America's First Commercial Gemstone Mine
The first commercial gemstone mine in the United States was discovered by
accident near the town of Paris, Maine on a late autumn day in October of 1821. Two young men, Elijah Hamlin and Ezekiel Holmes,
were hiking when Hamlin spotted a green flash of color in the soil beneath the roots of a fallen tree. He went to the tree and
picked a small, bright green, transparent prism-shaped crystal from the soil.
The men examined the crystal and realized that something special had been found. They began searching for more crystals but were hampered
by darkness. They decided to return the next day to continue their search, but the first snowfall of winter made searching impossible.
They did not know what they had found but decided to return in the spring to resume their search.
As soon as the winter's snow had melted away, Hamlin and Holmes returned to the fallen tree and began searching. That day they found
a number of beautiful crystals and fragments of crystals at the fallen tree and at numerous nearby locations. They sent some of
the crystals to Benjamin Silliman, a professor at Yale University, who identified them as tourmaline.
Later that year, Hamlin's younger brothers, Cyrus and Hannibal (who later served as Vice President to Abraham Lincoln), opened a
pocket of beautiful gem-quality green and red tourmaline crystals in a nearby rock ledge. Some of the crystals were over two inches in length
and one inch in diameter.
Unfortunately, in the early 1800s the market for rough gemstones and mineral specimens in the
United States was undeveloped, and the Hamlins sold many of their crystals for small amounts of money.
Gems as a Byproduct
By the late 1800s, rough gem materials were regularly being purchased by dealers in Boston and New York. By then
mica and feldspar were being mined from dozens of
pegmatites in Androscoggin, Cumberland, Oxford, and
Sagadahoc Counties. Gem-quality tourmaline and other gem minerals were often discovered while mining, and gemstones
became a byproduct of the mica and feldspar industries.
The hill where Hamlin and Holmes made their tourmaline discovery was known as "Mount Mica" because large amounts of
mica were found there. Mining for tourmaline occurred intermittently at Mount Mica through the 1800s and 1900s, as miners began to understand the
pegmatite rocks and the cavities within them that contained beautiful crystals.
The most recent mining episode at Mount Mica began in 2003 when Coromoto Minerals decided to mine the entire pegmatite by following it underground to
discover all of the pockets. Since then they have found hundreds of pockets containing gem- and specimen-quality
tourmalines, along with many other minerals. A detailed history of mining at Mount Mica can be found at the
Creaser Jewelers website.
>> Places where you can find rocks & gems in Maine <<
The three faceted tourmalines in the photo at the top of the right column of this page were cut from rough mined at the Dunton Quarry, located in
Many world-class tourmaline crystal specimens have been mined in Maine, and many of the best faceted tourmalines have been cut from rough produced from Maine mines and quarries. The Maine legislature recognized tourmaline as an important product of the state and named it the "official state gemstone."
Schorl, a black variety of tourmaline, is the most common tourmaline found in Maine. The gem-quality material is green, blue, pink, and watermelon (green and pink) elbaite.
Beautiful varieties of gem-quality quartz have been found in Maine. Amethyst is the most important and is frequently found in granite pegmatite at many locations. Facet-quality citrine has been found at Emmons Quarry, Hatch Ledge, and Buckfield. Smoky quartz and rose quartz have been found in faceting quality at many locations. Star rose quartz has been produced from the Whispering Pines Quarry.
Other Maine Gems
In addition to tourmaline and quartz, the pegmatite deposits of Maine have produced aquamarine, morganite, chrysoberyl, lepidolite, spodumene, and topaz. Garnet, kyanite, andalusite, sodalite, and staurolite have been produced from the metamorphic rocks of Maine.
Today, a few fee mining sites are open in Maine. These sites allow any interested person to enter, pay a small fee, and keep any gems and minerals that they find. A list of these sites can be found here.
Contributor: Hobart King
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|Three excellent tourmalines from the Dunton Quarry in Oxford County, Maine. Photo by Thuss Photography, used with permission of the Maine State Museum.|
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