Editorial: State has a gem in Ruggles Mine

  • Ruggles Mine, which has been a tourist attraction for 50 years, is now for sale. AP

Published: 7/19/2018 12:05:23 AM

New Hampshire should leap at the chance to buy the beloved Ruggles Mine and make it the 94th state park.

The two-century-old mica mine just off Route 4 in Grafton has been a tourist attraction and rockhound paradise since 1960. Generations of excited children, hammers in hand, scrambled around and over the mine, through its tunnels and into its caverns in search of a bit of Earth’s treasure to call their own. On weekends the mine echoed with shrieks of discovery.

Ruggles Mine, gouged out of rock 350 million years old, has produced more than 150 minerals, but the star of the show has been mica, a mineral that grows in thin shiny sheets that form books attached to quartz. The sheets, separated into translucent “pages,” were used in lanterns and to create “windows” in 19th-century wood stoves. Mica later was used as an electrical insulator.

The 235-acre property containing the mine plus a small gift shop and museum building is on the market for $900,000, down from the original $2 million asking price. The property is rich in scenic views, the history of industry and commerce in the Granite State, and opportunities to teach geology. We believe it would quickly become a revenue maker for the only state parks system in the nation that, save for capital projects, is self-funded.

We also believe that the thousands of people who’ve enjoyed the mine over the years, if asked via a well-promoted Kickstarter-type campaign, would be willing to purchase it on behalf of the state. The parks system could even create an endowment fund to maintain its newest park – or any others for that matter. Many states have long done so.

Earlier this month, in fact, a Wisconsin resident who wintered in Florida and loved that state’s many parks donated $18 million to the Florida State Parks Foundation’s endowment fund. Similar financial lightning could strike New Hampshire’s parks and recreation system, which, though it accepts donations, does not aggressively solicit them.

Legend has it that Boston businessman Sam Ruggles discovered the mica on Grafton’s Isinglass Mountain, isinglass being another name for mica, in 1803 and, with his family’s help, hauled the valuable mineral out of town by night to hide his find. That story, according to Kenneth Cushing, the author of a 1992 history of the town of Grafton, is almost certainly a fiction. A Revolutionary War general mentioned what was almost certainly the mine in a 1781 letter.

What is true is that Ruggles, using ox carts, hauled mica from the mine to Portsmouth, where it was shipped to England and sold by members of his family. His son George began shipping mica in great quantities once Northern Rail Road opened a line from Grafton in 1848.

The mica market waxed and waned over the years. The property was briefly owned by General Electric and later by the makers of Bon Ami cleanser, which used the mine’s feldspar deposits in scouring powder. Ruggles ceased being a commercial mine in 1960 but quickly opened as a tourist attraction touted on billboards along Grafton County roads.

The mine’s 90-year-old owner closed the mine in 2016 and put the property on the market. Silenced were the summer sounds of tapping hammers and the shouts of giddy children.

A state purchase of the mine would bring those joyful noises, and cash-toting tourists, back again.

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