Former Vershire copper mine to host archaeological dig

Published: Jan. 13, 2023 at 11:22 PM EST
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VERSHIRE, Vt. (WCAX) - The Ely Copper Mine closed in 1905 because of environmental and financial issues. Now. the Superfund site is slated for an archaeological dig this summer.

At its height, the Ely Copper Mine employed nearly 800 people, with the small town of Vershire’s population reaching nearly 2,000.

“It was a busy place. I mean any given time there were 30 or 40 wagons either leaving or coming in,” said Gary Goodrich, president of the Vershire Historical Society.

In 1883, when the mine faced its first financial rough patch, workers who went unpaid threatened to blow up the mine. The effort was stopped when the governor sent an armed militia to arrest the ringleaders.

The mine closed for good in 1905 following a series of lawsuits from farmers angry that acid rain was killing their crops and other financial woes. “The population kept dwindling and dwindling,” Goodrich said. “By 1960, there were only 202 people left in the Town of Vershire.”

Since then, the mine’s buildings were auctioned off and little work has been done to clean up the designated Superfund site. The Vershire Historical Society building is actually connected to a Methodist church that was moved from the mining area.

EPA Project Manager Ed Hathaway says their biggest concern is sulfuric acid. “That leaches, and puts the metal into solution, washes off the waste piles left behind, enters the streams, and kills the fish and organisms,” he said. Goodrich says you can even see and smell it over the summertime.

DEC and EPA officials say it’s not standard practice to do an archaeological dig before cleaning up a Superfund site, but in this case, the mine could qualify to be on the National Register of Historic Places. “They learn about the people that live there through artifacts collected or shape and size of stone foundations left,” Hathaway said. “It could be technological, if it’s a certain type of equipment being used.”

“You don’t see a lot when you’re out there trekking through the woods looking at what’s left of these old buildings, but I’m interested in seeing what they find,” said Kim Caldwell with the Vermont Department of Environmental Conservation.

The dig is scheduled to happen this summer. The Superfund site cleanup should be taking place at the end of 2024.

The Ely Copper Mine site is private property and can be unsafe to visit. The owner tells Channel 3 trespassing has previously resulted in injury and even death. The Vershire Historical Society hosts tours for those who are curious, but it’s uncertain if that will happen with work happening on the site.