Museum helps preserve the area's underground past

| 28 Sep 2011 | 02:14

    Sussex County-When we think of mining, we usually associate it with the western United States or Alaska, but Sussex County and the Ogdensburg/Franklin area have produced a wealth of minerals for decades. In 1989, brothers Richard and Robert Hauck, along with the Phillips family, purchased the property that comprises what is known as the Sterling Hill mine complex to preserve and propagate the history of mining in New Jersey. Under the auspices of the Sterling Hill Mining Museum Foundation, the Sterling Hill Institute of Geosciences hosts workshops in collaboration with other organizations located in New Jersey and Pennsylvania. Since the inception of educational programs, over 300,000 students and teachers have experienced aspects of the mining industry and its relationship to every facet of our daily lives in America. This spring, through a grant administered by Rutgers University, the Institute held a workshop attended by 24 teachers, who spent an afternoon in the mine and were instructed on the geology of the mine, safety features, practices that were in use when the mine was operative, and the application of physics to the mining process. In addition to an underground tour of the mines, visitors are regaled by cases stacked with minerals. The Warren Museum contains fluorescent exhibit rooms displaying specimens in dazzling colors. Original mining equipment is also part of the exhibits. "The Story of the Growth of a Mining Town and Its Unique Place in Science and History," a booklet compiled by Paul Horuzy, mayor of Ogdensburg 1987-1990, chronicles the early history of mining in New Jersey and Sussex County, in particular. He recounts that the process called "geological metamorphosis" created over millions of years the most unique deposits of zinc ore in the entire world in the Franklin/Ogdensburg area. As most mining towns in the late 1800s, Ogdensburg was a place where "an abundance of cheap whiskey and the concoction of deviltry" was favored by the local inhabitants. It's hard to imagine today's quiet community with a colorful past mirroring the romance and free-wheeling spirit of the towns of the Gold Rush of the old west. The Dutch were the first Europeans to work the zinc mine, and Lord Stirling (William Alexander), after whom the area is named, practiced open-cut mining circa 1772. The later population was comprised of Eastern Europeans and Mexicans who supplied cheap labor for the mines. Horuzy notes that for over 150 years the Sterling mine, located on Sterling Hill, was the nucleus of whatever community developed. During the early 1800s, mining, including the smelting and forging of iron, was an important industry in Sussex County. In the spring of 1986, the New Jersey Zinc Company ceased operation of the Sterling Mine, signaling an end to a colorful era of Americana. By 1989, 335 minerals were identified as indigenous to the area. The fluorescent minerals found in abundance in the area are the best known and most widely distributed of all fluorescent mineral specimens in the world. The site is open seven days a week, and during the summer months, the Museum hosts an outdoor flea market the last Sunday of the month, 10 a.m.-3 p.m. The next scheduled sales are July 25 and Aug. 29.