Holes in the Ground

“A lot of times when you look for a mine it’s just a hole in the ground – well, I guess that’s all a mine really is.”

It was a comfortably overcast day in late September and we were looking for some mines in Harriman State Park. There were a number of mines marked on our map, and the back of the map even listed some of the “best known and most interesting.” I had seen a few pictures of the Boston Mine online that looked interesting enough to go for a closer look, but we didn’t know what else there would be. [1]

So we set out – Darian, Ryan, and an enthusiastic pit bull named Max – from the parking lot at Lake Skannatati to find out how interesting they were.

The first mine we passed was marked on the map, but not named. It was basically a trench cut through the rock.

A good starter. Next on our agenda was the Pine Swamp mine.

We first noticed a small open shaft cut into the rock just off the trail.  Pretty cool.

I climbed up the opposite side to a relatively flat area that looked like part of an old roadway. There was also a hole filled with water that looked to be an old mine hole. We decided to check out the area more. As we walked roughly parallel to the trail, we could see something dark behind the distant trees, a shadow that stuck out as deserving a closer look.

As we got closer, we could see a trail of rock tailings (waste rock from mining) going across our path and toward the shadow, which was looking more and more like a big hole.

It was.

A massive cut led to a shaft deep into the hillside. The floor of the shaft sloped upward so you had to climb as you went deeper. A light shined through a hole in the ceiling toward the end.

After leaving the shaft we did not venture down to the trail to see where it came closest to this mine opening. That was an oversight that could make this slightly harder to find next time, but it really wasn’t that difficult with the map.

Instead, we climbed up the hill to find the ceiling hole.

Definitely not something you want to fall in.

Instead of falling in the hole, we climbed to the top of the hill and ate lunch.

In the book Harriman Trails, which I didn’t read until after this trip, William J. Miles and Daniel Chazin describe the main Pine Swamp shaft as a 30 foot passageway tunneled into the hillside, which runs uphill for about 125 feet. Sounds about right. Fortunately, we were smart enough to avoid stepping in deep water – somewhere in the cut leading to the tunnel there is a perpendicular shaft that is now filled with water. [2]

Most of the mines in the park were iron mines (presumably the one labeled Nickel Mine on the map was not). Around many of them the rust coloring of the surrounding rocks suggests that iron ore is about.

The Pine Swamp Mine was probably first worked around 1830. Iron ore from the mine went to the Greenwood furnaces in nearby Arden, NY. Greenwood pig iron was made into artillery barrels at the West Point foundry and used extensively in the Civil War. The mine was abandoned in the early 1880s. [3]

After eating lunch we headed downhill toward our next goal, the Hogencamp Mine. I don’t know how to pronounce it, and I don’t know if I’d rather it sound like it has something to do with Hulk Hogan or with hogging.

Right where the map suggested, there was a shallow trench that led to a small shaft into a rock face.

Oh, and there’s also a huge pit with a black pool of water at the bottom. Don’t fall in that.

Some depressions in the ground nearby looked to us like the result of sinking from a shaft cut underneath.

The Hogencamp Mine was worked from the early days of the Civil War until 1885. According to one account, as many as eighteen men worked in the mine during one shift. Today, only a few stone foundations remain of the twenty buildings that once made up the village by the mine. Less remains of the tramway that hauled ore over the mountain. [4]

Workers at the mines put in long days for little pay, but earned enough to get by. In the mid-nineteenth century it was not uncommon for boys to start working in mine crews at nine, and graduate to swinging the hammers and working the drills at twelve. [5]

The mine that I really wanted to get to because I had actually seen pictures of it was the Boston Mine. We quickened our pace and headed down the trail.

A gap in the rock marks the entrance to the Boston Mine, which was last worked in 1880. [6]

It is a broad hole full of swampy water and mud. We could see the end so we didn’t bother trying to wade deep into it.

Next time we’ll bring more lights and bigger lights so we can get better pictures.

Even if we hadn’t seen any mines this still would have still been great trip. It’s rare to have a bad day for a walk and today was a particularly nice day for a hike.

You can find a lot of cool stuff if you go out and look for it. Here’s to more adventures!



[1] Trail Map 119: Northern Harriman Bear Mountain Trails. New York – New Jersey Trail Conference. We used the 12th Edition (2008). The latest is the 14th Edition (2012). Available at the NYNJTC website and many hiking stores in the area.

[2] William J. Miles and Daniel Chazin. Harriman Trails: A Guide and History. Mahwah, NJ: New York – New Jersey Trail Conference, 2010. Page 370.

[3] James M. Ransom. Vanishing Ironworks of the Ramapos: The Story of the Forges, Furnaces, and Mines of the New Jersey – New York Border Area. New Brunswick: Rutgers, 1966. Pages 143, 238-239.

Greenwood No. 2 furnace, which opened in 1854, is also called the Clove Furnace.

[4] Ransom, Vanishing Ironworks, Pages 235-236.

[5] Ransom, Vanishing Ironworks, Pages 225-227.

[6] Ransom, Vanishing Ironworks, Page 231.

Exploring History.