Mines, Minerals and Speculation in De Kalb
by Bryan Thompson
The search for the figurative pot of gold at the end of the rainbow has been the quest of humanity for thousands of years. Whenever people explore new lands they hope to find hidden treasure in the ground. The early settlers of the Town of De Kalb were no different.
William Cooper searched for bog iron in the town. One early map of his marks the speculative site of an iron mine near Ken Master’s home in Old De Kalb. Cooper went so far as to hire a man from Champion to inspect the claim. Other early prospect pits were dug near Osborn Lake, for copper (it was actually purple fluorite and dark green hornblende), on the side of Streeter Road, and just off Colton Rd to name a few.
Perhaps, because the rocks lie so close to the surface in our town, it has been a hotbed of mineral speculation through out much of its history. There have been claims for everything, from silver and gold, to oil at one time or another. Yes, I did say oil. In 1898, eager speculator were organizing a company to drill for oil on the H. T. Evans Farm (Lot 209). Among the speculators forming the company were: Elmer Seavey, E. E. Griffith, T. Levi Hurlbut, M. M. Johnson, William Lewis, F. S. Chilton, C. M. Giffin, C. M. Corbin, Edward Gray and H.T. Evans. There is no record of any oil ever being pumped. The same year George P. Cahoon proudly displayed silver ore he found just 15 inches below the surface on the Horace Powell farm (Lot 362) near De Kalb Junction. The next year Mr. Cahoon discovered a vein of lead on the Thomas Thornhill farm (Lot 344) on the Jeffers Rd.
George Cahoon was a local farmer, born in the Town of Canton. He took a great interest in mines and minerals in the area. Starting in the 1870’s he bought and sold mineral rights in the town and continued to do so right up until his death in 1907. At various times he owned the rights to marble quarries in Gouverneur, the talc deposits on the E. W. Westcott farm (Lots 502 and 503) and the mineral rights to what later became Stella Mines on County Route 17 between Hermon and De Kalb Junction.
Lime and burnt limestone for use in mortar and plaster were mined for over one hundred years in the town of De Kalb. In a letter to William Cooper in July 1808, Salmon Rich informed Cooper that his lime was ready for the mason. By 1820, a limekiln had been erected on the Cleghorn farm near Kendrew Corners as well.
The earliest records for the lime works near Bigelow on Lot 472 start with the 1835 purchase of the property by Henry Newton Williams from the proprietor, Fredrick DePeyster. In 1836 Williams sold the property to Willard Bishop.
Willard Bishop held the property and expanded it with purchases of additional land and quarries until 1867 when he sold the concern to Calvin Barker. Mr. Barker retained the farmlands but sold the quarries and kilns to David Hills one month after he purchased it. Mr. Hills operated the Kiln until the end of 1870 when he sold it to Charles Williams.
Charles Williams, son of the original owner Henry Newton Williams, with various partners and family members, operated the business until the turn of the century. Mr. Williams built the first perpetual burning limekiln in the area. This allowed the ore to be fed through the top and the burnt lime removed without putting the fire out. This kiln was a Bigelow landmark for many generations.
In 1875, Williams and Cory were burning 800 bushels of lime per week. They burned 800 cords of wood per year. By 1889, they had two limekilns running full blast. By 1894, they employed 12 men, operated year round, and produced 30,000 bushels of lime per year.
In 1898, Charles Williams sold one half interest in his business to his son-in-law Manley Johnson. In 1905, Williams sold the remaining interest in the business to his daughter Louisa L. Johnson. Manley and Louisa Johnson were the last to operate the lime business. The limekilns continued to operate until about 1915 when lime was replaced by commercial cement. According to Brown (1983), the lime from here was also quarried and ground for furnace flux between 1905 and 1917.
Interest in talc mining in the area just north of US Route 11, near the intersection with NYS Route 812, on Lots 502 and 503, started right after the Civil War. Peletiah and Jerusha Stacy leased mineral rights for the mining of Talc. In 1884, the new owners, Ervin and Emily Helligas, leased the rights to George P. Cahoon. Cahoon proceeded to buy leases on many of the surrounding farms.
