Pit Stop

Deep in the Heart of the Highlands

Story and photos by Mary Jasch

Ever wonder about all those depressions you see in the woods? Or old woods roads or dug out trenches with mounds of rock or soil around them? What went on around here, anyway? Pack a bottle of water, a magnet, and this hike and hit the trail! Get ready for an historic walk in the woods and to experience a bit of the people and industry that once made New Jersey proud.

From Route 80 in Rockaway, take the Mount Hope exit and head toward Mount Hope on Mount Hope Avenue. At the stop sign, turn left onto Mount Hope Road, then left again just past the firehouse onto Garden Road. Drive to the parking lot of Mount Hope Pond Park.

This is the site of the Elizabeth Mine, one of a number of iron ore operations that comprised the Mount Hope Mine, the country's richest iron mine owned by the Mount Hope Mining Company. After 268 years of sporadic operation since 1710, the Mount Hope Mine produced about 6 million tons of iron ore and, from its forge and furnace, cast iron products such as Revolutionary War cannonballs. Much of the ore came from the Elizabeth Mine, which ran 1,120 feet deep. Bring a magnet and test the rocks for Mount Hope Magnetite.

The hoisting shaft.

Lots of artifacts abound in this Rockaway Township park ­ of human industry and nature's bounty harvested for civilized necessities. Now nature has reclaimed much of all the mining remnants, but with a careful eye and a little knowledge offered by this self-guided walk in the woods and anyone can see them. Perhaps you will sense a token of the blood and sweat from lives that came before.

Walk to the left of Mount Hope Pond where three paths enter the woods before you. The pond provided energy to the waterwheel that ran the blower for the furnace. Choose the middle path and walk along the right side of a narrow trench, partially lined with a rock wall. In 1831, mule-drawn wagons brought iron ore out of the woods on this path to the Morris Canal. It's hard to imagine, but 30 years later, the full scale steam-powered Mount Hope Mineral Railroad pulled ore cars from this little ravine to Wharton. Its source, the Elizabeth Tunnel, is just up the trail.

Follow the path edging away from the railroad. Experts think that the station house was here on the right where rotting timbers lay with big rusty bolts, but are puzzled by a deep depression on the left that may be a caved-in shaft that led down into the mine. There is no record of it.

Head slightly downhill and turn right onto an old woods road, probably another mule cart path, to a fenced-in shaft on the left. Under the branches and weeds that fill the enclosure, it is possible that the shaft is still open underground ­ and dangerous. Mine shafts were used for several reasons ­ ventilation, for men to enter and exit, to bring equipment down, and to hoist ore out.

Above: The Elizabeth Mine adit in 1905.
Courtesy Robert and Mary Allen Collection.

Cut for the former Mt. Hope Mineral Railroad, a full size railroad built to service the operations at the Elizabeth Mine.

Next to it, a shallow ravine almost leads up into the earth. Recognize it by the notched out boulder on the right side and a young tree growing in the middle. This is the Elizabeth Tunnel adit (horizontal entrance as opposed to vertical shafts) that once went 850 feet into the hillside. Here, mules and, later, a narrow gauge railroad on two sets of tracks picked up iron ore and lugged it out. It was transferred to the larger railroad. Men probably entered and left the mine here too.

Continue uphill and at the top bear left, then left again at the "Y". On the left, piles of rock surround a shallow mine pit. Continue up to the top and turn left onto a woods road. On the left, a chain link fence surrounds a "hoisting shaft," the primary means of raising the ore out of the mine. Walk around it to where you can get a good look into its black depths. Of course, soil erosion has scoured out its perimeter. On the way back to the trail, check out the open pit surrounded by short ridges of angular rock known as "tailings." Tailings were typically piled outside an open pit then hauled away, but for some reason this was not. Native surface stone here is generally rounded and smoothed over time; tailings rock was blasted and angular.

The 11 iron ore veins of the Mount Hope Mine outcropped ­ jutted out strongly from the ground. Aiming in a northeast direction, they dove deeper and deeper into the earth. So men started mining in open pits on the surface, then dug deeper and deeper with the ore vein. One of the sub-mines went down 2,740 feet! (That was the New Leonard Mine, put into gear during World War II.)

The farther southwest you hike, the more open pits you'll see because they sunk further underground as they went northeast. Back to the path, head uphill until just when you've run out of breath (you've climbed about 200 feet) About 30 feet in on the left, the Painter Shaft, strung with barbed wire, was probably another hoisting shaft. The Elizabeth Mine had many shafts to bring up the ore over different periods of time.

