Ever since moving here in 1995 I’ve been hearing rumors about a silver mine in Lamoine. I formed visions of mine shafts, glittering veins of silver and overnight riches, sometime in the distant past. I always wondered exactly where it was, and if there were any remains. I finally decided to investigate. This is one of the perks of blog writing, you always have an excuse to follow silly tangents, as long as you write about them.
Two books exist about Lamoine that I know of. The oldest is Lamoine and its Attractions as a Place of Summer Sojourning by John C Winterbotham (1888); and A Souvenir of Old Lamoine, by the Lamoine Historical Society, undated, probably about 1990. While I haven’t been able to get my hands on the former I don’t think it has any information about silver mines, and none in A Souvenir, which I have. But there has been a breakthrough online: the US Geological Survey website has a database on mineral resources at http://mrdata.usgs.gov. By searching for silver mines in Lamoine I have the three documents:
http://mrdata.usgs.gov/mrds/show-mrds.php?dep_id=10121304 (Swett mine)
http://mrdata.usgs.gov/mrds/show-mrds.php?dep_id=10267472#nav (Ford mine)
These three records give the GPS coordinates, so we now know the exact locations in Lamoine. Two of the three are on private land and not easily accessed. The landowners probably don’t know they’re there and asking for access would be awkward, but the Swett mine is so close to the road that going to the site is possible, and only 2 miles from SeaCat’s Rest. I paid a visit on 5/10/13. What I found was a small crater with a built up rim, overgrown by trees. I expect the others look the same.
So what happened? Did Lamoine yield untold riches to some lucky prospectors? Unlikely. In each of the three records we see: “Development status: Prospect” and “Significant: no”. This tells me that not much came out of value. Holes were dug, nothing was found, the prospectors moved on.
There were two mining rushes in Maine, the first was in 1878-1882. From the Milbridge Historical Society:
In a great flurry of excitement, small mines and prospects were opened in many areas, primarily along the coastal volcanic belt. Some of the activity came from miners who returned to Maine from the Gold Rush in the West. He said there were many new shafts drilled, and lots of promotion. There was ample opportunity to buy mining stock and a large number of credulous fools, ready to make a killing. A few did well, but most did not. In most cases, the ore veins were just not big enough to make mining profitable. The Maine State Mining Journal reported in 1880 that Maine was 18th of 20 silver producing states, so there was indeed some silver production here, but never a lot.
The second mining boom was in the late 1950s. The Milbridge article goes on:
Part of an ore body estimated at 4.5 million tons was worked near Blue Hill in 1964-65, and significant nickel copper deposit was drilled but not mined in Union. The most famous operation was the open-pit mine in Harborside, between Brooksville and Cape Rosier where 800,000 tons of copper and zinc ore were mined between 1968 and 1972.
Probably the most successful Downeast mine was in Blue Hill. It is said that a million tons of zinc-copper-lead ore were shipped from the Black Hawk mine there. 1,600 men were employed there at $1.10 a day. You could make more as a carpenter, but it was a reasonable living. The map distributed by Jenkins shows 21 different mining sites in the Blue Hill area. No metals have been mined in Maine since 1977.
In summary, Jenkins said that $975,000 was invested in Maine mining. OF this only $375,000 was invested by Mainers. Only $35,000 was realized from the total investment. Of course, he pointed out, all of that $975,000 was spent in Maine, so the state did have economic benefit from mining. He quoted Frank Bartlett who said in 1882, that never have more summer visitors come to Maine to watch the hauling of ores from our mines. There isn’t that much to see, “but they can’t help admiring our beautiful scenery.”
The source for the above quotes was Tom Jenkins, geology instructor and Assistant Professor of Professional Studies at the University of Maine.
What is still unanswered is whether the Lamoine mines were from the first or the second rush. The USGS site lists the source of information on these mines as ME Mines and Minerals, Volume 2 page 33 by Philip Morrill and Wm. P. Hinkley, 1959. So the mines could be from the 1880s or the 1950s.
So I’ve managed to answer the where, how many and maybe a hint of the how successful, but still unknown is the when and who. Do you know?
Addendum: I just heard from the Lamoine Historical Society:
There was a fourth silver mine named the “Little Sue”. (1881 map) It was a about one half mile from the Swett mine, near the salt water.Mining in the area started in 1879. No one in Lamoine got rich. In fact most of them were left with worthless mining shares. The Historical Society has a Little Sue original paper share.The following is a quote from a Lamoine letter dated Jan 11, 1880. “There is quite an excitement here in regards to the mines. Mr. Johnson has commenced blasting;” and a letter of Jan. 18, 1880: “Mr. Johnson has discovered a very rich one on his farm in sight from the road. The assayer in Sullivan pronounces it gold.” This mine is not found on the map. It seems that the only money made was by selling the mineral rights to someone else. There were a lot of mines dug, but none successful. Letter of April 13, 1880: “Most every one that you hear of has got a mine. Amos has got one thought to be worth millions.”The “craze” didn’t last very long.