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Sunday, May 20, 2012

The Tilly Foster Mine

The Tilly Foster Mine as it appears today.

This isn’t a gold mine instead it was an iron mine and where my great-grandfather went to work when he first arrived in the United States after leaving Nova Scotia for poaching gold on the Queensland.  He left his wife and child behind in Halifax, Nova Scotia intending to bring them down to the States as soon as he earned enough money.  These events started in the spring of 1870 at the mine he worked as a mine rigger a job he had done earlier in Glace Bay.  Much of the work was stonemasonry, a job he pursued for the rest of his life.

The Tilly Foster Mine itself is today an abandoned iron mine that was the most active during the 1970s that is about two miles west of the village of Brewster, NY.  The mine is now filled with water, and is surrounded by a junk yard.  The mine was named after Tillingham Foster who bought it from George Beale that owned the land where it was located.  After he died in 1842 the mine site passed through several hands until it finally came into the possession of the Harvey Iron and Steel Company.  The mine finally opened in 1853.  After its opening it employed large numbers of Irish and Italian immigrants.  These workers were known by numbers since they had names that were too hard to pronounce by the “Apple Knockers” that owned the mine.  My great-grandfather must have been the only Scotchman working in the mine.

Chondrodite on magnetite from the Tilly Foster Mine
Photo by Rob Lavinsky

The main minerals produced from the mine were magnetite and chondrodite from a mine that employed 300 workers and reached a depth of 600 feet (180 meters).  At the height of its production they were producing 7,000 tons of ore a month where after mining it was shipped by train to New York City where large amounts of it were trans-shipped to Scranton, Pennsylvania where it was made into rails by the Lackawanna Steel Company for use on the Delaware-Lackawanna Railroad.

After reaching a point where it was no longer feasible to operate it as an underground mine it was converted into an open pit mine during the years 1887 to 1889.  In 1895 a major collapse occurred that killed thirteen miners.  The collapse of the mine spelled its death knell and it was flooded by a nearby reservoir that supplied New York City with drinking water.

In its day it was the largest open pit mine in the world that collapsed in 1895 killing thirteen miners when tons of rock came crashing down on their heads.  Many of these miners were only known by their numbers.  The cave-in of the Tilly Foster Mine was caused by heavy rains that soaked into a mass of soapstone near the surface of the mine.  The mine was described as a funnel shaped oval hole in the ground that at the time of the collapse was 400 feet deep.

During World War II the abandoned mine was pressed into service by the military where it was used as a site to test and train with diving equipment.  A collection of minerals and other artifacts from the mine can be seen at the Southeast Museum in Brewster, New York


  1. The Tilly Foster Mine is over 660 feet deep by 1895. The November collapse of the north wall, where 100-200 tons of rock fell on miners working in the upper mine, in the same year. The mine foreman and engineer continued to drill tunnels at depths of over 700 feet below the surface, when the hit an underground spring, The New York State authorities closed the mine in 1897 due to safety concerns.


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