Sunday, February 8, 2009

Re-opening the Historic Drumlummon Mine

According to today's Helena Independent Record,the historic Drumlummon Mine at Marysville will probably be re-opening. Hopefully they will record the historic features in the mine before they remove it. There are some interesting things that survive deep in the mine:

Slowly, the darkness gives way to a fairly well-lit cavern, which is about 30-by-60 feet wide, with a 50-foot ceiling full of “stopes” or holes where miners blasted upward so the ore would fall down and they could cart it out to the mine portal in rail cars. Some stopes are as wide as 40 feet. ...It’s also in this room, known as the No. 1 Shaft Station, where the group pauses to marvel at the historic miners’ creativity. Someone used red bricks to create a retaining wall, which is perfectly curved to follow the natural rock lines. It’s a testament to a bricklayer’s skill, as well as to the money that was thrown around a century ago when the Drumlummon was producing millions of dollars in gold and silver. “That’s incredible. I’ve been in a bunch of mines, and I’ve never seen anything like it,” says Catherine Dreesbach, a DEQ mining engineer. Smitty proudly notes that the only other underground mine with a brick wall like this that he knows of is in South Dakota.

...About 2,500 feet in, the tunnel ends near a cave-in and cache of explosives. Bardswich says they’re thinking about hooking around and tunneling backward to connect with a new portal they hope to build. It’s at this tunnel’s end that the old miners signed sooty signatures on the walls, probably using carbon flames from their headlamps. Fatso Haley was here in 1925. So was Jack Smigaj and Jim Obernford. B. O’Conell drew a face in 1912. Smitty — not the one who’s here today — left his mark on March 11, 1917. Apparently he wasn’t the most popular guy, because someone else wrote that “Smitty eats ...” — let’s just call it manure. “You don’t see this stuff every day even if you work in a mine,” Dreesbach says, once again surprised by the Drumlummon. ("Drumlummon Dreaming", Helena Independent Record, Feb. 8, 2009)

And of course the historic adit, tunnels, stopes, etc. are all features of this underground cultural landscape that should be mapped and recorded before they are altered, as part of the historic record.

The people who now live in Marysville are not too thrilled with the prospects of a foreign country (Canada) coming in and messing with their quiet lifestyle; mining is a noisy and messy business. History shows that companies begin with a lot of progressive and amiable talk when the process starts, but the end results are always a damaged landscape and water pollution. The trouble is, in a terrible economy, gold is one of the few things that not only doesn't lose value, it actually gains value. Water and food are two others.

Historic mining landscapes are a significant part of Montana archaeology. Back in the days I worked in CRM (Cultural Resources Management) as an archaeologist, it seems like most of the sites I recorded in the Helena National Forest (1990-1995) were associated with historic mining, including the Ophir Creek Historic Mining District where Blackfoot City is located. Historic mining is one of the concerns of industrial archaeology; in Montana, the Klepetko Chapter of the Society for Industrial Archeology is the place to go to learn more about industrial archaeology, including historic mining.

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