Ruggles Mine, a unique New Hampshire attraction, is for sale again

By DAVID BROOKS

Monitor staff

Published: 07-10-2023 2:10 PM

Ruggles Mine, a place that over the centuries went from supplying industry with translucent sheets of mica to being one of New Hampshire’s most unusual tourist attractions, is once again for sale. And once again, fans hope the state will buy it and open it back up.

Ruggles, which dates to 1803 and is the oldest mine of its kind in the country, is part of a 235-acre parcel atop Isinglass Mountain in Grafton – “isinglass” is one term for extremely thin sheets of mica that can be used as a heat-resistant alternative to glass. Broken into five lots, with a total assessed value of $274,700, it will be sold at foreclosure auction July 21. A group of Grafton residents wants the New Hampshire Division of Parks and Recreation to buy the mine and add it to the roster of state recreational sites.

Sound familiar? That’s because this scenario also played out five years ago.

“It’s the exact same situation,” said Cheryl Senter, a part-time Grafton resident who spearheaded attempts to have the state buy the mine in 2018 after it was put up for sale by the family that ran it as a Mecca for amateur rock hounds for six decades. “I’m worried that we can’t get people excited about it again.”

In 2019, the mine was bought by Exciglow LLC, a production company formed by two men based in New York City, after the state declined to get involved. At the time there were reports of plans to keep it open to the public but nothing has come of it.

Now the property up has been put up for foreclosure auction, leading to concerns that it will be bought by a private entity and remain closed to the public.

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New Hampshire Preservation Alliance has put the mine on its Seven To Save list of endangered historic sites and says New Hampshire State Parks “is looking into the feasibility of such a purchase.”

Ruggles Mine is a massive deposit of an igneous rock known as pegmatite which over millions of years cooled to hold not just mica but also amethyst, feldspar, quartz, garnet and uraninite, prized by collectors of radioactive rocks. Reports of stone being collected there date to the 1770s but its history really began in 1803 when Boston businessman Sam Ruggles bought the site and began mining mica in commercial amounts. 

After Ruggles sold it, the mine went through a few hands. In the early 20th century, the company Bon Ami mined feldspar from the site as an abrasive for their scouring powder during World War II. The U.S. government surveyed the site for mica to use in radar systems.

In 1961, after commercial mining had ended, Geraldine and ArvidWahlstrom purchased Ruggles Mine for $20,000 and transformed it into the attraction that thousands of New Hampshire residents remember today. They let rockhounds chip away at the walls to collect their own samples, whether they were kids in school groups or micromounters, who study minerals that require the use of a microscope, and sold samples in the gift shop.

The mine became the best-known attraction in and around Grafton, a town that has struggled economically. The town strongly supported a state purchase back in 2019.

An online petition has been started to support a purchase by the state.

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