Soon after the first settlers arrived in New Jersey, some of them began searching for minerals that would make them rich. The chance discovery of copper ores in the early l700s sparked the hope that vast fortunes might be found under Jersey's soil, but little ever came of the many holes and trenches bored into the mountains. Early mining methods were crude, drainage was a constant problem and the ore extracted was of low grade. What copper was mined in Colonial days was quarried from surface pits or short tunnels. Enough copper was mined from a seam near Bound Brook during the Middlebrook Encampment to mold a small brass cannon later used at the siege of Yorktown.
Interest in copper mining revived in the l840s, the l860sand again between l900 and l9l0, leading to huge expenditures and no profits. Prof. G. H. Cook, the State Geologist of New Jersey, wrote in l868 that most copper mines were worked by companies more interested in selling stock than mining.
With one notable exception, all of New Jersey's copper mines are located in areas of Triassic outcrop, that is, places where igneous material of the Triassic Period known as trap rock touches the red shale sedimentary rocks of the Newark series. In those areas, in positions of structural irregularity, chalcopyrite, a compound sulphite of iron and copper, occurs as small grains and individual crystals scattered through veins. Cuprite chrysocolla, malachite and azurite are also found in most New Jersey copper mines.
One of the more dramatic manifestations of Triassic copper are huge agglomerates found occasionally in the mines. Bridgewater's Van Veghten House proudly displays an example, probably from the Chimney Rock mines.
The Triassic Watchung Mountains, which sprawl in an arc from Pluckemin and Chimney Rock northeast through Essex County to Paterson and the Ramapo fault, were once pocked with scores of copper mines. The State Geologist reported in l902 that he had counted 21 old workings in an area stretching westward 4.5 miles from Chimney Rock.
Perhaps the most famous local copper mine was at Chimney Rock, in Bridgewater, where a nugget of copper said to weigh l28 pounds was found before the Civil War. Much work was done there between 1821 and l835 and old mines dotted both sides of the Middle Brook gorge. On the east side of the gorge there is an abandoned tunnel 300 feet in length. On the west side there once was a tunnel said to have reached 700 feet into the mountain.
Further north, at the Stony Brook gorge which cuts through First Mountain in what is now Watchung but was part of Warren until l872, extensive exploration was undertaken in the early l800s. Two companies were at work there at the time of the Civil War, the Green Valley Copper Mining Co. on the east side and the N.J. Copper Mining Co, on the west side, and quantities of low grade ore were shipped to Bergen Point. When the State Geologist visited the site in l866, tunnels and drifts of several hundred feet had been opened on both sides of the gorge, the longest nearly 400 feet. Warren's reputation as a center of copper mining was well-known in the early l9th century. Thomas F. Gordon, in his Gazetteer of the State of New Jersey published in l834, devotes nearly half of his article about Warren Township to its copper: "These hills are... composed of trap rock...(and) contain veins of copper ore, apparently, very rich, and said to be valuable not only for the copper they contain, but also for their gold. Several efforts have been made to work them, but none have been successfully prosecuted. Mines have been opened within 2 miles N.E. of Somerville, which were lately wrought by Mr. Cammams and Dr. Stryker, who have suspended their operations; others, within a mile of the village of Green Brook, and six of Somerville, were worked some 40 years ago." (Barber's reference to "gold" is not fanciful: Traces of gold as well as silver occur naturally in Triassic copper, which is generally slightly argentiferous.)
On May 14, l928, the Plainfield Courier-News carried an article under the headline, "Copper Mines in Warrenville and Watchung Once Busy Scenes; Some Ore Remains."
"Historic Watchung and Warrenville, rich in Indian and Revolutionary War legends, yielded tons of copper from three mines at one time and at least one of these still could be made to produce.
"Two of the mines have been in disuse for at least 75 years and neither of them, it is felt, contain anything of value. Sites of these are located near Somerset St. about l00 yards above the Somerset St.-Watchung Ave. fork.
