A few weeks ago, I had the pleasure of tubing down the Pequea Creek with Sickman’s Mill. It was a great experience and lots of fun. The best part was floating down a stretch of the creek I have not been before. There were many new things to see along the way, including lots of stone ruins on the banks, some even multi-tiered.
After some preliminary research, I soon learned the massive foundations belonged to a magnetite ore mine dating back to the 1880s. Here’s what I learned.
The mine was located a short distance downstream from Sickman’s Mill in the heart of Horse Hollow. It extended for a distance of a half-mile along the Pequea. The creek actually separated the operation so that the mine was on the east side in Martic Township, and the mine works on the west side in Conestoga Township.
The goal was to make the ore found there commercially available through magnetic concentration and briquetting. Magnetic concentration is a process that separates minerals from waste rock and undesirable impurities, and briquetting is a method of binding together pulverized minerals into briquets under pressure.
Pequea Magnetic Iron Mining Company
The operation began life on January 23, 1881, as the Pequea Magnetic Iron Mining Company—later known as the Pequea Iron Company—to concentrate magnetic iron ore. In fact, it was the first corporation attempting to concentrate magnetic ore in the United States.
According to the May 20, 1892 edition of The New-Journal, an agent of Thomas Edison visited the mine to test the ore. He found the ore could be separated from the rock with a small amount of loss.
The first officers were John J. Zeigler, president; William Hart Carr, secretary; and John F. Kelly, treasurer. The company owned extensive magnetic mines of a low grade, running from 16 to 50 percent, which was then concentrated up to a 70 percent grade, making it fit for all uses of high-grade magnetic ore.
The main building was 35′ x 150′, with an L-shaped 35′ x 50′, containing a Fontaine and Abbott engine of 80 horsepower, three Foster crushers, and three concentration tables. It had a capacity of 150 tons per 24 hour day. There were connected with the mines a steam pump capable of throwing 14,800 gallons per hour and a 135,000-gallon reservoir.
Mr. Charles Douglas was the superintendent.
Despite using the most advanced machinery and expending great effort, the industry dragged along for several years until all operations ceased in 1897, a victim of its own expensive processes and Western competition.
The next attempt to operate the mine came in 1903 when the Standard Iron Mining and Furnace Company began work. Adolph Segal was president of the company, and George Wood was superintendent. The operation costs were defrayed through investments by stockholders.
Henry Lehman, whose grandfather John worked at the mines, provided some details of the mine’s operation to Larry Hess in his 1976 book, The Old Home Scene: Conestoga.
In November 1903, the building of the conveyor was completed, and the mine’s operation restarted. Dynamite was used to blast rock, then hoisted onto cars that traveled up the incline to the crusher. The hoist at the mine was operated by a separate engine.
The one crusher was on the Martic Township and was driven with wire ropes instead of belts.
At the top of the incline, a tipple unloaded the ore into the crusher. The stone size was two to three inches after leaving the crusher.
The stone then traveled across the creek on the conveyor and was brought to the crusher on top of the hill by elevator. It then passed through pulverizers that reduced it to a tiny size.
Next, it was screened and passed on an endless belt under six roller-type electromagnets, which separated the magnetite by magnetic attraction from the rock. The energized magnets rotated and flicked off the magnetite ore.
The entire operation was steam-powered, coming from two huge boilers mounted in an upright position and used bituminous coal for fuel. The one boiler was so large a 32-mule team was used to move it. This took place in 1902. The route started in Safe Harbor, where the equipment was brought in by train and then transported by road to the Pequea Magnetic Ore Mine.
The photo above shows the mule team on Sand Hill Road. The image below shows the wagon train pausing for a break in front of Sickman’s Mill. Fred Shoff, who helped finance much of the development near the town of Pequea, can be seen standing on the wagon wearing a vest.
Around 1906 another mine was put into operation on the southeast side of the creek. A span of standard gauge railroad was in operation from the mines to Safe Harbor. By 1906 the mine was at peak production with about 40 men employed at the mine and 140 men working about the buildings. Many migrant workers received their income from the mine. It was said the Pequea Creek was line with small shacks used as living quarters by these workers.
The operation proved to be again unprofitable, and by 1909 only 23 men were employed at the mines.
On May 11, 1909, the Magnetic Ore Mine was sold on the courthouse’s front steps for $100,000 to the Real Estate & Trust Co. of Philadelphia.
In 1912 another company named Safe Harbor Iron and Steel Company of New York bought the mine operations and proceeded to sell stocks in the western states. This company came closer to making a success of the operation than any of the others.
They planned to use the ore and the waste material and owned the railroad from the mines to Safe Harbor. Their venture must have failed because, by April 28, 1913, Ike Miller was tearing up the engine at the mine, the machinery was dismantled and hauled away, the wooden framework of the buildings torn down and removed. Then the workmen began removing the rails and ties of the railroad. It was evident that the mines had folded for good.
Ironically, the practice of selling the stock for the company continued in the western states until 1932. Exactly 20 years after the mines closed, two men from Oklahoma came to the area to investigate their holdings in the company. After their experience was revealed to the law and the press, selling stock for the long obsolete magnetic ore mines was finally stopped.
Then in late 1953, the Snyder Mining Company of Minnesota, under sub-contract from Shenango Furnace Company of Pittsburgh, made some test drilled near the old mine. The results of the tests were discouraging, and no new mining ensued.
- A history of mining in Lancaster County : 1700-1900
- The Old Home Scene Conestoga by Larry E. Hess
- Stories radiating from Conestoga Centre
- The News-Journal May 20, 1892: Magnetic Ore Mine
- Lancaster New Era November 3, 1959: Iron Mining Failed Here
- Sunday News March 15, 1953: 20-Mule Team? Phooey! Local ‘Hitch’ Used 32