By Martha Briggs Watson
Many Huntsville residents may have heard of and perhaps even remember the Mica Mine ski jump and ski hill, site of the original Huntsville Ski Club. Perhaps you have driven on Mica Mine Road. Not as many may know about the mica mine that was situated on that hill.
My dad, Harold Briggs, owned that hill for many years, and as kids it was a great adventure for us to trudge up the hill to find the old mine and to carry back the biggest chunks of quartz, feldspar and mica that we could find.
This story is taken from his writings about the mine.
Among the early settlers who came to Huntsville in the early part of the 20th century was Doctor Casselman, a medical doctor. Huntsville in those days was a thriving place, with five sawmills, plus a tannery, a woolen mill and a foundry, but few good roads and no cars. The doctor was a busy man, but found time to indulge in his other talent: rocks and minerals. He had made a study of geology and spent much of his leisure time in tramping the hills in this district.
One of his finds was on a hill overlooking Fairy Lake, facing east by south. Feldspar and mica were the minerals here, both of which were much in demand in industries in the cities. Feldspar rock was pulverized and used in making certain paints and enamel ware. Mica was insulating and was used in the heating stoves everyone had to have in those days. These stoves, usually upright, had a window in the door in front, allowing people to see if the fire was burning without opening the stove door, and also to add a cheerful glow from the fire through the window. Mica, being non-flammable, was ideal for this purpose.
Although this hill was but a mile or so from town, practically all the tools and equipment had to be carried by the doctor on his trips out. Later, with the help of a handyman, he built a shack at the top of the hill where he stored his tools and the dynamite needed in getting down into the rock. No part of this was easy, as everything had to be carried uphill, where the rock was dislodged with a pick axe and shovel.
After the doctor had satisfied himself that there was sufficient ore in that place, he continued a very ingenious method of getting the rock down the to the water’s edge.
To a good, sound, living tree adjacent to his mine on the hilltop, he attached a stout steel cable wire. This was strung down the hill to the edge of the lake and the other end of the cable attached to another solid living tree and made taut.
To hold the rock that was sent down this inclined cable, he made a stout wooden box, well-bolted to withstand the rough treatment and the load it would hold. This box was attached by short chains to pulley wheels placed over the cable wire. By means of a hinged bottom, the box could be sprung open to unload the rock.
After filling the box with rock at the mine, a brake was released, and down it went to the bottom. As the box approached the lakeside, an arm on the bottom of the box would hit another solid trimmed tree, and the box would drop open on its hinges and the load of rock would drop to the ground.
Another lighter cable, which was attached to the rear of the box and to the top of the hill to a winch, returned the empty box to the mine for another load.
When sufficient feldspar and mica were at the water edge, they were loaded into a large scow, towed by a steam tug to the railway station dock, and from there loaded into open railway cars to be taken to the destination.
At least one load of this ore was lost when a scow, unevenly loaded, tipped and spilled into the waters of Fairy Lake.
The mine was finally abandoned and is now a practically unknown effort of a man who put a tremendous amount of labour and thought into its creation. Now there is no evidence except perhaps a hole in the hillside, and, if one looks long enough, a bit of cable and rusted metal, and perhaps little bits of rock and mica.
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