It is unclear how much talc was mined in the 1880’s, but by September 1902, a Canton Advertiser account stated that 30 tons of talc was shipped daily from De Kalb Junction for processing. In February of 1902, Col. Charles T. Holbrook, formerly of Philadelphia, PA. now of De Kalb Junction, signed a 20 year lease with the Hellegas’s at 25 cents per ton. That same year, The De Kalb Mining Co. was organized with principals: George F. Walker, Elbert E. Risley, Albert J. Tyner, Charles T. Holbrook and William H. Fairborn.
On November 26, 1903 The Ogdensburg Advance reported, “Col. Charles T. Holbrook is to commence work in his talc mine on the E. W. Hellegas farm this morning. A sidetrack is to be put in near the residence of J. W. Hayes (now Jim O’Neil’s) where the material can be loaded into the cars”. This talc operation only continued for a short while. The De Kalb Mining Co signed over rights to the mine to N. Edward White in 1904. Title eventually passed to Thomas M. Williams, who went bankrupt in 1912. No records of its operation are included in either the US Geological or the NYS Museum surveys of the area.
Most of the mining operations in the Town of De Kalb were concentrated south of Route 11. This area is part of a long mining belt extending from Pierrepont westward into Jefferson County.
An iron ore bed on the Orvis Westcott farm (Lot 409 just south of the RR at Redrock) was leased out to Peter Bellinger and son in 1887. This red iron ore is probably how the place received the name Redrock. In 1882, iron pyrite mines was opened near Richville on the Elon Gardner farm (Lot 476) by S. Downing and Company, and another on S. V. R. Hendricks farm (Lot 485) was leased to A. J. McDonald.
Besides the more common minerals, some unusual gemstones were found by Calvin Mitchell on his farm on the Gimlet Street Road (South East Corner Smith tract and Lots 427 and 428). These included green pyroxene crystals, datolite, and amphibole. Mr. Mitchell collected these crystals in large quantities and sold them to gem dealers. Some examples are in the NYS Museum today. This is the only site in NYS where pyroxene has been found. Mitchell’s finds generated enough interest that the Consolidated Mineral Gem and Mining Co. purchased the mineral rights to his neighbor’s farm in 1900.
Mining is a boom to bust cyclical business. When a shortage appears, money is thrown about wildly on speculation and development. Conversely as soon as a cheaper source of ore is found all business moves there, leaving ruins and ghost towns behind. In the late 1890’s, there was widespread speculation in pyrite for use in the production of sulfuric acid. The long established sources in Portugal and Spain were running out and new sources were needed.
In 1898, this speculation in iron pyrite spread to De Kalb. A number of Watertown speculators started mines in the town. On the Calvin Mitchell farm, the firm of Hollenbeck and Dunbar had a 35 feet deep shaft, and were shipping ore yielding 35% sulfur.
Near the Borland Creek Railroad crossing, the firm of Milo L. Cleavland and Benjamin R. Hutchins had a shaft 40 feet deep. They had installed a boiler, steam hoist and drills and were already shipping lump ore from their mine only a few feet from the railroad tracks.
Near the intersection of the Gimlet Street Rd. and the Trout Lake Rd., on the Henry Fleming farm, The Moss Bridge Mining Company, owned by Joseph Marian and George O. Graham, was also engaged in mining pyrite. They had a 45 ft. deep shaft with boilers, steam drills, hoists and a complete blacksmith’s shop on site.
Of all these pyrite mines, the one that was most successful actually started in 1884. The De Kalb Mills opened two mineshafts in that year on the Horace Powell farm (Lot 362) and the Charles Austin farm. These shafts were the beginning of what would eventually become the Stella mines.
