The Pequea Silver Mines, located about five miles south of Lancaster, operated off and on for more than 200 years, but perhaps as many as 300. Today evidence remains of three mines and a vertical shaft, but no one fully knows what workings are actually below the ground there.
The mines involved extensive tunnels developed by miners over these hundreds of years as they followed quartz veins containing the silver-bearing lead ore called argentiferous galena. The mineral occurs in small, thin, discontinuous veinlets scattered throughout the enclosing rock. These elusive veins lets may account for the sporadic mining activity and a poorly recorded history.
Brief History of Silver Mine
There is evidence that the Pequea silver mines were worked by the Indians before 1643. In a book from 1643 by Roger Williams entitled A Key Into the Languages of America, he states that Native Americans developed a process to cast pewter and brass into elegant, artificial pipes.
In the late 1920s, D. H. Landis of Lancaster owned some lead pipes taken from the graves of Indians located south of Washington Boro, about eight miles from the mine. Landis had one of the pipes analyzed, and it was found that the lead in the pipe contained the equivalent of 250 oz. of silver per ton, which is precisely the same ratio as seen in the Pequea mines.
Early Colonial records from before 1709 mention that the Indians in the Conestoga area were “pressed” into service at the mines. When William Penn heard of this, he wrote James Logan and instructed him to verify the presence of a mine and to collect royalties from it. No records exist to show whether or not Penn received any.
There are only tales of the mines being operated periodically from Penn’s time to the close of the 18th Century. During the Revolutionary War, it is said the mines supplied lead shot for General Washington’s troops. However, this could be a tall tale as only a small amount of lead ore was ever available from the mine. Many years later, during the Civil War, miners were blasting for a new shaft and accidentally discovered an old mine drift with several crosscuts. Within these old workings, they found several English powder cans and a rod for cleaning the dust out of drill holes. The entrance to these old tunnels was never located as it probably lies below the present water table.
In 1853, the Journal of Silver and Lead Mining Operations reported the mines were being run with “considerable vigor.” At the same time, the editor of the Lancaster Whig stated that the ore contained “upwards of $500 worth of silver to the ton of lead.”
The bulk of the workings visible today probably date from around the time of the Civil War. During the early part of the Civil War, mining was carried out by Captain Joseph Buzzo. It was of the local opinion that Captain Buzzo got considerable silver from the operation, but no record of this has been found.
In 1863 stock prospectus for the “Lancaster Lead Company” attempted to raise $250,000 to begin major mine operations. The brochure describes extensive and ongoing exploration in 1863 with the sinking of several surface shafts. The stock was sold, and most of the present underground workings were completed soon after that. It presumably provided some of the lead supply for Civil War musket balls.
After the Civil War, the mines were inactive until 1874 when a silversmith from Philadelphia, Mr. Harvey Filley, purchased and operated the property. This venture was short-lived, but during its one-year life, a mine superintendent, a mineralogist, and many miners were employed.
The total production of lead and silver from the Pequea mines is challenging to estimate. No production records exist for either the pre-Colonial or Colonial activities. Two tons of galena ore—the natural mineral form of lead—was mentioned in 1853. In 1863, the Lancaster Lead Company claimed production of about 10 tons of galena. Estimations based on accessible mine openings and on known other underground workings indicate that 3,500 to 5,000 tons of rock have been mined. Another 3,500 to 5,000 tons has also been quarried at the surface.
Inside Silver Mine
The mine’s main entrance is still visible today; however, a large steel plate prevents admittance. In fact, the nuts have been welded to the bolts, so no one gets in…or out.
The central passage traveled westward for 200 feet and opened into a large room, which suggests the removal of a significant amount of ore.
Next, an inclined shaft followed the ore down 30 feet. The main tunnel then turned northwestward for 50 feet to intersect an upper vein of ore.
It was in this section that a “gopher hole” lead to the surface, possibly for ventilation or the remnant of an earlier exploration attempt. The gopher holes are still visible from the surface along the geology trail. Pictures of them can be found below.
Further back, another large room was excavated, presumably for another pocket of ore. It was here that an inclined shaft was driven down from the main tunnel to a depth of 60 feet.
At this depth, a second level was started. This was probably the limit that pumps of the time could maintain the water table. This level followed the vein for about 30 feet before being abandoned.
At the level of the main tunnel, the workings turned southward for another 70 feet. This part of the tunnel likely passed through a small fold of rich ore since the passage widened to about ten feet.
The final 40 feet of the tunnel hooks toward the west. Much of the waste rock from this extension was piled in the new opening created from ore removal.
Few openings to the mine are still visible today. Most have been filled in from the passage of time or for safety reasons. However, the yellow marked geology trail does go through the upper mine tunnel, which allows for some fun exploration.
As you traverse through imagine trying to cut even this short tunnel with today’s pneumatic drills and dynamite, not a trivial task. Now imagine completing the job during the Civil War and before when such work was done by handheld steel drills driven by someone swinging a heavy sledgehammer. These holes were then packed with black powder, blasted, removed, and the process repeated.
Even today, the full extent of the mine’s underground workings and crosscuts are still unknown.
Planning Your Visit
Before You Go
Please be aware that Silver Mine Park is open from sunrise to sunset and that dogs should be leashed at all times. For more information about Silver Mine Park rules and regulations, click here. You can read the complete Pequea Silver Mine Geology Guide here.
For the best adventure, explore the yellow marked geology trail on the highlighted section of the map below, which includes a double lime kiln, the mine entrance, gopher holes, and mine tunnel. You can walk/crawl through the mine tunnel.
Uncharted Lancaster: Lime Kiln Adventure
If you are looking to find some treasure while visiting the Pequea Silver Mine, click here.