a short history of
the Ely Mine

main shaft

by Paul J. Donovan

        The Ely copper mine is in one of three areas of mining operations in Orange County, Vermont: the Foster (or Cleveland) and Elizabeth mines on Copperas Hill in South Strafford; the Union, Cuprum and Eureka mines on Pike Hill in Corinth; and the Ely mine on Dwight Hill in Vershire.  To the first group goes the honor of being the oldest, the Foster mine dating from 1793 (1).  Thompson’s History of Vermont (1842, p. 167), says the discovery was made by two men out tapping trees.  The earliest mention of the discovery found by Abbott was in Niles’ Register, XXXIII (November 17, 1827), p. 181 (2).  The first group also claims the longest-lived of all the copper mines, the Elizabeth mine, operating (with interruptions) until 1958.  The second group includes the Union mine, which produced 31,504 tons of ore (of 8.5-10% copper, after cobbing).  The Union mine was reported to have been discovered by a fox hunter chasing a fox into his den in 1847 (as reported in the [Burlington] Daily Free Press, June 6, 1854, p. 2, col. 4, again in the Daily Free Press of January 25, 1855, p. 2, col. 3, both quoting the Northfield Star), but Hemenway disputes this, stating the mine was discovered by three men on an excursion (3).
        But it is the Ely mine which boasts the deepest shaft, at three thousand four hundred feet (4) or three thousand six hundred feet (5) or even four thousand feet (6), and the most remarkable history.  From the discovery and investigation of an outcrop with a “burnt appearance” (7), some four hundred feet above the valley floor (8) reportedly causing fire-balls and smoke (9) or, according to Blaisdell, when John Richardson’s daughter Betsey pulled her leg out of a soft hummock she stepped on after a rainstorm in 1812 and noticed it was covered with orange dirt (10) or, as Dee asserts, the notice by a farmer of a rock scuffed by his oxen’s shoe (11), interest was generated in 1821 in what lie under Dwight Hill.  The Burlington Daily Free Press alludes to reports dating back to 1800, but was unable to verify any such report, even by the “oldest inhabitant” (12).
         Around 1820, group of local farmers formed the Farmer’s Company (13) and produced copperas intermittently until 1853.  Isaac Tyson, whom Abbott regards as “probably the leading industrial chemist of the day”  (14) began purchasing mineral rights as early as 1830 to the area.  The Vershire Copper Mining Company was incorporated by Stephen F. Spencer, Hiram Bliss, William Richardson, Philip Matoon, Junior, Sherborn Prescott and others (15).  Sometime thereafter, (1833? -with the charter of the Boston Copper Mining Company, Act 40, Laws of Vermont 1833, p. 84 or 1838? -with the charter of the Vermont Copperas Co, Act 17, Laws of Vermont 1838, p. 83) he and Amos Binney (and William Reynolds, John Head and Richard Sullivan) began to drive an adit (a horizontal tunnel) to intersect the vein at some distance from the southern surface of the hill.  In two years, they had driven in ninety-four feet without striking ore (16)  and Tyson’s partners became uneasy and discontinued the project over his objections (17).  Abbott suggests the financial panic of 1834 influenced this decision (18).  The Company remained in existence, assuming from the presence of an amendment to their charter in 1858 (19).

Little digging was done until the Vermont Copper Mining Company (chartered 1853, Act No. 89, Laws of Vermont 1853, p. 93) commenced work in the Spring of 1854 (20). The primary stockholder (with five-twelfths) was Mr. Henry Barnard of Morristown, New York, who purchased the property for $1,000.00 (21).  In the meantime, Isaac Tyson, John Reynold, S.R.M. Holbrook, R.H. Rollins, Benjamin Preston and E.P George formed the Vermont Union Copper Mining Company (22).  The U. S. Congress had banished foreign copperas from American markets, and prospects of domestic production seemed promising.(23)  In the mine, now operated by Barnard, under the direction of Captain Thomas Pollard, an able Cornish mining engineer with experiences in Michigan, California, and “British America” (24), Tyson’s adit was driven another four feet when it struck the vein Tyson failed to find.  Later, another shaft was driven 778 feet horizontally under Tyson’s adit (not higher as stated in Collier, First Annual Report...1872, p. 628) to strike the main shaft 300 feet below the surface.  Cobbed ore, comprising usually eight to ten per cent of pure copper (25), was produced, as follows:
 1854..............134 tons (also: Hager, Report on the Geology of Vermont, vol. II, p.855)
 1855..............198 tons (also: Hager)
 1856..............137 tons (also: Hager)
 1857..............246 tons (also: Hager)
 1858..............314 tons (also: Hager)
 1859..............788.5 tons (also: Hager)
 1860..............1312 tons (Stone, The Vermont of Today, vol. II, p. 536)(plus 140 tons unsold)
 1861..............1240 tons (Hemenway), 1812 tons (Jacobs, Report...1941-1941, p. 8; Howard,      Peter, Geology of the Elizabeth Mine, Vermont, p. 68)
 1862..............1113 tons (Hemenway), 2224 tons (Jacobs), 1430 tons (Peters)
 1863..............1400 tons (Hemenway), 1430 tons (Jacobs)
 1864..............897 tons (Hemenway), 1430 tons (Peters)
 1865..............1430 tons (Hemenway), 1430 tons (Jacobs)
 1866..............3615 tons (Hemenway)
 1867..............4932 tons (Hemenway)
 1868..............5682 tons (Hemenway, as above, quoting Geology of Vermont, vol. II, p. 1136)

In 1861, the mine’s length was at three hundred and fifteen feet (two hundred feet below the surface), and employed one hundred men and boys (26).   Hitchcock (27) breaks them down as follows: twenty-five miners, seven strikers, six trammers, two blacksmiths, two carpenters, two masons, three teamsters, two head dressers, fifty-one spaders, cobbers, etc.  Henry Barnard was elected president in November.  The profits that month were $1500.00, and the cash, ore and stock were valued at $30,000 (28).  In July 1862 the directors voted a dividend of $10,000.00 to be paid quarterly, five dividends to be paid in five successive quarters.  It appears they relied, knowingly or not, on padded production figures (29).  [continue...]
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