C-3-17

This graphite deposit was discovered in 1853 on what was then the 156-acre Nelson Town Farm, and the selectmen were quickly authorized to sell the mining rights. The S. C. Griffin Company had a lease on the graphite veins as early as 1855; Parke Struthers (1968) reported that the Griffin company showed “some of their American Lustre stove polish and several specimens of plumbago from their quarries” at the Nelson Fair on October 3, 1855. Levi E. Priest, Agent for the Town of Nelson, sold the farm property in May 1858 to Sewell Day of Nelson for $1300, with the Griffin lease on the graphite protected along with a lease that Silas French’s heirs had acquired.

Lead Mine c. 1894, looking north

Thereafter, land ownership and transfer got complicated and graphite was apparently produced only on a small-scale, irregular basis until after the Civil War. From 1869 to 1875, Hamilton Waddell operated the Town Farm Mine, first for the New York Black Lead Mining and Manufacturing Company, then for himself. While he strove to blast and haul the graphite, however, two forces overtook him. One was that water kept draining into his pit, requiring costly pumping; the other was the deteriorating business climate and depression after the Panic of 1873. In 1875, Waddell went into bankruptcy, and the mine closed forever.

For that brief six-year period, however, it was a pretty good mine. Elliot (1941) described the operation in some detail, including that there was a 20×40-foot shed on the north side of the pit where men with sledge hammers broke up the graphitic rocks, culled the graphite, and tossed it into bags or barrels for shipment to the railhead at Keene or to the pulverizing mills at Hillsboro, on the way to Boston. There were steam engines, steam-powered rail tram lines, and steam-driven pumps, all wood-fueled. The mine produced 80 to 90 tons of graphite per year, with some 4x4x6-foot blocks coming from the main vein. Some 5,000 tons of waste rock and more than 500 tons of graphite were excavated. The mine probably employed 15 to 20 workers. From an article in Grapevine II by John Gilbert.