Monday, November 22, 2010

Mr. Tyson's Chrome Pit

Perhaps Maryland's best known claim to fame in the mineral world is having been one of the world's leading producers of chromium in the mid 1800's. Responsible for most of the production was Isaac Tyson, the Baltimore businessman who after having studied mineralogy in France, discovered and began to mine chromite on his farm at Bare Hills in Baltimore County near the Baltimore City Line.
Soon thereafter, he was mining it not only at Bare Hills and Soldiers Delight in Baltimore County as well as at various locations in Harford and Cecil County. Less chronicled was the chrome mining activity for which he was responsible in Montgomery County near Patuxent State Park.
Ostrander and Price's Minerals of Maryland, published by the Natural History Society of Maryland in 1940, recognizes the Etchinson Chrome Mine as having "not been worked in many years," and notes "little of interest remaining at the site.” Minerals known to have occurred there were listed as "chromite, chrome ore (a chrome spinelo-picotite?) green chrome tourmaline, fuchsite, green margarite, rutile in reddish brown encrustaions, magnesite, amesite? manesioferrite?. (Shannon)." The Etchinson Mine also received mention in Lawrence R. Bernstein's 1980 Maryland Geological Survey publication, Minerals of the Washington, DC Area as having been "completely paved over." Also noted was the nearby "Lyde-Griffith property," referenced by footnote to Heyl and Pearre from a 1960 U.S Geological Survey Bulletin. Bernstein noted that the "mineralogy of the deposit was not described but probably similar to that at the Etchinson Mine, as both are in the same serpentine body."
Jeff Nagy, who is several years into updating Bernstein's work, visited the site of the Etchinson Mine several years ago and noted a nearby outcrop of serpentinite rock. Around the same time, he also found his way to the site of the Lyde-Griffith property.
Through research entailing nearly as much history as mineralogy, Nagy has determined that circa 1830, Washington Waters leased this locality from its property owner. Later, the owner sued Waters when the market for chromium declined drastically and Waters was unable to pay royalties. The contractual dispute focused on whether or not Waters was obligated to remove the ore he had mined from the property or simply from the ground.
By no later than 1869, the locality was known as Mr. Tyson's Chrome Pits. Nagy believes that an underground mine once existed and that Isaac Tyson's company operated the locality through pit mining. When Nagy last attempted to visit the locality during late spring, the briars and brambles were too thick to penetrate.
On a recent mid-November Friday, I had the privilege of accompanying Jeff on his second visit. Though even in late fall, the briars and brambles were formidable, we were able to access the remains of four pits, each between 300 and 400 feet long. They are south of the Patuxent River near where woodlands extending from Patuxent State Park meet a grazing field on private property. The only rocks not covered by more than a century's accumulation of soil and leaf mold were limited to an approximately 10 foot by 10 foot area.
Amidst these rocks were talc schist, quartz, and a grainy serpentinite. We found little that interested either of us with the exception of one handsize piece of quartz bearing a single quite weathered most likely cubic metallic brownish black metallic crystal about five millimeters in diameter that was embedded in quartz. Its identification stumped us a bit. For now, I'm going to guess "chrome ore," namely that "chrome spinelo picotite."
Though we had hoped to check out the nearby site that was once the Etchinson Chrome Mine, our time was running short. Of more interest to us was "an adjacent hill just south of the Etchinson site, " where Minerals of Maryland had noted that "quartz crystals are found in the soil." No mention of this hill appeared in Bernstein's book, and Jeff Nagy may have been unaware of it on his earlier visit. I hope that Jeff will take me along when he returns to check it out.

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