Back to the trail and the top of the hill... You are now entering Mount Hope Historical Park, a Morris County park. On the right, a line of open pits appears. (This is also the beginning of the White Trail that leads down to the Richards Mine, connected to the Elizabeth by a tunnel.) The shallow pits undulate over and down the southwest side of the hill ­ perfect for outcrops. Mike Hetman, iron mine aficionado, thinks the first one may have been an exploratory shaft. Walk across them, over a natural bridge, to get a good view. A Morris County park map says the pits are 1850s' shafts dug to explore the Richard Mine. "Nature has reclaimed it. If there was an entrance in there, it's buried under the soil," says Hetman of the leaf and soil-covered pit.

One indication of a pit or a shaft, says Hetman, is a structure with big bolts that once supported a headframe that hoisted buckets of ore up out of the shaft. Here, they've mostly all rotted away, but a few remain. Headframes looked like cranes and ranged from 25 feet high in the early 1900s to over 100 feet 40 years later.

Head back the way you came, but instead of crossing the Mineral Railroad bed, stay on the path, pass the adit, and make a sharp, angled-back left up on a wide path toward the parking lot.

Could it be that Rockaway was named after all the rock they took away?

The Making of a Mine Aficionado

Mike Hetman, 28, grew up in Rockaway. In high school, his next door neighbor used to tell him there were dangerous mines out in the backwoods. "All that did was spur my curiosity," he says. "I went looking and found only surface workings and decided with my brother and my mom to learn more about it. I grew up knowing I lived in an old mining town of great historical significance."

He learned about miners and their places of worship through rare old books long out of print such as an 1855 Geological Survey, oral history from local miners, hikes with others, and research "in the field and under it," he says. "There are certain feelings you get when you're in a mine. If you know what to look for and have talked with a miner, you can truly understand what mining was about."

Mike, his brother Greg, and others interested in mining history explore mines of all sorts in the mid-Atlantic states. While he acknowledges that entering mines is a controversial topic for many reasons he says, "You have to be willing to go into a mine to understand it." He and Greg share their knowledge on their fascinating website.

Nearby accommodations and attractions

  • Denville Detour: Jonathan's Woods and More!
  • , Denville

  • The Seeing Eye
  • For the formative steps in a guide dog's youth, The Seeing Eye relies on a network of Puppy Raisers throughout New Jersey and eastern Pennsylvania who participate in a program that began in 1942 as a joint effort with 4-H Youth Development.

    , ,

  • Millstone Scenic Byway
  • , Millstone

  • The Raptor Trust
  • The Raptor Trust is one of the premier wild bird rehabilitation centers in the United States.

    1452 White Bridge Road, Millington 07946, 908/647-2353

  • Morris County Tourism Bureau
  • Provides information about what's happening in the county, including events, historical sites, museums, hotels, restaurants. Open Mon-Fri, 10am-4pm; Saturdays in summer. Historic Morristown walking tours available as well as group tours and packages.

    6 Court St, Morristown 07960, 973-631-5151


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20 May 2017, 16:51
The deepest shaft in the Mount Hope Mine is the New Leonard shaft Located near the central portion of the existing workings the New Leonard Shaft was completed to a depth of approximately 2,700 feet in 1944. The shaft connects with mine workings at levels of 1,000 feet 1,700 feet 2,100 feet 2,300 feet and 2,500 feet. At the 1,700 foot level Mount Hope Mine workings connect with the workings of the Richard Mine. The primary ore was a fairly high-grade magnetite. I recall Ken Cramer of Mt Hope may have mentioned something about the ore being a bit high on phosphorus which was a bit problematic.
Joseph D'Amelio
15 Jan 2017, 19:46
Any idea how deep the Hoisting shaft is?
Cheryl A Duncan-Dudgeon
04 Aug 2016, 19:50
We are looking for information on Stanley Chester McWilliams (Big Red). He worked in the Richard Ore and Scrubbox Mines at Dover, New Jersey, until the mine closed (around 1955?)
Heinz Woelki
27 Feb 2015, 07:59
There were no other minerals besides the iron ore. It is an extremely high grade of ore. Some of it was a granular "sugar ore" of almost pure iron. During production, the concentrates were purchased by Bethlehelm Steel to mix with lower grade ore to produce a better grade of steel.
Mt Hope is connected to to all the surrounding mine thru underground passages. The mill was the only one around so the ore was transported underground to the shaft and hoisted to the mill.
Heinz Woelki
27 Feb 2015, 07:51
The pond was built as a water supply for the mill and to have a place to pump the water from the mine. When we dewatered the mine in the early 70s, it took pumping a million gallons a day just to remain even. The mine was closed because funding from the federal government was pulled following an audit of Halecrest. Funds that were supposed to be used for the mine were used on the surface operations.
Jeff Osowski
25 Jan 2015, 15:43
I assume the main ore was magnetite. Were there other minerals in these mines?
Gary Horneck
02 Jan 2015, 07:09
I was part of the team that tried to reactivate the mine in 1975-1977. The damage to the mine from 30 yrs of total submersion was just too much. We did pull some ore out, but the breakdowns and track conditions were too much to make it worthwhile. Some very scary, nightmare producing times down there in those two years.
Bill Rogers
14 Aug 2014, 20:37
Not sure of the depth but it was not part of a mineshaft. The pond was formed after the dam was built. The water source came from natural springs in the area.
Craig Maier
14 Aug 2014, 20:25
Anyone know what the depth of Mount Hope Pond is? Was the Pond itself once part of a mineshaft?

