 ft. deep, intersecting the vein at its bottom.  From this point slope have been sunk in the ore body to depths which sometimes reached 3,000 ft. ”

Fisher Hill Mine, Mill, and Sintering Plant:  “The tremendous demands of the war (WW11) for iron ore required not only maximum production from present sources but also rapid development of other known deposits.   For its part in producing the needed additional iron ore for our war effort, Republic presented a plan for the development of what is know as the Fisher Hill ore body, located within two miles of their already established operations at Mineville. These plans were submitted to Defense Plant Corp. and approval to start the project was received in September 1941.

The schedule included the development of a mine having a capacity of 2,500,000 long tons of crude ore yearly, headframe, engine house, shops, change house, crushing plant, railroad tracks, and concentrating and sintering plants… all buildings , with the exception of the concentrating mill and sintering plant, are located at the mine. Water being a paramount problem , the latter plants were erected at what is known as the Switchback located on Bartlett Pond brook some 3 miles from Port Henry and 3 1/2 miles from the mine….

..little is known of the history of the mine, other than that it was opened up at an extremely early period.  It was last operated in 1893,  and the depression of that year perhaps had a great deal to do with its closing.

Some 22 or 23 years ago, shortly after the end of World War I, a diamond-drilling program there was inaugurated, financed by both the Witherbee Sherman Corp. and the Port Henry Iron Ore Co.  It was stopped after definitely proving that the Fisher Hill ore body would yield at least 40,000,000 long tons of milling ore.  As late as  1923, operations were started to dewater the mine but, unfortunately, this work was never completed and the mine lay idle until summer of 1941.

After a careful study of existing engineering  data and records, it was decided to start dewatering through one of the old slopes known as the Sweeney pit.  A small electric hoist was installed on the surface and a temporary track laid on the footwall as the lowering of the water progressed.  This temporary track and hosting setup was used to develop the first three levels of the project — the Sweeney pit being a little over 1000 ft deep…

These are just samplings from a rather detail record of mining in several Adirondack locations, including:  Chateaugay (Lyon Mountain), MacIntyre (National Lead), Benson Mines (Jones & Laughlin Ore Co., Clifton Mines (Hanna Ore Corp)., and Sanford Hill

The Ticonderoga Historical Society is interested in records on geology, natural resources and the environment as they pertain to the Adirondack Region.  If interested in making donations to the Society of records, minerals, artifacts, etc, please contact us.

Your financial support and donated items are very important to us.  Your financial assistance provides the means to operate the Hancock House and the wide variety of exhibits and programing that we offer through the year.   As we have no Accession Fund, you donated items helps us bring depth to our collections and helps us preserve these items for future generations to enjoy. 

Thank you!

10/8/17 wgd

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