Penn Minerals! - Classic Minerals and More from Pennsylvania

Jay L. Lininger,  Dillsburg, PA


Part Five of the CHRONICLE series once again visits a little known, but mineralogically interesting historic location found in the Central Pennsylvania hills. Juniata County is one of the smaller county subdivisions in the Commonwealth. Wedged between Mifflin County to the north and Perry County to the south, Juniata is dominated by the rugged mountain and valley topography of the Tuscarora arch. Remarkably unspoiled and sparsely populated, Juniata County still preserves the bucolic setting of a century ago. In April 1891, a tremor of excitement rippled through the Tuscarora Valley when news of the construction of a short line railroad was made public. Now at last, the twenty seven mile stretch from Blairs Mills at the lower end of the valley would be connected to Mifflintown at the northern end. The seventeen farming communities in between would, for the first time, be serviced by public transportation. While the residents of the Tuscarora Valley were pleased with their good fortune, they could not know that a dream of mineral wealth, not the public spirited desire for the good of the region, was the driving force for the construction of the railroad.


The Juniata County of 1891 derived its main source of revenue from farming the fertile valleys and lumbering on the densely forested mountain slopes. One especially rich agricultural property known as the Ross farm was located four miles south of the village of East Waterford. This property came to the attention of an affluent business man by the name of Thomas S. Moorhead. Known locally as "T.S.," the entrepreneurial Moorhead, who was born in 1853 at Milton, Pennsylvania, came to financial good fortune through his association with the U.S. Army Engineering Corps. While Moorhead was on an engineering assignment, he became aware of the rich phosphate deposits located in the Peace River Area of Florida. These deposits were recognized as a source of agricultural fertilizer, and between the years of 1885 and 1888, Moorhead acquired a number of phosphate rich properties. The sale of his fledgling mining venture, known as the Arcadia Phosphate Company, brought him the sum of $500,000 which was a substantial fortune during that period.

One intriguing aspect of mineral history is the missing gaps of information needed to complete a story. A missing piece of the puzzle in this story is how T.S. Moorhead learned that the richness of the soil at the Ross farm was due to the phosphate deposits which lay in the rock layers below. In some fashion, he obtained knowledge of phosphates occurring in the Reed's Gap area, and wasted no time in acquiring the Ross property. Moorhead was experienced in the mining of phosphate rock and the processes needed to turn it into valuable fertilizer. As Pennsylvania was a leading agricultural state, he had a ready market close at hand. He lacked only a cost effective transportation system to get his product to the marketplace. A connection to the Pennsylvania Railroad existed 20 miles to the north at Mifflintown and Port Royal. A spur line was the obvious answer, so in 1891, T.S. Moorhead began the process of obtaining a charter, selling stock and building a railroad.

Small regional railroads were popular about the turn of the century, and many of them existed in Central Pennsylvania. To the west of Juniata County was the successful East Broadtop Railroad serving the coal and iron interests at Orbisonia. To the east in Perry County was the Newport and Sherman Valley Railroad shuttling lumber to a developing market. With such successful examples nearby, it was not surprising that Moorhead could find eager investors who were willing to share the risk in building his Tuscarora Valley Railroad. By 1893 a significant portion was completed and service began. By 1895, the last spike was driven at Blairs Mills and Moorhead's dream had been accomplished. The 27 mile long rail line was equipped with several locomotives and an extensive inventory of rolling stock, including gondolas or "stone cars." The maintenance shops were strategically located at the Ross farm.

