There are many good reasons to go walking in the woods. One good reason is to explore what was left by previous users of the land, and to consider the changes a place has experienced over time.
Old mines make excellent hiking destinations, even when they are small sites that are most exciting for the effort required to find them. I was looking through the book Iron Mine Trails for mines to explore, and the Roomy Mine stood out as a good candidate. The book says “The Roomy Mine is an excellent mine to visit early in your explorations of old mine trails.” That is a good start, but even more exciting were the words “The Roomy Mine can be entered.”
Iron mining in northern New Jersey, breaking and sorting iron ore from hard rock, was once a major industry that fed the region’s manufacturing centers and influenced early transportation networks. It also contributed to major deforestation, as countless trees were needed to fuel the furnaces that turned ore into usable iron, particularly before Pennsylvania coal was easy to get. Now trees again line the hills and a nice forest walk can be enjoyed on the way to explore the remnants of old industry.
We first stopped at the Blue Mine, a worthwhile detour on the way to the Roomy Mine. An unmarked trail along Blue Mine Brook leads right to the opening, a large, flooded cut into the hillside.
Just a little farther down the trail, a huge tailing pile gives a sense of how much rock was removed to find iron ore.
The top of the pile has the typical look of rounded rows of small rocks, a feature often found around iron mines in the area.
The Blue Mine was named for the blue tint of its ore. The deposit was discovered and first opened by ironmaster Peter Hasenclever around 1765. The company Hasenclever worked for operated several blast furnaces in the area. During the early 19th century, ore was shipped to Midvale, NJ until the furnace there was shut down in 1855. Apparently the Blue Mine’s ore contained a high percentage of sulfur, which led to lower-quality iron.
The Blue Mine was reopened briefly several times from the 1870s to the end of the 19th century, and the last attempt at mining was a 1905 opening that did not remove any ore. Heavy equipment was used at the Blue Mine, and a number of foundations are visible nearby.
The trail up to the Roomy Mine follows a wide path that was probably used to haul iron ore to furnaces.
The entrance is imposing and definitely inspired the urge to go in and have a look.
We got out our helmets and headlamps. While the mine appears pretty safe to explore without a helmet, head protection is still recommended due to the possibility of rocks falling from around the shaft and the low ceilings that will be encountered.
Entering the mine when bats may be hibernating is prohibited. Since we didn’t know this, it’s good that we ended up going three days after the mine re-opened.
According to Lenik, the Roomy Mine is named after Benjamin Roome, a local 19th Century land surveyor. It was opened in the early 1840s and worked until the late 1850s. Around 1890 it was re-explored, and has long been abandoned.
There is more than one way to enter the mine. The safest way is to crouch under the lower opening, where after just a few feet you will emerge into a big chamber. Not surprisingly, we did not choose the optimal route on the way in, and climbed down a steep slope from the top of the chamber. It looked cool though.
As impressive as the structure was, the hole in the rock face quickly gained our attention.
It was the entrance to an adit, a horizontal tunnel into the rock. It was a little spooky going in for the first time, but very exciting to explore.
Lenik says the tunnel is about 100 feet long. I didn’t take the time to measure, but I would say that sounds about right. It ends pretty abruptly where the ore vein stopped.
We found no bats, but plenty of insects.
There were also numerous tool marks inside. Typically, miners would hammer metal drills into the rock to make holes about four to six feet apart. The holes were then packed with explosive to blast ore from the hillside.
On the way out it was easier to take the time to appreciate the work that went into this structure. Iron taken from here was processed into all types of objects used by probably thousands of people.
Emerging from the pit and back into the sun gave me a feeling of release.
We were smart enough to take the easy way out of the mine instead of climb up the wet rock of the shaft.
The ridge above the mine offered excellent views of the hills and reservoir nearby. There were also a number of smaller mining or exploratory holes.
A hilly walk through a forest is a nice thing to do, and encountering tunnels left by people over a century before reveals the changing relationship between people and the surrounding landscape. A mine hike is a classic adventure in history.
Lenik, Edward J. Iron Mine Trails. New York – New Jersey Trail Conference, 1996. Pages 59-65.
Norvin Green State Forest Trail Map. New York – New Jersey Trail Conference. Online at: http://www.nynjtc.org/files/NorvinGreen_BrochureMap_2009.pdf
Trail Map 115: North Jersey Trails. New York – New Jersey Trail Conference.