After lying dormant for a number of years, the rights to the Stella mines were purchased by George Cahoon who sold them in 1899 to Augustus (Gus) McCrea. Gus McCrea was a colorful character, a man who made and lost several fortunes in his lifetime. He first came to the North Country to run his father’s talc mine near Gouverneur in 1877. He was a major player in development of the modern talc industry. He also was involved in bringing the first telephone service and electric service to Gouverneur.
In 1898 he turned his sights on pyrite speculation in De Kalb. He hired Alfred Tregloon as mine superintendent and built a brand new, more efficient processing plant that utilized the dry process for extracting the sulfur. This allowed the plant to run in the winter as well as the summer since it did not utilize water. By June 1899 the mine was producing 145 tons of ore per day and plans were in the works for a railroad to be constructed from De Kalb Junction to the mine. The mines boasted their own private telephone line that connected to both Hermon and De Kalb Junction.
About this time, Gus McCrea sold the mine to Otto G. Mayer and Louis Engelhorn of NYC. McCrea later boasted that he made a quarter million dollar profit on the deal. Mayer and Co., as they were known, finished the construction of the Stella Mines RR and continued operations until the end of 1900, when they went into receivership. The bankrupt mines sat idle, and in September 1904, the uninsured mill burnt to the ground.
By 1906 the St Lawrence Pyrites Corporation reopened the mine and built a new mill. They soon extended the railroad to Hermon and added passenger service. The company shipped their sulfur via RR to Ogdensburg where it was transferred to ships and sent to Germany. They employed a large number of miners many of whom were newly arrived immigrants from Eastern Europe. The hamlet of Stellaville grew up near the mine.
After the First World War the market for sulfur changed. New larger veins of sulfur were opened in Louisiana. This cheaper ore forced the official closure of the Stella mines February 12, 1921. Within a generation the settlement disappeared.
While the pyrite mines along the Gimlet Street Road didn’t pan out, the Moss Bridge mine venture lead to the discovery of a useful vein of pegmatite rich in white crystalline feldspar. This white mineral is ground and used in the manufacture of glass, pottery and porcelain doorknobs. The Greenhill Mining Company of Gouverneur, originally involved in mining ventures in Fowler, began mining near the old pyrite mine about 1910. The President of this company was J. Herman McLear.
Photo: Greenhill Mining - click the photo to enlarge it.
The Greenhill mining company acquired several more sights for mining in De Kalb. They originally hauled the ore to De Kalb Junction and shipped it to Trenton, NJ for grinding. Eventually the Greenhill Mining company built it’s own siding at Redrock.
In the late 1920’s the company divested themselves of their Fowler interests. As the depression continued, Mr. and Mrs. McLear moved to De Kalb to live. Mrs. McLear cooked for the miner’s cafeteria and was famous for her old fashion flower gardens at the mine.
The operation ran on a very tight budget. During the 1930’s, the Greenhill Mining Company repeatedly appeared on the delinquent tax list. They continued to use horses to haul the ore to the siding right up until the mine closed in the mid 1940’s. Legend has it that a bad batch of ore finally pushed the company into bankruptcy in 1946.
In the same vicinity as the Greenhill mine, on the eastern side of the Trout Lake Rd. a white marble quarry existed for 60 years. The first records of this quarry start with a lease to C. W. Bayley in 1881. In 1889, the lease was transferred to Mark Spaulding. In 1890, Spaulding and Chester Buck subleased the quarry to Thomas Clarkson who operated the quarry as the Clarkson Marble Quarry. This lease was forfeited in 1896 following Clarkson’s death. The quarry was then subleased to James A. Phelps and W. D. Chamberlin. In 1904 title to the minerals reverted to Mark W. Spaulding. Following his death in 1906 his heirs formed a trust to manage the property. Chester S. Buck one of the heirs was the first trustee. In the 1930’s, Walter Buck, another heir, became trustee.
