Jan 16 2019

Exploring the Site of the Former Copper Mines on the Dvoor Farm


Retired geologist Mark Zdepski has been studying copper mining in Hunterdon County for more than two decades. Slag found here offers clues to the land’s mining past.

Partially hidden beneath the fallen branches, dried leaves and detritus near the Walnut Brook that courses through the Dvoor Farm lies a gold mine of information about the land’s history in the mid 1800s.

Or, for the sake of accuracy, a copper mine’s worth.

A smattering of clues crops up offering an interesting glimpse of  Hunterdon County’s mining industry past that stretches beyond a street name. The fact that this evidence still exists astounds retired geologist Mark Zdepski, who has studied copper mining in the county for more than 20 years.

“This is amazing because it’s untouched,” Zdepski said. “Somebody could have come in here with heavy equipment and taken it all out and used it as fill or something, but they didn’t; they left it here — just waiting to be interpreted.”

Mining Company map

Courtesy of the collections of the Hunterdon County Historical Society.

Copper mining in Hunterdon County dates to pre-Revolutionary times. Efforts then and during the 1820s-1830s met with little success. Mining fever cooled here until around 1846 when workers for Hugh Capner — who owned a home next door to the Case-Dvoor farmstead — began digging a new cellar on his farm and discovered copper ore. Flemington attorney Charles Bartles was instrumental in forming the Flemington Copper Company, and a mining operation was formed east of the Walnut Brook where property now owned by the Dvoor Farm and St. Magdalen Roman Catholic Church meet. This was the largest of several mines in the Flemington area.

A number of mining companies were formed in the ensuing years. Some were out to make a quick buck via stock jobbing; others were serious attempts to draw copper ore from the earth. In the end, mining resulted in a litter of failed companies and a riot in 1861 by miners. Some investors like James Graham, owner of Graham’s Magazine (which at one time employed Edgar Allan Poe as a critic and editor), lost a fortune. Merchants in town who extended credit to miners lost too.  But the bottom line is that there just wasn’t enough copper beneath the surface. Hubert Schmidt in Rural Hunterdon notes: “It is doubted that ore was ever obtained on a profitable basis; stock manipulation was more important to the various promoters than was actual mining, and many persons lost their money as a result of it.”

Maps and reports of the site found in the archives of the Hunterdon County Historical Society indicate a number of shafts. Above, a number of buildings could be found including an engine house, a gigging house, a blacksmith’s shop, laboratory, miners’ houses and an office.

More than 150 years after the last Irish or English miner struck a pick into the earth, Zdepski stops along the shoulder of Mine Street near Shields Avenue, bending down to examine a black rock. “This is slag here,” Zdepski said. “They probably tried to do ore reduction and over here is some anthracite coal. You can see the gas vesicles in here so this has been melted. This is probably from the blacksmith’s shop.”

Rounding the corner onto Shields Avenue, he halts at a 5 1/2-feet-X-4-feet hunk of concrete jutting out from a slope alongside the roadway. “We have a picture (from the 1930s) of truck dumping concrete into a void back when Shields Avenue was being widened,” Zdepski said. This opening doesn’t appear in any of the 19th century mining maps suggesting this was an earlier shaft from the Revolutionary period.

Hill in the woods which is likely a muck pile.

We tramp into the woods around trees, over branches, through tangles of sticker bushes. We stop at the remnants of the Hunt shaft, one of several that stretched across the land. Behind that a hill rises. “That’s the muck pile; muck being the term for rock blasted out of the underground and hauled to the surface. Any time you have rock that’s broken up, that’s the muck.”

While standing atop a muck pile, Zdepski discusses how one could determine the size of the underground headings — the horizontal passageways in the mine — largely through the use of detailed contour maps and by calculating the cubic yards of excavated material.

Zdepski notes that the diligent observer can also find evidence of coal combustion residue from the steam engine used while mining for copper ore. Evidence of copper staining is present too. Flat rectangular surfaces also provide possible hints of where the crushing and jigging house and engine house would have been located.

A diligent eye can, indeed, get a sense of the copper mining industry that existed on the outskirts of Flemington in the mid-1800s.

In the meantime, additional clues about Hunterdon’s mining industry lurk beneath the soil. Zdepski said that with some clean up work and experimental test pitting, more could be learned about the history that happened here.

Standing alongside the Walnut Brook, looking around, Zdepski ruminates, “There’s a lot to see here — and a lot to understand.”

Concrete slab on Shields Avenue.


10 Responses to Exploring the Site of the Former Copper Mines on the Dvoor Farm

  1. Jan Lilly January 16, 2019 at 6:44 pm

    Fascinating information. I had driven up and down Copper Mine Road looking for signs of copper – now I realize I should have been looking for signs of processing and mining. Thank you.

    • hltadmin January 17, 2019 at 10:26 am

      Thank you! I’m very interested in tracking the “lay of the land” at that time. Mark told me some other interesting features which I wound up editing out. For instance, across Mine St. you can see a patch of land between the bridge and the first house past the bridge (heading toward Flemington) of where the U shaped barns once were that you can see on the 1846 mining company map. There are a number of interesting footprints like this. Of course, one of our biggest interests in figuring out exactly where the first two Case family homes were built.

  2. Ray Simonds January 16, 2019 at 7:14 pm

    Very nice article. Years ago you could fine a lot of material on church side of brook.

    Ray Simonds

  3. Marfy Goodspeed January 23, 2019 at 1:14 pm

    Here’s an item that appeared in the Hunterdon Gazette, 1826 Aug 23:
    BRICKS. Just opened, by the subscriber, A kiln of Jamb, Hearth, & common bricks, Of large size and good quality, which he now offers for sale on reasonable terms. Hugh Capner.

  4. Van Worman January 24, 2019 at 6:06 pm

    My father Bud Worman took me copper rock finding in 1957. We put our rubber boots on and walked down Mine Brook. The rocks were green. I was 7 years old and thought this was great. Way back in 1957…….good times in Flemington.

  5. Peter Szwed January 25, 2019 at 2:12 am

    I had a copper bearing rock about the size of your fist that I found in the stream in Mine Brook Park. It was heavy and mostly bright green with oxides but did have a lot of actual copper showing, polished by the stream..

  6. Barbara A. Moser February 8, 2019 at 2:54 pm

    If there is ever a tour of that area, I would be interested in seeing it. My Father worked on that farm when I was a child in the early 1950’s.

    • hltadmin February 11, 2019 at 12:20 pm

      Hi!
      Absolutely. At the moment, we have a barn and house tour of the Dvoor Farm scheduled for Sunday, July 14 starting at 10 a.m. Or, if that doesn’t work, we could figure a date/time out. I’d be interested in talking to you about your recollections of the farm at that time, if you’d be willing.

      Thanks,
      Dave

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