“We’re going to be talking about mining in Vermont (at the former Elizabeth Mine in South Strafford),” Vermont Historical Society executive director Steve Perkins said. “You know, often we talk about granite and marble, but we’re talking about some other fancy ores today. (This is) a very interesting site; it’s been around for a long time. We’re going to go up and we’re going to visit with Steve Willbanks, who’s the president of the Strafford Historical Society, and he’s going to tell us more about mining history.”
“The first commercially viable extraction was copperas, (which is) iron sulfate,” Willbanks said. “Copperas is valuable because it was a fixative for dyes, for the wool industry and other kinds of fabrics. At the same time, they would find nearby — there would seem to be some deposits of copper — and the copperas production started in about 1809.
“They built a pretty elaborate extraction process for the copperas, a refining process. Behind us over here, there’s a landscape that’s on quite a slope and the copperas was available at the top of that hill, and then they brought it down using gravity. It took a while for the copper smelting process and everything to be developed to the point where it was efficient.”
Perkins asked, “So, a little more complex to extract copper than copperas?”
“Right, it takes a lot more heat. It wasn’t until about 1830. Isaac Tyson, Jr. — he developed a process using anthracite coal and a blast furnace to do the smelting and preheat the furnace, which hadn’t been done before. He has the patents on those.”
Perkins noted, “And that took place right here?”
“And that took place right here.”
“But the anthracite coal had to come from somewhere else,” Perkins said.
“And it wasn’t really feasible economically until the railroad came through here,” Willbanks added.
Perkins asked, “How did it get its name, the Elizabeth Mine?”
“(Elizabeth) was Isaac Tyson’s grandson’s wife,” Willbanks replied. “There’s been kind of a boom and bust on copper. It was one of those commodities that if you’re close to about the time of a war, it’s going to be very profitable to open the mine because there’s a great need for the copper at that point. There are up to 200 miners (working here) for extended periods of time.
“Probably the most dramatic of those times — there were two points that were really dramatic — early 1900s, and then the other time that it was really revved up was just prior to World War II. And then after that it falls, and it’s kind of hard — it’s hard to find the funds to keep it going.; you’re not making very much money.
“There may be as many as 20 different corporate entities that own this property at various times. They’re fighting against the inevitable — which is, as people went further west, they found much larger pockets of these minerals, particularly copper, first in Michigan and then in Arizona and Montana. And it was so close (to the surface), it was easy to extract and there was no way that this mine could compete.”
The Elizabeth Mine closed for the final time in 1958. Its former site has just been cleaned up and remediated as part of the Environmental Protection Agency’s Superfund program, and Willbanks tells us about that effort here.