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Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Tales of the Devil: The Whodunit Mine


Typical Landscape at the Whodunit Mine
Photo by P. L. Chadwick



No this isn’t a tale of the nether regions it is the story about the discovery of a long abandoned mine in western Connecticut.  For lack of a better name we might as well call it the “Whodunit Mine.”  The mine is on private property, and its owner is in the business of raising big dogs.  He will loose the hounds on anyone who goes trespassing on his property, so let that be a warning.

The old mine was discovered by the owner when he wanted the zoning classification of his property changed from residential to farming.  There were several old pits in the ground the zoning enforcement officer wanted filled in as part of the change.  This got the curiosity of the owner that led to the discovery of several acres covered with pits and several hundred feet of trenching giving the property the appearance of a battlefield.

The site also contains timber rattlesnakes
Photo by Trisha M. Shears


Somewhere in the process last April 2012 he contacted me because I operate a school for prospectors teaching the fundamentals of prospecting that I try to tailor to the individual.  The owner already knew how to pan for gold, what he was really curious about was what he had on his property.  We made a trip to the site where we looked the site over and discovered plenty of evidence of prior mining activity with many prospecting pits and several hundred feet of trenching.  This activity covered several acres of the property.  From prior experience I know what this kind of work costs in money and labor.

In the past I had some involvement with Robert J. Altamura who worked for the Connecticut Geological and Natural History Survey when he prepared a map of the Bedrock Mines and Quarries of Connecticut.  Since I had a copy of the map and its accompanying booklet I checked and the site wasn’t on the map.  With that I contacted Margaret Thomas the state geologist and told her I’d found an unlisted mine.

Another creepy-crawler found on the property is the copperhead
Photo by Trisha M. Shears


Because the owner was a contractor he had some construction equipment including a backhoe that he used to explore the old mine.  He called me on the phone one morning in early May to tell me he had dug into what turned out to be an apparent mineshaft and had discovered many old bottles and other artifacts.  I told him to stop digging and I’d contact the state archeologist.  The state archaeologist told me he couldn’t come until May 24.

In the meantime I also contacted the Yale Peabody Museum who put me in touch with their mineral collection manager.  A bit later I contacted the geology department chairman at Hofstra University a personal friend to tell him what we had discovered.  Ultimately both the mineral manager and the chairman of the department agreed to come to the site on May 24.

What happened on the 24th was the meeting of a blue ribbon panel consisting of one archaeologist, three geologists and two engineers.  The net result of the meeting was we couldn’t determine what they had been mining.

The mine contains the following minerals: amphibolite, beryl, corundum, ilmenite, kyanite magnetite, pyrites talc and other minerals that are yet to be identified.  We also found one small speck of gold.

My own theory of this is:

The digging probably happened in the 1850’s after somebody came back from the California Gold Rush and decided there was gold on this property and went looking for it.  The debris filling the mineshaft has been dated to the post Civil War Era by the state archaeologist.  The mineshaft yielded what appears to be a cast iron ladle that could be used in assay work.

This tale is going to be continued!

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