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Sunday, May 20, 2012

The Copper Mine in Bristol Connecticut

Bornite was the principal ore produced at Bristol, there are museum class specimens all over the world from this source.
Photo by Ra'ike

The copper mine at Bristol, Connecticut started in 1937 and continued in dribs and drabs until 1953.  It is a study in how not to operate a mine.  The owners always managed to spend more of their shareowners money then they could get out of the mine.  This mine was located along the contact between the Mesozoic sandstones of the Hartford Basin and the schists of the western uplands of Connecticut.  World class specimens of chalcocite and bornite much to the consternation of the operators were collected at the mine that are still found in many museums and in the hands of private collectors.

The early part of the 19th century was marked by many mines in Connecticut, the latest survey by the Connecticut Geological and Natural History pegs the number at over six-hundred, an online source has raised this to 1,246 mines.  The first mention of this mine was by Shepard in 1837, but later it was noted by Percival in 1842.  The mine itself lies about 4 miles northwest of the center of Bristol at an elevation of around 350 feet.

Although work on the mine began in 1837 it was worked in such a desultory way that only about 125 tons were shipped to England for refining.  From 1847 to 1853 the mine was at its most active and was more vigorously worked.  It was during this period that over half a million dollars were spent developing the mine.  The workings were extended to 240 feet and to 500 feet along the vein.  This and other tunnels gave the mine a maximum width of 120 feet.

During the same period the mine produced nearly $200,000 worth of ore weighing 2,200 tons with the picked ore having a copper content of 33%.  For years the mine was abandoned after the collapse of a heap of mine tailings destroyed a dam on Poland Creek precipitating a wall of water that almost wrecked the Forestville part of Bristol.

The mine was originally discovered by a farmer, one Theophilus Botsford became curious about why a spring on his property ran green, so he took a plow and team and uncovered a vein of copper ore.  Sure enough this was the source of the green water that stained the rocks in Poland Creek and killed the vegetation along the brook.  Finding the copper ore satisfied his curiosity and it wasn’t until 1800 when Asa Hooker, a brass founder in Bristol leased the land from the widow Sarah Yale.  She was a descendent of the founder of Yale University in New Haven.  She made a deal to be paid a percentage of any ore mined, but there was little mining done until 1836 long after she had died.

After 1836 the mine was worked on a large scale but never made a profit eventually falling into the hands of John M. Woolsey of Yale.  Under the hands of Prof. Silliman who was a good professor, but a lousy miner caused the most extravagant schemes and experiments were undertaken.  Hundreds of thousands of dollars were poured into the mine with far less coming out with the Bristol Mining Company that was incorporated in 1855 was bankrupt by 1857.

According to the Tunxis Valley Herald for December 17, 1886.

"The collapse which came was caused by the grossest mismanagement, and
not from any fault in the mine. The manager's crowning impulse seems to have
been to spend the most money in the shortest possible time. Large and expensive
buildings were for some trivial cause torn down and used for fuel, and new ones
erected which if reports are true, were liable to meet a similar fate.
"The agent resided in Farmington Street and kept eight or ten fast horses
at his stables in Farmington and others at the mine. The superintendent occupied the house near the mine. The office furniture and fittings were of an expensive style. Once a dance was given in the store room which had been provided with steam pipes for heating it on this occasion as it was winter. Sibley*s Band, of Hartford, the best in the State at that time, was hired for $100; the supper was a costly one, wine of several kinds being  furnished. That this wine was not an imitation may be  inferred  from the  f a ct that those at the  supper table amused themselves by throwing turkeys and chickens at each other.”

The mine also had gold that was associated with the copper ores.

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