By the time the Central Mine began sinking its shafts deep within the interior of the peninsula, it was hardly a trailblazer. The rugged cliffs along which the great mine would prosper were already home to a mine – the Northwestern. In fact the Northwestern’s presence less then a quarter mile away from the newly established Central was a blessing for the new mine. Thanks to the Northwestern there were already a great deal of improvements to the landscape, including an established wagon road and a worker village complete with vacant and waiting homes to be filled by the Central’s arriving workforce. While the mines may have been competitors the two communities shared a more cooperative relationship as residents from Central would utilize Northwestern churches and stores. As the Central Mine prospered the Northwestern fizzled, and soon closed down. The old mine and its townsite would eventually be bought up by the Central.
Today the Northwestern is marked by its cascading line of poor rock piles which run along the mine’s original fissure vein just east of Central. A few stone walls and a selection of old house foundations are also scattered about, but perhaps the old mine’s most impressive legacy is its old stamp mill – or more specifically that mill’s massive stone smokestack.
When we first spotted the massive stone stack peeking through the thick cedar forest surrounding it we were more then a bit perplexed. Such a structure signaled the presence of a boiler house, but its location was a good distance away from that line of rock piles that mark the mines fissure vein. It seemed way too far away from the action to be part of it, and we at first thought it must belong to another neighboring mine.
After checking our maps and confirming that there was not any other mine in the vicinity we had to accept that fact that we were indeed looking at a Northwestern stack. But what was it to? While its possible we were looking at a centralized boiler house, it was not very probable. Mines of the Northwestern’s era would utilize several boiler houses, each one tied directly to a specific purpose. The more probable explanation is that this boiler house was providing steam that was not tied directly to a specific mine shaft. But what purpose would that be?
Sitting at the stacks base we were greeted with the usual details, including the flue opening pierced into its side. While not nearly large enough to crawl into, that flue opening could easily allow me to get a photo up through it…
Interestingly, the inside of the stack is lined with mortar, mortar that is missing from along its outside wall. I suppose this smooth treatment in here was to keep soot from building up and posing a fire risk.
Walking around the backside (or frontside depending on how you look at it I suppose) of the stack we find a deep depression filled with various pieces of brick and rock. Along its west end was this poor rock wall – a rather large and robust one at that. It sat in line with the stack, which anchored its south end. We assumed that this wall was part of the boiler house, the building in which the boilers that fed that smokestack were held. We expected to find this part of the building. What we need to find now is another adjacent building that might provide some clues as to what this boiler house’s purpose was. We took a walk around the area to see what we could find. It wasn’t long until we discovered our biggest clue yet…
Stamp sand. Sitting down hill from the stack and boiler house sat several mounds of stamp sand which spread out down the hill towards a swampy lake that sat down in the weeds. While there wasn’t a large amount of sand present, there was far too much for it to be an incidental accumulation. We now knew what the boiler house was for, and why it sat far outside the rest of the mine’s surface plant. We were looking at one of those “rare” inland stamp mills. This one belonging to the Northwestern.
It made sense and it was a conclusion that I was annoyed by not coming up earlier. All these early mines built some type of rudimentary stamp mill, both the Cliff and neighboring Central had one. It would make sense that the Northwestern would have one of its own as well. With this information in hand we had another look at the surrounding landscape to find more evidence of such a mill site.
After some extensive looking we started to find a few more pieces of the puzzle, including this large iron brace half buried in the dirt. Along with this guy we also found a few pieces of metal, a few bricks, and a few iron bolts sticking up out of the ground – all of which could be found along a flat area of forest sitting just to the west of the stack itself. It was beginning to look like we were strolling along the mill’s main floor itself, but we couldn’t find any foundation walls to confirm our theory.
While we didn’t find a wall per se, we did find this. Though hard to distinguish in this rather horrible photo, the flat area we were exploring was bordered on its north end by a rather steep embankment. While the embankment could of been natural, it was way too straight and the almost right-angle corner it formed was far too perfect to be a natural occurrence.
Set within that steep embankment were a collection of these stones, all of which were covered in a thick layer of moss. I would bet these guys were once part of the outer wall, but after years of neglect had collapsed under the weight of the earth embankment behind them. With this in mind we were sure we were looking at the remains of the mill’s outer foundation wall, which was set into a natural hillside running up near the stack. To give a better idea of what we’re talking about, here’s a roughly drawn sketch of the ruins as they remain today:
As indicated by the ruins that remain, the mill looks to have consisted of two main parts. The first was the boiler house itself, which sits right off the smokestack itself. Next to that lies the mill floor itself, which sits within a terraced floor built into the side of a hill. I’m not sure if the mill had a second level up above the first (to the right in the drawing) or if that one floor was it. Out to the left and behind the main mill floor was another steep hill, which was feathered by several lines of stamp sand running down towards that small pond.
With not much else to see here, we decided to head back to the main mine property itself to see what else could be found.
To Be Continued…