The Vagabond – Early iron ore mines in Gadsden Part Two


The Vagabond started a new series last week about the iron ore mines around the Gadsden area and how they got started. There are some surprising histories to be found. Last week’s article was about the mine explosion near Tuscaloosa Avenue.

The region’s early settlers knew the presence of iron ore, coal and limestone in the Gadsden area. John S. Moragne, one of the first settlers of Gadsden, discovered the outcrops of red iron ore in and near the new city of Gadsden in 1850.

Soon after his discovery, Moragne engaged in the surface mining of the iron ore. He employed a few persons to pick up the loose ore on the surface and to dig shallow trenches along the outcrop. The ore was hauled by wagons to steamboats.

After The War between the States, Moragne developed the mines. 

Later upon completion of the railways in 1870, the ore was loaded on cars and shipped to distant furnaces.

Moragne took considerable interest in the development of the mineral resources of the district. He was awarded a medal at the Alabama State Fair for the finest specimen of iron ores on exhibition.

The vertical cross-section through Shinbone Ridge, Owl’s Valley and the east slope of Lookout Mountain shows the red iron ore deposits as revealed from diamond drilling by the U.S. Bureau of Mines in I948. [See Bureau of Mines Report R. I. 4243, June, 1948). 

Two holes were drilled in Gadsden in Owl’s Valley, about I50 feet west of Town Creek and about 2,000 feet north of Tuscaloosa Avenue.

One of the holes was vertical and the other was located at an angle of 4.5 degrees. These drillings definitely determined that the red iron ore deposit is continuous from its outcrop near the crest of Shinbone Ridge to a point 1,131 feet below the surface of Owl’s Valley at the point of the drilled hole. All indications are that the ore deposit continues northwest under Lookout Mountain and Little Will’s Valley and rises to outcrop again near the crest of Red Mountain, lying west of and parallel to Lookout Mountain.

The red hematite ore lies about in the middle of the Red Mountain Formation at the Silurian Period and is 1,131 – 1,141 feet under the surface at Owl’s Valley at the point of drilling. 

The ore seam has almost flattened out at this point, as the dip is only 14 degrees, whereas at the outcrop on the crest at Shinbone the ore seam is nearly vertical with a clip of 78 degrees.

This indicates that the ore bed under Lookout Mountain is probably horizontal. The upper bed ore in the drill hole was found to be 4.7 feet thick and analyzed at 34.1 percent iron.

Another seam at 1.4 feet thick lies below the first seam and is separated from it by a thin (3.4 ft.) bed of ferruginous sandstone. The ore in the lower seam analyzed at 30.9 percent iron.

The ore is classified as “hard ore” to distinguish it from the ore at the outcrop, which is called “soft ore” The soft ore analyzes a higher percentage {about 55 percent) of iron, because the calcium carbonate has been leached out by water action.

The hematite ore outcrops near the crest of two anticlinal ridges, running parallel to and on each side of Lookout Mountain. Shinbone Ridge is on the east end and it extends northeast from Gadsden for about 40 miles to the Georgia state line. The iron ore outcrops along this ridge at various places, but the richest deposits are nearest Gadsden. 

The ridge to the west of Lookout Mountain is called Red Mountain and runs from Attalla northeast for about 50 miles to Valley Head. It also extends southwest from Attalla to Birmingham and beyond. The ore outcrop is near the crest of Red Mountain and undoubtedly is the same seam that outcrops in Shinbone Ridge. The seam dips under Lookout Mountain in a syncline formation.

The thickest deposits and best grade of iron ore are found in the southern six miles of the ridge nearest to Attalla. If the iron ore underlies Lookout Mountain for many miles northeast of Gadsden, it is estimated that about 300,000,000 tons of ore are deposited in veins two feet or more in thickness and at a depth of l,700 to 2,000 feet below the surface of Lookout Mountain. The ore lies about l,l50 feet below the surface of Owl’s Valley and is 4.7 feet thick at this level as determined by the diamond drill hole of the U.S. Bureau of Mines. The middle 2.7 feet of the bed is classified by the Bureau of Mines as good grade ”hard” oolitic, heavy red ore.

The upper 1.1 feet and the lower .9-foot of the ore bed are classified as low-grade “hard” red ore.

The ore near the surface from which the calcium carbonate has leached out is known as “soft ore” and analyzes at 55 percent iron.

Stay tune for more next week!

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