Mining in the North Country
Mining is the extraction of minerals, ores, coal and other materials from the earth, in its most basic form. The vast majority of mining in the North Country consists of either surface or underground mining. The history of mining usually starts with the California Gold Rush, and coal mining is usually the most notorious form of mining. Surface mining finds ore by removing the bedrock and soil without building infrastructure underground and using some transit system to move the mined material. Underground mining employs shafts and drifts underground to get at materials both deep and hard to access, and the material is taken to the surface by conveyor.
The image is actually two images, both of the same operation but one with a person physically working and one without. The image of the man working at the mine is fantastic, but it’s supported really well by the overview of a larger portion of the mine. Likewise, the photo of the mine is gorgeous, but no one is working in it.
These images are so called ‘penny postcards’, an extremely popular souvenir from their time. They also survive surprisingly well, and make for sort of still lives of people, places, buildings and businesses of the time period being photographed. Nowadays, penny postcards can serve as a vast collection of surviving proof of communities, cultures and buildings. They have transcended souvenirs to become a form of document history, and their collection and preservation is a hot topic, throughout the country and here at St. Lawrence.
These two photos, affectionately titled 1719 and 1720, belong to the Comstock Adirondack Postcard Collection held within the Special Collections division of the Owen D. Young Library on the St. Lawrence University campus. The finding aid of the collection details the history of the penny postcard, starting in the 1893 Chicago World’s Columbian Exposition and the increased popularity as Congress lowered the postage rate to one cent. Independent photographers around the country began producing and selling these postcards around 1898-1907, and they have remained novel ever since. Ted Comstock is a true renaissance Adirondack man, and he compiled the collection between 1980 and 2016, when it was purchased by Special Collections. The collection has roughly 3,000 postcards, set around the Adirondacks between the 1890s and 1950s. The two images used, 1719 and 1720, were unposted.
In 1719, the image is a man standing on top of a mine working with a card on rails above. Tracks are visible below and a cart is also below, indicating that perhaps the tracks meet up somewhere or lead to a similar place. This photo is void of a lot of details, but gives scale to presumably one of many sections of the mine, currently with one cart being driven by one worker. It’s unclear how organic this photo is, whether the photographer was capturing a typical moment in this space or if they wanted one man in the shot.
In 1720, a railroad track is visible at the bottom of the photograph, and eight permanent buildings are positively identifiable, along with four tents rising up the hill toward the uncleared trees. The Garnet Camp is on a slope, and there are clearly horizontal and vertical paths throughout the camp, indicating things don’t just come in and out but also move throughout the camp. All the buildings are wooden, and tents don’t seem permanent.
There is remarkably little information on who is in this photo and when it was taken. However, the location is very clear, which wasn’t always so with other industrial penny postcards in the Adirondacks. 1719 and 1720 are of the Barton Garnet Mine in North River, New York. Barton was established in 1878 by the namesake, Henry Hudson Barton. The mine was located near the summit of Gore, and remained there for 104 years. The mine originally operated in the summer months and shipping garnet to Philadelphia for processing. By the 1920s, it was manufacturing year-round, and moving beyond sandpaper into glass grinding.
About the Author
Dameian Bossarte is a sophomore at St. Lawrence University, currently studying Government and History with a focus on the United States legal system and the balance of power in the federal government. Dameian is the President of St. Lawrence Democrats and the Northern Region Chair of the College Democrats of New York, and spends his free time volunteering and advising political campaigns on the local, state and federal level. Dameian is planning on graduating in the spring of 2019, after which he aspires to complete military service and pursue a career in law enforcement, with a focus on police reform and community policing. When he’s not studying at St. Lawrence, he calls Cambridge, Massachusetts his home. If snow is on the ground, he can be found on a mountain; and if the sun is shining… a mountain is still the typical destination.
Why I chose my topic
I chose to write about Canton because as a student of history, I can’t help but try to figure out where I am at a given time, and more specifically not just where I am but what where I am is. I spend sleepless nights not on Netflix but on Wikipedia, and I can’t help but google every new town I drive through. I couldn’t fathom spending four years at St. Lawrence University without spending considerable time figuring out the ground on which I stand. Much like how I spend my summers in Boston running from museum to monument to statute to park, I just wouldn’t feel at home in Canton if I didn’t move beyond Canton: 2015-2019.