What Lurks Under the Lake Communities?
The “Danger, Keep Out” signs tacked to an occasional tree may not appear to the casual hiker to have an obvious purpose, but the depressions in the soil and piles of slag are a dead giveaway: The Mount Arlington Preserve was an iron mine.
“The Lost Mines of Lake Hopatcong” was the topic of a talk on August 15 by Marty Kane of the Lake Hopatcong Historical Museum. He started the presentation with the “Danger” signs from the Lake View Mine on the landward side of McGregor Avenue in Mount Arlington, which was first mined in 1863. A six-foot wide vein was served by three shafts (60, 84, and 85 feet deep). It closed after the Civil War, but reopened in time for the Industrial Revolution in 1882. The shafts were supposed to be filled in after the mine closed permanently, but not all of them were totally blocked.
More hidden today is the Nolan’s Point Mine, which operated from 1855 to 1868. There are no indications of it now, but documents reveal digging under what is today Nolan’s Point Park Road and The Windlass. Kane joked that you could be sitting at the restaurant and the guy on the next barstool might just disappear.
The most famous in Jefferson Township was the Hurd Mine that produced about a half-million tons of ore and had a shaft a half-mile down. The current Route 15 cloverleaf surrounds the mine, which was across from what is now Gatwyn’s II and originally the location of the Hurd Mansion. The remains of that mansion hosted the Pallas III restaurant and then Gatwyn’s before a fire destroyed the old building. There are many slag piles throughout the area as well as depressions in the ground. The road that was the predecessor of Route 15 collapsed in the area in 1939, Kane said. Another shaft opened in 2005 and the township fenced it off. Other sinkholes occasionally appear.
The Weldon Mine was on the path of the Ogden Mine Railroad, opposite what is now Camp Jefferson. According to Kane, it was actually a series of mines operated at different times – worked, closed, and then opened by a new company. Jefferson’s water company is located right over one of the shafts.
At first, iron ore was brought to the lake and the Morris Canal by horse and wagon. During the Civil War, a 10-mile railroad was built to connect the Ogden Mine in Sparta with Nolan’s Point, which was chosen for the terminus because it is the deepest part of the lake. Although the railroad was completed after the war ended, for 15 years it was the main source of cargo for the Morris Canal, Kane reported. The Ogden Mine Railroad, probably the only one built to serve a canal, had a single track that crossed the Venetian canals on a bridge. Kane pointed out that the posts still annoy boaters who try to enter the canals today.
The railroad may have been a boon to the canal, but then became its undoing. The Central Railroad of New Jersey bought the Ogden Mine Railroad and built its own tracks to Lake Hopatcong. Using rail to transport coal and other cargo out of the area sealed the fate of the Morris Canal, said Kane. But the railroad could also transport passengers – and it did. In the fall of 1882, there were four hotels around the lake. By 1900, there were 40.
The Ogden Mine at the end of the old railroad is better known today as the Edison Mine. Thomas Edison took it over in 1889, thinking iron ore was overpriced and believing he could mine it more cheaply. He put the low grade ore into a crusher, removed the iron with magnets, and then made them into briquettes. The system worked profitably for about 10 years.
The Edison Mine could have thrived for many more years had it not been for the discovery of the Mesabi Range in Minnesota where iron was almost on the surface, Kane pointed out. The mine closed, but the foundations of some of the buildings are still there and it is a popular hiking spot.
Kane closed his talk with a quote from Edison about his investment in the mine:
“Well, it’s all gone, but we had a hell of a good time spending it.”