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Maine Feldspar, Families, and Feuds

English Language: English

Edited by: Vandall “Van” King

Maine Feldspar, Families, and Feuds

“My father worked in the mines!” In parts of Maine, this is a statement of a little known heritage. Maine mineral mining is not a polluting industry, partly because much of the action has involved gems, mica, or feldspar. You rarely hear a complaint about gemstone runoff. Inland, as well as coastal, Maine has been the source of aquamarine, tourmaline, amethyst, gold, mica, and feldspar.

Gemstones from Maine are well-known, but the lust for feldspar was also real, because it also meant money. There was never a huge profit in this mineral and tiny amounts of money still created conflicts, predatory relationships between mills and workers, and sometimes tore apart families. There is more myth than fact in most reports of Maine mining. This is a hard-core look at Maine feldspar mining and the people who struggled to make a living from it. This history is also the story of people and events in Oxford County, and the rest of Maine, starting in the late nineteenth century leading up to modern times. The perspective is that of the common man. Many have thought that boys could walk up to a hill and find a fortune, while some have envisioned mining as worker ants clawing into the Earth. The truth is in between.

The author has been an “insider” actively researching Maine mining industry, from a variety of perspectives, for over 30 years. This book is part of a series which discovers the story behind the story. There is a great deal of Maine mining folklore, which is no more than hearsay, however there is a “paper trail”. Revisionist historians in the nineteenth century did much to cloud the record, trying to diminish their competitors triumphs, while aggrandizing themselves, and only through the pursuit of primary sources has a factual picture emerged. One thing has remained constant: life was a struggle “then” and life is a struggle “now”.

The mining heritage of Maine is an intriguing saga of in-state and out-of-state influences. While Maine's gem mining began about 1821, more industrial uses of her minerals came by mid-nineteenth century. Both feldspar and mica were worth mining. The "Golden Age" of feldspar in Maine was from about 1902 through 1970 and for about twenty years the State was the largest feldspar producer in the nation.
During this time, few people got rich, but there were people who thought they should be. Family quarrels erupted over trivial amounts of money. Companies tried to maximize their profits on the backs of a poorly paid class of miners. Bankruptcies were as common as successes. Throughout these struggles, Maine did achieve a prominent status for minerals which endures today despite the collapse of the industry. Mining had been a way of life for many in Oxford County. There were shining knights among the scoundrels and their legacy maintains the international status of Maine's mineral reputation. Primarily, the story of the feldspar and mica deposits is the realm of naturalists and scientists today. More importantly the stories of the families who were involved comprise the real history.

About the editor:

Vandall “Van” King is a native of Skowhegan, Maine. He obtained degrees in geology from the University of Maine at Orono and from the State University of New York. He first became interested in natural history at age 9. He is the author, co-author, or editor of 18 books concerning minerals including the Mineralogy of Maine in two volumes and several systematic works including Dana’s System of Mineralogy and Minerals and Their Localities. He has also written over 225 articles on minerals and history.
Van is currently a consulting mineralogist. He is also a management editor of the international mineralogy database, Mindat.

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