This trust did business as The De Kalb White Marble Company. The company provided white marble for building construction for many years. In 1917 they leased the mineral rights to J. Hermon McLear for use by the Greenhill mining company but they specifically excepted all white marble from the lease. So for about 20 years there were two different mining concerns operating on the same property. The marble quarry appears to have been used intermittently as there was call for the stone. Newspaper accounts mention stone from the quarry being used to build a new store in 1931. The minerals rights of The De Kalb White Marble Company were sold at tax foreclosure sale in 1946.
The closure of these mines at the end of World War Two marked the end of commercial mining in the town of De Kalb. It is interesting to note that none of the mines in the town closed due to exhaustion of the ore supply. However the minerals veins in De Kalb tend to be narrow, and are expensive to access using modern mining techniques.
Brinsdale, Robert B. (1906)Pyrite Mining and Milling In St. Lawrence County, New York Engineering and Mining Journal Vol. XIV p. 525 to 527.
Brown, C. Ervin (1969)New Talc Deposit in St. Lawrence County New York US Geological Survey Bulletin 1272-DUS Government Printing Office, Washington, D.C..
Brown, C. Ervin (1983)Mineralization, Mining and Mineral Resources in the Beaver Creek Area of the Grenville Lowlands In St Lawrence County New YorkUS Government Printing Office, Washington, D.C.
Canton Commercial Advertiser
(September 1904) Stella Mines Mills Burns
(October 1902) Bankruptcy Notice for Otto G. Mayer and Company
(September 1902) St. Lawrence Co. Mines
(December 22, 1920) De Kalb Junction –Hermon R.R. May Discontinue Until Spring
(1926) Gus McCrea Visits The North Country, Canton, NY
Cooper, William (1808)Cooper Family PapersHartwick College, Oneonta, NY.
Cushing, H. P. and D. H. Newland (1925)Geology of the Gouverneur Quadrangle University of the State of New York, Albany, NY.
Franklin Gazette (December 30, 1898) Geo. P. Cahoon, Malone, NY
Gouverneur Tribune Press (September 20, 1942) Flower Lovers Invited, Gouverneur, NY
Hardy, Louise (2007)Interview by Author.
(1882) Richville Mining Interests
(1898) St Lawrence Mining
(November 26, 1903) De Kalb Junction, Ogdensburg, NY
Richville Historical Association (2004) Rich’s Settlement to Richville 1804-2004 Ferguson Printing, Gouverneur, NY.
St Lawrence County Clerk (n.d.)Deeds Liber 120C p 257, 292, Liber 121A p.546, Liber 125A p. 6, Liber 28 p. 647, Liber 35A p. 177, Liber 48B p. 220, Liber 79B p. 268, Liber 80B p. 80, Liber 88B p. 455, Liber 159B p. 1207, Liber 157A p. 10, Liber 158A, p. 12, Liber 156B p. 817-822, Liber 378 p. 517, Liber 60A p. 55, Liber 164 p. 1474, Liber 180B p. 802, Liber 195A p. 19, Liber 385 p. 98, Liber 389 p. 461, Liber 151A p. 607, Liber 166B p. 1088, Liber 175C p. 1625, Liber 148A, p. 264, Liber 105C, p. 447, Liber 72C p. 342, Liber 91C p. 341, Liber 118A p. 431, Liber 156C p. 130, Liber 124C p.1487, Liber 130C p.1919, Liber 149C p.1634, 1637, Liber 164C p. 1574, Liber 102C p.571, Liber 163C p. 1750, Liber 164C p. 1513, Liber 168C p. 1431, Liber 190A p. 188, Liber 296 p. 428St Lawrence County Clerk’s Office, Canton, NY.
St. Lawrence Herald
(June 16, 1899) A Railroad is Being Constructed between Stella Pyrite Mines and De Kalb Junction
(August 31, 1899) Hermon
(November 1899) Stella Mines
(November 3, 1899) A Lead Mine of Considerable Value
Smallman, Mary (March 2007) Interview by Author
Tracy, Eli (February 2007)Interview by Author.