Judith R. Simmons
27 Jul 2014, 17:17
My Great Grandfather James Smith Came from Scotland,
Married my Great Grandmother from England worked
in Richard Mines.
Bill Rogers
26 Jul 2014, 12:13
I was the mine engineer for the Halecrest company from 1977 until the mine closed in 1978. I see some of the comments here had questions concerning the mine. Send me an Email and I will try to answer your questions.
Heinz Woelki
19 Mar 2014, 09:17
It is good to see the history of mount Hope kept alive.
I was one of the original miners hired in 1977 to dewater the mine and resume production.The ore in this mine is extremely high grade and was purchased by the steel mills to mix with lower grade imported iron ore. In late 78 the mine was closed due to financial difficulties the Halecrest Company experienced.
30 Dec 2013, 20:05
this was a great read. i have so many questions but i see this is not really set up to answer them. others before me had very good questions, but no answers followed . \r\n\r\n
James Griffin
13 Mar 2013, 11:05
Do you allow rock hounds to look for rocks in the area?
12 Jan 2012, 13:24
me and my buddies went down that shaft in your pic.we had a hell of a time gettin out.made the news all over the country.
nick gleason
17 Oct 2011, 13:06
Can you tell me where i may research the names of the miners at the Heritage Iron Mines in New Jersey?
Nancy Ganyard
12 Oct 2011, 18:17
Ran across a framed old certificate for the Mount Hope Mining Company for 200 shares @ $5 to Clara A Thompson. Nov 20. 1855, signed by Pres. Sam Stiles. Wonder if it has meaning for any historical group, if such there is, or if it's one of those worthless certificates floating around.
14 Aug 2011, 20:05
Can anyone give me information pertaining to any of the accidents that happened in the Richardson Mines?
pete beck
06 Aug 2011, 16:18
In April 2011 The NYNJTC.org published a map that covers this area.\r\n\r\nThe Ford Faesch house is being restored to its 1780's look. It is curated by the Historical Society of Rockaway Township and is open to visitors a couple of times a year.\r\n\r\nAcross the street form thFord Faesch house is the methodist/miners church, 1860 time frame.
Roy Wehr
09 Jun 2010, 19:39
Wow. I wish I would have spent some time exploring Mount Hope. I lived in Denville for 28 years and have since moved to Florida. I am married to old blood from that aeria and Dover. Adolph Baxter, the Searings,and Blanchard's Adolph was a blaster and worked all over that part of the country. He did all the blasting where the small mall is in down town Dover. The old Searing Hotel in Dover was part of that family. I am enjoying your site. Roy Wehr
29 Apr 2010, 08:16
Can you tell me if a JOHN JORDAN, born in Ireland owned the Mt. Hope Iron Works before and during the Revolution?\r\nHe may be a ancestor and believe he was a Loyalist and was sent to Bahamas after war.\r\n Any information will be appreciated.
joseph G Monahan
28 Mar 2010, 16:20
My great uncle Michael Madden worked in the mines from 1863-1875. Could ou send me surces to review pictures of tghe town at tha time. Also i there a source to find the names of the miners at tha time. Thank you
Matt Davis
03 Dec 2009, 06:55
Great article. We used it to explore the region last weekend and had a great hike. One caution: this area, while mostly park, is interspersed with private hunting lands, so where bright clothing during deer season!
Stephen Barnes
08 Mar 2008, 05:22
Thanks for this info. I hike this trail alot and always wondered about the history. Where can I find out more? Maybe even photos and stuff
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