The Vagabond started a new series a few weeks back about the iron ore mines around the Gadsden area and how they got started.
Along with Altoona historian Ryan Cole, The Vagabond visited the University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa to perform mining and historical research at one of the school’s libraries.
Prior to that visit, however, and with Andrew McCray tagging along, we took an adventure into one of the old mines that was later called the Hammond No. 2 mine.
It was mentioned earlier in this series that the iron ore was known to John S. Moragne, one of the first settlers of Gadsden. He discovered in 1850 the outcrops of red iron ore nearby. Soon after, he engaged in surface mining to be smelted for use by local blacksmiths.
But The Vagabond recently learned that Moragne was not the first person to use the iron ore.
The Indians, in particular, found a variety of practical uses for the red dust, using it to dye clothing, decorate pottery and paint their bodies for ceremony and battle. The native hunters and travelers encountered this fine dust that stained all with which it came into contact to a distinctive red color. The powdery dust was the residue of hematite (the word derived from the Greek for “blood,” haima), a type of iron ore that, unknown to the native population, lay in rich veins beneath the mountain’s surface.
Ryan is an expert on the old coal mines at his hometown of Altoona, where he serves as a city councilman. He has crawled in many of the mines and was surprised that the Hammonds mine was one in which you could walk in.
To get to the old mine, we took the road up Valley Street to a hidden parking area. From there, we climbed Shinbone Ridge. The trail was literally paved with iron ore rocks to the mine’s opening.
Our first discovery was an old railroad bed and the foundation of what was once a tipple. Above this area were the foundations of where old buildings serving the mine once existed.
The opening into the mine had a concrete entrance that never had been sealed. There were a few inches of water coming out of the mine, but we were prepared and wore boots. Once inside, we experienced the life of a miner from the last century. Bats could be found hanging upside down. This was a concern for The Vagabond because of the guano the bats produce. With moisture, it can produce a fungus called histoplasmosis.
The Vagabond unfortunately lost his hearing at a young age due to what was once known as a disease but today can be treated as a cold with antibiotics.
The mine continued deep into the mountain. Wooden pegs could be seen sticking out of the wall, probably to hold old carbide lamps.
Several hundreds of feet into the mine, we reached a “Y” intersection. The left trail went a little way in until it dead-ended at a cave-in. Above the “Y” was a connected trail to the right of the “Y.” It turns out that this was the main part of the mine of where the iron ore was found.
One could tell that there was an upper and lower level, and we were able to peer into one of the lower levels. The ceiling was supported with steel beams made of railroad tracks and bricks.
Further into the mine was a huge opening that also dead-ended. It is believed to be a boiler room that produced air and ventilation for the mine.
Once the mine was explored, we returned to our vehicle and took the road up on top of Shinbone Ridge to where Moragne once surfaced-mined the iron ore on top.
We collected many samples of iron ore and metal pieces used in mining the area.
It is hopeful that someday we may once again return to this mine and locate the other two entrances.
Look for a new adventure next week!