Running along Spring Valley Road, I’ve always been intrigued by the big mound that’s at the corner of Spring Valley and Glendale. Do you know the one I mean?
But, as is so often the case with these curious and intriguing sites I run by (and really, the whole reason I started this blog), I wonder about them in the moment, but immediately forget about them as soon as I’ve passed. In this case, however, someone else had noticed this mound and casually mentioned that the mound was the tailings of a silver mine from the 1800s. Wait, what? A mine? A SILVER mine? Right in our neighborhood? And when in the 1800s was it worked? By whom?
Then, more recently, in the course of hearings for the expansion of the Sunshine Home, folks started protesting about proposed digging and blasting that would take place right above this mine. (Check out this link for more details.) Hmm, so the mine extends from Glendale almost down to Cedar Lane Park?
One local affirmed that there is indeed a mine behind the houses on Spring Valley Road. He told me that there was an entrance on his property, and years ago he’d poked around inside the first chamber. Then the ceiling was about 5 feet high. However, now it’s filled with sand and mud with a constant stream of water running out of it — he said he’d even rigged up a pipe to take advantage of the mine to water his garden. He also told me that he had a neighbor who had been born there in the 1920s and told stories of swimming in the mine with his brother. Ah, yes, the good old days before the kiddies were tied to their tablets and screens!
But what was the story of this mine? Was there really silver in there? Who discovered it? How much was dug out, who did the mining – oh, so many questions!
First, mining was, if not a big business in Ossining, at least fairly well established. According to this New York Times article from 1856, a productive silver mine was located “A few rods north of the State Prison, the entrance being only a few feet from the river and on a level with the railroad. It consists of a perpendicular shaft 130 feet in depth, having as many as nine chambers or galleries branching off in various directions, and severally of 80 to 100 feet in length.”
According to this same article, silver was first found at that site in 1770. Here the reporter gets quite purple with his prose, describing how “A fisherman found near the mouth of the present shaft what proved to be a lump of silver cropping out from a limestone rock. He subsequently tried to explore further by means of a powder blast but, unfortunately, his hopes themselves were blasted . . . and the poor fisherman received no other reward than that what beneficent Nature kindly bestowed, by silvering o’er his head with age.”
Ouch, New York Times! Who knew they were so punny back in the day?
I only share this story in such detail because I think the tone of it is pretty amusing and it shows that mining, specifically silver mining, was a going concern in the area since before the Revolutionary War. The article goes on to say that the ore retrieved from that particular mine there was turned into bars of silver bullion nine to twelve inches in length. That’s a lot of silver! However, many, if not all of the investors were members of the British Army, so the War put a stop to mining operations. (Sorry Redcoats!) It wasn’t until the 1850s that mining recommenced, when patent medicine maker Benjamin Brandreth decided to try to restart the mine.
Here’s an interesting article link and a photo of the now-blocked up mine shaft. (I’m pretty sure I’ve seen this from the train.)
Copper and lead had also been discovered in the nearby Kemey’s Cove area in the 1820s. Called the Sparta Mine, it was excavated by the Westchester Copper Mine Company who brought miners over from Cornwall, England to work the site. Funny how much of Ossining seems to have been settled by people coming from far away — England, Portugal, Italy, South America, just to name a few. But I digress . . .
Okay, these are quite nice stories, I hear you saying, but you’ve fallen into an Internet hole. What do they have to do with a mine all the way across town on Spring Valley Road? Well, I thought it interesting to think of Ossining, Sing Sing then, being a mining town. Plus, it lends credence to the idea that mines were not uncommon back then.
So back to Spring Valley . . .
The Westchester County Historical Society has a photo of our Spring Valley Mine – well, at least a photo of the mine opening:
They describe it as the “Old Silver mine on Rose property on corner of Spring Valley Road and Glendale.” I think this is located at the bottom of that mound mentioned earlier.
Gray Williams, the Town of New Castle historian, has established that a Mr. Williams (a relative perhaps?) owned property with a silver mine at #31 Spring Valley Road in the 1850s and it seems that the mines were noted between 1850-1862 on local maps.
Further research led me to another local historian who has made an exhaustive search of Westchester County records, and sheds a bit more light on this specific area.
He’s traced land ownership back to 1784, when a Lewis Miller received property in Mount Pleasant (now Ossining) from the Forfeiture committee. (I can only assume that this means the land had previously been owned by Loyalists, was seized by New York State after the Revolutionary War and auctioned off. Check out this informative article from the New York Public Library site for more information on how that all went down.)
Now, the following is pretty dry — I’m reproducing what amounts to a chain of title in rather excruciating detail because I think it clarifies the location of the Spring Valley Mine, or at the very least establishes that a mine did indeed exist. Feel free to skip ahead . . .
Lewis Miller died in 1831 and his will instructed his executors to sell his real estate only after the death of his wife. (Considerate fellow, no?) His legatees were told to use money from the estate to support Henry Hunter, “a colored man.” Hannah Miller, Lewis’ widow, died in 1854. Henry Hunter lived in the house on the property until his death in 1864. (I wonder if Henry Hunter was a slave or a freeman like his neighbors up the road, the Heady family.)
