Warren County Historical Society Presents …
The Digital Version “REWIND”
January 1, 2016
HAMLETS OF WARREN COUNTY
This mineral of pure carbon gave its name to a place where a thriving community surrounded a mill that existed only as long as the work of mining continued – a mere 40 years. The mine superintendent, George Hooper, recommended the name when ‘Hague Mines’ and ‘Dixon’ were rejected. He chose the name that derives from the Greek verb “graphein” (to write) rather than any of the other common appellations – wad, black lead, silver lead, or plumbago. Graphite, the place that a hundred years ago rang with the clang of ore crushers grows up to forest while thousands of bats sleepsilently in the abandoned mines.
A popular local story recounts the discovery of graphite in Hague by Sam Ackerman, who owned a farm in West Hague. He recognized the telltale greasy smear that spread across the snow in the wake of a log he was hauling from the woods. There is no question that Sam Ackerman found graphite on his land, but the other local deposit appeared without benefit of skidding timber.
The vein of graphite that became the Lake Shore Mine lay behind the Trout House Hotel, on land owned by Charles Wheeler. It lay in two parallel beds about 50 feet apart, sloping in a northerly direction. As the drift approached the level of the lake, water seepage made it necessary to run pumps. These workings closed when it became clear that the deposits 4 miles to the west (and several hundred feet higher) would be much easier to remove, in spite of their distance from the shipping dock.
Both operations were developed and operated by Joseph Dixon Crucible Company under the name of American Graphite Company. George Hooper, son of William Hooper, supervisor of the American Graphite Company mill in Ticonderoga, ran the works in Hague using machinery designed and patented for the purpose by his father.
Graphite occurs in flakes or scaly granular masses, suspended in veins of quartz and other minerals. Often, the presence of mica or feldspar gives the ore a sparkle. The greasy feel come from the fine tabular crystal structure that gives graphite its lubricant and coating qualities as well as the ability to make marks on any surface: dark on white; gray on black. Graphite has been used for writing and drawing since the 16th century. Though it needed stiffening up with clay to become the ubiquitous writing tool we know today as the pencil.
A high melting point makes graphite an essential ingredient in the making of crucibles for casting metal. But this very feature makes it hard to refine. Impurities cannot be removed by melting, as with iron, brass, silver and gold. The graphite needs to be ground up and refined to nearly 100% purity to be useful as a lubricant for machinery.
The little settlement of Graphite was a work zone dominated by the huge crushing mill. A conveyor connected the mill to trains of ore cars emerging from the mine. A scatter of purposeful buildings perched here and there: two hose houses, two powder magazines, a wagon shed, blacksmith shop, sawmill, coal shed and storehouse. Around the edges, tenement and boarding houses and stores stood in the raw clearing.
Cheap graphite from Madagascar and Ceylon began to challenge the domestic supply early in the 20th century. World War I increased demand for crucibles even as the conflict threatened commercial shipping, but when the war ended, ore that had been stockpiled halfway around the world flooded the American market. Cost, combined with growing labor unrest brought mining operations to a halt in 1921.
A few workers stayed on in Graphite for a number of years to dismantle the mill and sell off the machinery. Boilers went to Silver Bay to heat the hotel. Houses were moved or burned. Today, bats find a quiet winter hibernaculum in the old mines and Joseph Dixon is remembered for the memorial forest between Hague and Brant Lake.
…from the “Graphite” panel in the Hague Historical Museum
To get to the former Graphite site, travel west on Route 8, approximately 4 miles up the mountain.
The Graphite community consisted of approximately 400 people over its 40 year run.
The remains of Graphite consist of the crumbling walls of the main mill that at one time was a large, rambling structure.
A roadside marker placed by the Hague Historical Society reads as follows:
A MINING TOWN OF 400 THRIVED
HERE WITH HOMES, CHURCH, POST
OFFICE, SCHOOL, BOARDING HOUSES,
BOWLING ALLEY, SOCIAL HALL,
STORES, SAWMILL, AND SALOONS
HAGUE HISTORICAL SOCIETY
A sister community, built up around veins of the mineral, existed near Porter Corners, NY, off of Route 29 west of Saratoga Springs.
In the summer of 2013, we went up to find the Graphite ruins. The forest has taken over the land that was once the hamlet of Graphite. What follows are a collection of photographs we took on that trip.
Thank you to the Hague Historical Society for permission to copy this material for Rewind. Visit their website by going to ‘townofhague.org’and clicking on the link for the Hague Historical Society.
Article prepared by the Hague Historical Society. Old hotos from Graphite by Wilfred C. Ross. New photos courtesy of Warren County Historical Society and Stan Cianfarano.