Elizabeth Copper Mine
The Elizabeth Copper Mine is an abandoned mine in South Strafford, Vermont. Deposits at the mine were discovered in 1793 and copperas manufacturing began in 1809. This industrial chemical was highly valued in the nineteenth century and production of copperas continued for at least 70 years (until the end of the 1800s). Between 1830 and 1930, metallic copper and copper ore concentrate were intermittently produced by companies such as the Vermont Mineral Factory Company (1830-1839), the Vermont Copperas Company (1854-1867), the Strafford Mining Company (1884), the Elizabeth Mining Company (1882-1890 and 1895-1902), the Vermont Copper Corporation (1905-1909 and 1916-1919), the American Metals Company (1925), and the National Copper Company (1928-1930). Demand for copper in the late 1800s and early twentieth century increased significantly and technological advancements made it possible to extract more copper with less fuel and labor. Yet the lives of these companies continued to be short lived because of “idiosyncrasies in the ore, dramatic accidents, and poor capitalization and transportation” (United States Army Corps of Engineers, 2001, 7-1).
During World War II, the Elizabeth Mine was revitalized and it became “the largest and most productive copper mine in New England” (United States Army Corps of Engineers 2001, 7-1). It was owned first by the Vermont Copper Company, Inc. and then sold to Appalachian Sulfides, Inc. after the end of the Korean War (1954). Production exceeded 8,500,000 lbs. in 1954 and then again in 1955, the most the mine had ever produced. The company employed roughly 220 workers, sent $1 million on payroll, and recorded sales of approximately $3 million. The Elizabeth Mine closed for good in 1958 after copper prices dropped and Appalachian Sulfides, Inc. decided to move their sulfide copper mining operations to North Carolina. At the time of closure, the mine consisted of roughly 1,400 acres (though only 850 of these were actively mined) as well as 5 miles of underground workings (Howard, 1969). The impressive production also left indelible scars on the landscape, and it has contributed to much of the deposited waste which adversely affects water quality.
Initial production came from an open-cut mine and underground work began in 1886. Mining, copper smelting, and ore processing all took place at the site. These processes resulted in three mine “tailing” or waste piles rich in metals and sulfides. As a result of water passing over and through the tailing piles, acid mine drainage was produced. This, in turn, has contributed to high metallic levels in the nearby Copperas Brook and Ompompanoosuc River. Over the past twenty years, there have been increasing concerns regarding the hazardous impact of the Elizabeth Mine on these bodies of water. It is estimated that tailings, if unabated, may affect the water quality for “hundreds perhaps thousands of years” (Desch and Schmeltzer).
The mine, now split into private parcels and owned by a number of different residents, is currently part of the EPA’s Superfund Program and was awarded $3 million in federal clean-up funds in 2003. With help from the Vermont Agency of Natural Resources, the EPA is actively trying to stop acid mine drainage, working to prevent runoff from contacting the three tailing sites. In the process of controlling acid mine drainage, the EPA also determined that a tailing dam was unstable. In 2004, the EPA installed a soil buttress to stabilize the dam and prevent further downstream pollution; they also removed 30,000 yards of tailing from one of the sites. A remedial investigation and feasibility study of ecological damage for the entire site is expected to be completed in 2005, and a cleanup plan is anticipated in 2006. Throughout the cleanup process, community members and state officials have expressed concern regarding the historical significance of the site and the need to minimize truck traffic during operation for preservation purposes. For this reason, the EPA needs to abide by the National Historic Preservation Act and the Vermont Division of Historic Preservation (see EPA’s website on the Elizabeth Copper Mine).
Ely Copper Mine
The Ely Copper Mine is an abandoned mine located in Vershire in Orange County, Vermont. The mine property is about 1800 acres, 275-350 acres of which were actually used for mining. Copper was first discovered in Ely in 1813 and the resulting Ely mine was most active between 1853 and 1905. Copper was mined by cobbing, roating, and smelting ore resulting in an average of 3.3% copper. The mine was started by Henry Barnard in 1853. In 1865 Smith Ely became the town president which led to the renaming of the town to Ely in 1879. The mine was at its height under Smith Ely, contributing three fifths of the nations copper output in 1880. During this period the mine was said to have employed over 2,000 people making Ely a true boom town. But in 1883 the copper market crashed. This, combined with Ely Smith’s death and a decrease in mine load, led to intense labor strikes and eventually the mine’s closure. The mine opened again at the turn of the century and twice more during World War I and World War II in response to a high demand for copper (United States Army Corps of Engineers, 2001). The Ely mine permanently closed in 1958 and legend has it that “more money was invested in improvements each time the mine opened that was ever made producing copper” (Willard, 1980).
The mine property is currently owned by Ely Mine Forest Inc., which manages parts of the site for commercial timber, and Green Cow Corp. Like the Elizabeth Mine, Ely’s primary environmental challenge is acid mine drainage. As a result, high concentrations of metals can be found in the surrounding surface water, soil, sediment, and ground water. In 2001, the EPA designated the Ely mine a Superfund site. The tailing or waste piles include approximately 100,000 pounds of waste, making it difficult and expensive to remove. This is compounded by the apparent conflict between remediation efforts and concern over how to historically preserve the site. In 2004, initial research on run-off, waste, and historical significance was conducted resulting in the completion of a work plan. With the assistance of the Vermont Department of Environmental Conservation, a remedial investigation and feasibility study was conducted in the fall of 2004 and has continued through the summer of 2005 (see EPA’s website on the Ely Copper Mine).
Howard, P. F. 1969. The Geology of the Elizabeth Mine, Vermont. Montpelier, VT: Dept. of Water Resources.
Desch, G. and J. Schmeltzer. “Acid Mine Drainage in Vermont.” Vermont Times – no date found.
United States Army Corps of Engineers. 2001. Historical Context and Preliminary Resource Evaluation of the Elizabeth Mine, South Strafford, Orange County, Vermont. Cambridge, MA: Arthur D. Little, Inc.
Willard, K. 1980. “The Rise and Fall of Ely.” Momentum, November 19, 1980.