Travelers often head to the tristate area to get a taste of Manhattan, but Bill Kroth, president of Sterling Hill Mining Museum, knows that Sussex County has its own tourism gem hidden in the caverns of Ogdensburg.
“When you get up here, it’s like taking a step back in time,” said Kroth. “Where else can you walk into a real mine and learn about earth science and see fluorescing minerals?”
Many New Jerseyans are unaware of the fame that surrounds the now-inactive mine, which closed in 1986 because of the low price of zinc and a property tax dispute with Ogdensburg after 138 years of mining of zinc, iron and manganese. Together with the Franklin Mine, it was one of the top five in the world for having the most fluorescent minerals with 80 documented species.
“I tell visitors, ‘Can you name one thing that came out of a factory that didn’t need a mine to make it?’ ” said Kroth. “Everything started underground. Everything we need came from mining, even our iPads, tires and makeup.”
Kroth said that those who are the slightest bit interested in rocks and minerals or earth science and chemistry should visit the mining museum and take the tour.
From start to finish, the tour takes two hours and includes the main museum Zobel Exhibit Hall, which provides educational exhibits and an introduction to the Sterling Hill Mine, as well as the hourlong mine tour, which includes the lamp room, shaft station, mine galleries, a sight-and-sound blasting demonstration and the favorite “Rainbow Tunnel,” where brightly fluorescent zinc ore is exposed in the mine walls.
Numerous pieces of mining equipment are scattered throughout the nine passages within tour exhibits for visitors to learn about the mining process such as sinking buckets, stamp mills, sheave wheels, crushers, ball mills, drum hoists and compressors.
Inside the 1300-foot, well-lit underground mine, the air is a cool 56 degrees, making it a fitting pseudo-outdoor activity for a hot summer day. No climbing is involved on the wheelchair-accessible tour — visitors walk on gravel throughout the mine.
To those who haven’t been on the tour, two hours sounds like a long time to be wandering around a mine, but Kroth said that many people come to him afterward and tell him that they can’t believe it went by so quickly.
“People don’t understand the process of mining, so when they learn about it, they’re mesmerized,” he said.
About 45,000 people visit the Sterling Hill Mining Museum every year, a number that has doubled over the past three years because of an increase in staff and the ability for the museum to accommodate more tours and visitors. Zobel Exhibit Hall also has more pieces, and the actual mine has been expanded with more stations, plus a new pavilion was recently built to accommodate large groups of schoolchildren for lunch.
The Sterling Hill Mining Museum isn’t done yet with its expansion. It is polishing its current exhibits, as well as exploring the possibility of incorporating the mining crushing plant on to the tour.
The Sussex County mine is lucky. Throughout the years, many former mine sites have been torn down, but the Sterling Hill mine was purchased three years after its closing and made accessible to the public as a museum only about a year later.
One of the oldest mines in the United States, the area was first worked before 1739, more than 265 years ago. Together with the Franklin Mine, 350 different mineral species have been found in the vicinity — a world record for such a small area. More than two-dozen of these have been found nowhere else on Earth.
STERLING HILL MINING MUSEUM
Where: 30 Plant St., Ogdensburg
Cost: $11 for adults, $8 for children 4 to 12, children 3 and under are free
Hours: Public tours are at 10 a.m. and 1 p.m., seven days a week until after Labor Day
Contact: 973-209-7212 or sterlinghillminingmuseum.org