Though no record of land purchase exists, in 1864, a 40 ¼ acre plot was sold to Josiah Lewis by the executors of the estate of Lewis Miller.[Liber 536, p.91] The property was described as being approximately 158 feet from the road, and near the mouth of a silver mine. The red outline of the map below shows the boundaries of this parcel:
Basically, it looks like it encompassed what are today the Cedar Lane Park and Sunshine Home parcels.
Josiah Miller kept this property until 1893 when he sold it to Harry R. Miller of New York City. [Liber 1307, p.389] Harry Miller defaulted on his mortgage and the land was sold at auction to George H. Fowler in 1898. [Liber 1491, p.58] Fowler sold to Edwin McAlpin in 1905; McAlpin sold to Edgar VanEtten in 1912 and VanEtten to Russ H. Kress in 1917. (Russ Kress’ property was featured in this blog post.)
Then, there are three smaller properties along Spring Valley Road on the map above labeled R.E. Robinson, S. Lewis and J.B. Carpenter that make up the original property of William Edwards, who purchased it in 1856 from Martin W. Sanford. [Liber 360, p. 186.] The names are hard to read, but you can take my word for it.
William Edwards sold the portion of the Edwards land labeled J.B. Carpenter, which borders the original Lewis Miller property near the location of the silver mine, to his daughter Elizabeth Ann Smith in 1879. [Liber 965, p. 366] Neither of these deeds mention a silver mine, but in 1846 when Sanford bought the property from Richard Palmer, the deed refers to the same corner as being “near a mine hole.” [Liber 188, p. 134] When Palmer bought the land in 1843 from John Smith, the deed says that the tree at the corner is “a few feet south of the old mine.” [Liber 104, p. 213] Smith bought the land from John R. Swift in 1840, with the same wording regarding the mine in the deed. [Liber 92, p. 349] In 1837, John H. Hammond to John R. Swift – same language. [liber 72, p.107] 1833, Hammond buys from Henry Hunter (same Henry Hunter from above)[Liber 51, p. 179] 1828, Lewis Miller and Hannah, his wife sell to Henry Hunter, “a colored man” for $40 the approximately four acres of land, the western corner described as being “near the mouth of the mine hole.” [Liber 34, p.415] This part is a little confusing to me, because earlier it was noted that Lewis Miller’s 1831 will instructed that Henry Hunter should be supported by Miller’s estate. But I suppose they could have sold him a bit of land AND helped support him. (Interestingly, the 1817 New York State Gradual Emancipation Act decreed that all slaves born before 1799, were to be freed by 1827.) Perhaps this was Lewis and Hannah Miller’s way of emancipating and helping out a former slave?
But okay, okay, enough. You get the picture. There definitely was a mine (and probably some slaves too) in the neighborhood.
Sadly, I’ve not been able to uncover any information about the mine itself, just that it existed. I don’t even know what was mined there, or when it was active. I can only surmise, based on the comments from the titles and deeds listed above, that the mine was discovered and worked sometime before 1828, as that is the first mention of a mine or a mine hole. But nowhere is there a mention of an active mine, and I’ve hit a dead end in my research. (If anyone else knows more, please comment!)
Now, just to throw some confusion into our story, I discovered another New York Times article, this one from May of 1894, that seems to describe two mines in this general area:
Hmm, where could this road over “Long Hill” to Yorktown be? Is this our Spring Valley mine?
The article goes on to describe another mine in the area:
Now, according to an old map I own (c. 1890s?), there was indeed an old church located at the corner of what is now Spring Valley Road and Blinn Farm Road. Are there ruins of an old mine here, too?
This article is certainly clouding the issue of exactly where and what kind of mine(s) we are discussing. However, my confidence in the reliability of this article is rather shattered by the last paragraph of the article:
Am I reading this right? It is almost as if this reporter is suggesting that since no records exist of these mines, they must have been built BEFORE the Native American settlers, by some “Race whose history is unknown to us.” You don’t just think, anonymous 19th century New York Times reporter, that there are records somewhere, but you were just unable to find them?
But hey, why not assume that these mines were constructed by some unknown race? Who knows, maybe the Nine were digging mines here long before Andrija Puharich moved here and communicated with them via cassette tape? (Inside joke. Check out this blog link for more info.)
However, as mentioned before, New Castle historian Gray Williams found that the existence of mines in this area were noted on maps from the 1850s. And the various titles of the properties in question consistently refer to a mine or mine holes. So many people seemed to be aware of these mines. The only conclusion I can draw about the above article is that this New York Times reporter from 1894 didn’t research this very well. Plus, I think it’s been fairly well-established for quite a while that Native Americans resided here for at least 3,000 years before Henry Hudson showed up in the 1600s.
This is turning out to be a rather unsatisfying post — I feel as if I’ve uncovered a lot of details, but ultimately don’t really know any more than when I started. Which was that there was a mine of some sort that operated at some point in the 1800s along some section of Spring Valley Road.
If anyone reading this has anything to add, please write a comment!!!