Early in 1896, Moorhead "announced" that a potentially valuable phosphate deposit had been discovered at the Ross farm, and that he planned to exploit it for the economic benefit of the county. Interestingly, T.S. had begun mining limestone at the Ross farm in 1894. We now know that the phosphate mineralization occurred at the contact of the Onondaga limestone and the Ridgely sandstone along the base of the mountain on the Ross farm property. The minerals were distinctive, so T.S. had knowledge of them long before his announcement. As word of the new phosphate mine (which already existed as a limestone mine) was made known, a geologist made a visit to investigate the new occurrence. Professor M.C. Ihlseng of Pennsylvania State University made the trip down to East Waterford to examine the occurrence which he later described in the U.S. Geological Annual Survey of 1896. Ihlseng noted the presence of phosphatic nodules in three distinct formations. He reported two phosphate minerals: wavellite (aluminum phosphate) and amblygonite (aluminum lithium fluorophosphate). The wavellite appeared in the familiar white to green radial crystals; the amblygonite was in clear to white nodular amorphous masses, somewhat resembling opal or chalcedony.

Early results were promising. The phosphate ore appeared to be high grade in quality. The newly formed Tuscarora Phosphate Company began processing its ore in some of the buildings on the Ross Farm, and soon exploration for other phosphate deposits began to take place around the Reed's Gap area. Although records are vague, we do know that several more deposits were discovered. Flushed with the early success of his enterprise, Moorhead undertook to build a major processing facility in 1899. The five story complex, when completed, was the largest structure ever built in Juniata County. That same year the Tuscarora Phosphate Company produced a record high 2,000 tons of super phosphate fertilizer. Mining along the ridge was conducted by open trench excavation, but one particularly rich vein precipitated the need for an underground shaft.

By 1900, however, some ominous warning signs began to emerge. The abundance of ore was beginning to decline. T.S. was soon to learn that the Pennsylvania ore was localized and erratic; not at all like the vast marl deposits he encountered in Florida. The production for 1900 declined to 900 tons, and continued to decline to such a degree that Moorhead was forced to close the operation in 1904. In a strange twist of fate, T.S. Moorhead managed to preserve the balance of his legacy, because the Tuscarora Valley Railroad that he built to service his mines, actually prospered hauling agricultural produce and lumber. Ironically, the Tuscarora Phosphate Company suffered a fate not unlike the American Phosphate Company in nearby Cumberland County (see Chronicles, Part 1).

By 1930 the Ross farm property came into the hands of a local farmer by the name of W.L. Newman. He was primarily interested in the rich soil, but perhaps harbored the hope that the phosphorous industry might flourish once again. This hope may have been encouraged by a party of geologists who visited the mine site on September 3, 1931. Among the visitors were Dr. Bradford Willard, director of the Pennsylvania Geological Survey and Dr. Benjamin L. Miller of Lehigh University. As a result of the investigation, Miller recorded that "the workings consist of an adit driven into the side of a low ridge of Oriskany (Ridgely) sandstone . . . the drift is about 150 feet long and from it a number of cross drifts extend 10 to 25 feet. At one point it appears that a certain band of the rock (later determined to be schriver chert) that evidently was richer in phosphate minerals was followed 40' to 45' NW. The depth of this opening is not known." Miller also indicated the presence of two minerals, stating that "the phosphate minerals are wavellite and possibly amblygonite ... The thickest layers of solid phosphate mineral are along the bedding planes and range up to 3/4 inch thick. . . The amount of phosphate material disseminated through the rock must average very low. Only a few limited spots appear rich enough to be of any commercial value. It seems therefore that the deposit is of mineralogic interest only and has no economic value."

With such a definitive statement from a well regarded economic geologist, the door seemed to close for the economic development of the Ross farm/W.L. Newman phosphate occurrences... at least for 30 more years.


In the early 1960's, U.S.G.S. geologist William D. Carter began a systematic study of Appalachian phosphate occurrences. He was looking at the big picture; an effort to determine the correlation between numerous phosphate occurrences and how they may have been formed under similar conditions. He was particularly intrigued with the Juniata occurrence because of the report of amblygonite. This lithium bearing mineral was known to occur in pegmatites, and Carter could find no evidence of lithium bearing minerals in Pennsylvania or in any other Appalachian sedimentary phosphate occurrences, for that matter.

