This Place in History: Johnson Talc Mine and Mill

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At ‘This Place in History’, we’re in Johnson at the Old Mill Park with Executive Director of the Vermont Historical Society Steve Perkins.

“We are talking about an old mill. But often when people think of mills, they think of woolen mills, paper mills and cotton mills. This was a talc mill,” began Perkins.

“We all know baby powder, made of talc. But talc went into so many different things and still goes into many different industrial products. It’s a mineral that comes out of the earth and is found in a number of places around Vermont. There was a talc mine and mill right here in Johnson and some of the old buildings are right here behind us still,” continued Perkins.

“[Talc] had surfaced in 1902 over on the southern end of Railroad Street. It was discovered by horses slipping on the slippery surface. That led to someone investigating why it was slippery and discovered there was an ore deposit there,” began Dean West, Vice President of the Johnson Historical Society.

“And it was in 1904 that they actually started developing that discovered ore. And in 1906, the mill started and all the ore was extracted from the bank at the back of the mill. The mill was producing about 30-40 tons of processed ore.”

“They built the mill on the site primarily because of the railroad. American Mineral, who developed the site, had a mine in Waterville. And when this ore deposit was discovered, they chose to build the mill in Johnson because of the railroad having been built, instead of moving the ore to Waterville to process it. Vermont is one of the most rich states in talc deposits in the nation,” explained West.

“[Talc was] always very significant to the economics of Johnson. This created an industry that employed, even at its opening, about 30-40 people. And at its closing, between the mine and the mill, it was employing about 75 people. And at the time of its closing, it was also contributing about $60,000 a year to the local tax base.”

“The mining operation was closed very, very abruptly. It was in November of 1983. They had a shift that went down in the morning and mined until 3 o’clock in the afternoon, and an evening shift went to follow it. On this day, the morning shift went down to work, and the afternoon shift showed up to go down and were told you’re not going down. When the morning shift comes out of the mine, that’s going to be the last guys in the mine,” explained West.

“The company says that deep shaft mining was too expensive to keep talc competitive in the remaining market. When you remove something like that, the character of the community changes because the economy changes. The character of the town and what the town has been built around changes over the years. Some of us miss that, you know.  But things don’t stay the same over time. They  just change,” concluded West.

At ‘This Place in History’!

For more from ‘This Place in History’, click here.

To view a map of Vermont’s roadside historic markers, click here.

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