When Carter arrived at the old Ross farm property, he discovered that it was still owned by W.L. Newman. With Newman's cooperation, Carter was able to thoroughly investigate the old mine site. Numerous core drilling samples were taken, and Carter was surprised to find that the old adit was still partially open. He entered the mine and discovered that about half of the original tunnel had collapsed . . . about 70 feet remained open. He was able to collect a suite of mineral samples from the wall; the glassy botryoidal "amblygonite" was among the specimens obtained. Carter submitted the material to the U.S.G.S. lab for positive identification. Analysis of the material was handled by Mary Mrose, the premiere mineral identification specialist working for the survey at that time. Her efforts proved what Carter had suspected. The mineral was not amblygonite, but the calcium aluminum phosphate mineral crandallite. This species was unknown at the time Ihlseng made his visit in 1896. His sight identification had been based upon comparison with amblygonite which had a similar appearance. Carter, of course, had been aware that amblygonite was primarily a pegmatite mineral and out of place at the Ross farm occurrence. Now satisfied that the mineralogy was correct, Carter published his results in Pennsylvania Geological Survey Information Circular 64, "The W.L. Newman Phosphate Mine, Juniata County, Pennsylvania," 1969. Carter also noted that the occurrence produced phosphatic nodules containing oolites composed of fluorapatite and glauconite. The relatively unknown Ross farm/W.L. Newman property thus became host for two new minerals on the Pennsylvania species list: crandallite and glauconite.


By the early 1970's there existed a new generation of Pennsylvania mineral enthusiasts, who lived mostly in the lower Susquehanna region. Numbered among them was Martin Anne, Bryon Brookmyer, Pen Ambler, Ed Carper, Donald Schmerling and this writer. This intrepid group was daring (or foolish) enough to overcome most any obstacle in the pursuit of collecting Pennsylvania minerals. Desiring to obtain the rare species crandallite, the group made a trip to East Waterford in the Fall of 1972. The mine site had greatly deteriorated and the open cut trenches and mine dumps were heavily overgrown with vegetation. Amazingly, a portion of the adit entrance was still open . . . enough to admit a full sized man if carefully negotiated. The group unhesitatingly entered the old shaft by sliding down the narrow slope which still remained. The walls of the weathered sandstone looked fragile, but mineralized veins could still be seen. Thus the collectors overlooked the danger in order to collect the desired material. A legion of bats needed to be disturbed in order to remove the crandallite, but the soft sandstone enabled removal of specimens in short order. The mineral was not abundant, but plentiful enough for each collector to acquire multiple specimens. A hasty retreat was made as soon as several veins had been removed. Like most collectors, I occasionally "revisit" my mineral collection drawer by drawer. As I look at the half dozen crandallite specimens reposing in the "phosphate drawers," I ponder the foolishness my youthful judgment almost 23 years ago. Late last spring, I made a nostalgia trip to the old location, and discovered that the adit was completely caved in and the entrance littered with junk.

Things constantly change. Mr. Newman has long since been deceased, and the property passed into other hands. Has the possibility for collecting crandallite and wavellite disappeared? It's doubtful, because the mine dumps remain undug by mineral collectors. Records also allude to the other phosphate occurrences in the Reed's Gap area, and I'm not aware of any other mineralogists collecting or even finding them. The Ross farm wavellites were most attractive and I believe that many were saved and preserved in old collections. Several years ago Bryon Brookmyer showed me a Ross farm wavellite that he acquired in a European collection. It was a large spectacular green specimen which rivaled the best Arkansas specimens I've yet seen. How and why it got to Europe remains as one of those missing information gaps that add fascination and speculation to any mineral story. The phosphate minerals of East Waterford, Juniata County add one more interesting chapter to the Chronicles of Central Pennsylvania mineralogy -- a chapter recorded here as a complete story for the first time.

Be sure to stay tuned for Part Six - Pennsylvania Piemontite and Scheelite!


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