"The third mine, located on the Hofheimer estate, is believed, however, still to be workable. Operated by a Plainfield man during the Civil War, it was reopened in l883 by the Rev. George Bowers...[for many years pastor of Trinity United Church.]
"John Bowers of North Plainfield, son of the late Rev. Mr. Bowers, recalls that samples of the ore, mined at the reopening, were shown to contain 4 percent of copper as well as flakes of platinum and gold.
"The firm which assayed the ore for my father, Mr. Bowers recollected, also told him the mine contained a valuable spring of lithia water. [Ed. Note: Lithia water is a mineral water containing lithium salts.]
"The Rev. Mr. Bowers and a mine owner formed a temporary partnership to work the mine but they later became convinced the only profitable program of operation would include the erection of a smelting plant on the property.
"This at the time represented too expensive a venture for the men. The Rev. Mr. Bowers' partner was deeply involved in keeping his other mines operating.
"When the Hofheimer family purchased the property in l915, the mine site was flooded and landscaped as a rock pool. The pool and its surroundings are now regarded as the loveliest garden spot in Warrenville.
"An early owner of the property named Coddington is reported to have discovered the ore while setting fence posts. Mr. Bowers said Coddington thereupon sold the property to a Dr. Field of Plainfield for $10,000.
"Dr. Field is reputed to have made considerable money with the selling of the copper to the U.S. Army for use in war materials. Bowers said he did not know where the ore was smelted but Rev. George Hauser of Warrenville said he heard the ore was taken to Bound Brook for smelting.
"The Plainfield physician profited from the mine but he invested heavily, the story goes, in other enterprises formed to furnish cloth and other materials to the U.S. Army and lost everything at the end of the [Civil War]...."
According to J. Volney Lewis, a geologist who visited the Field-Bowers mine in l906, the works consisted of an old shaft "sunk through Newark shales on top of the trap flow." Today the site, at a spot where the trap rock of the First Mountain begins its southerly ascent from beneath an overlay of red shale, is part of the Elks Lodge property.
Directly behind the Elks Lodge, once Rev. Bowers' home, is the "rock pool" or grotto that was the entrance to the Field-Bowers mine. According to local legend, Bowers' mining operation was aimed more toward the sale of stock that the extraction of copper ore. In any event, some mining actually took place until workers struck a vein of water. When the pumps were unable to empty the mine fast enough, the mine and all of its equipment had to be abandoned. Years later, when the nearby golf course installed a well nearby and pumped it down, the water in the Elks Lodge grotto dropped as well.
The Courier-News' reference to "Dr. Field" is an example of the confusion to which history is prone. Richard R. Field's son, Chauncey M. Field, was a well-known Plainfield surgeon of the late l9th Century, but the father -- the person who actually owned the mine -- was a merchant and real estate investor, not a physician. Descended from the Field family of Bound Brook and Piscataway (after whom Fieldville on the Raritan River was named), Richard R. Field was born in Germantown on March 8, l8l8, the son of Richard I. Field. While in his teens he entered the dry goods business, probably in New York City with his brothers, Benjamin and Jeremiah. About l849 he went to St. Louis with his brother Benjamin, founding the firm of Field, Benedict & Co., later Field Bros., wholesale dealers in tailor's trimmings. In l864 he and his brother returned to Plainfield. Until his death on March 18, l892, Richard R. Field "dealt largely in central New Jersey real estate." For many years an elder in Plainfield's Trinity Reformed Church, Field was, in the words of his obituary, "a man of the highest integrity and purest character."
What little we know about Field indicates not only that he was not a physician but that the Courier-News article has the facts of his involvement in Warren's copper mine reversed. In all likelihood, Field "made considerable money" selling cloth and trimmings to the army in St. Louis during the Civil War, probably overextended himself and "lost everything at the end" of the war. The return to Plainfield in l864 may be the consequence of his business difficulties in Missouri. It was only later, in the l870s, that he invested in the Coddington mine. Field could not have sold "copper to the U.S. Army for war materials" since at the time of the Civil War he was in St. Louis.
Records at the Somerset County Clerk's Office further clarify Field's part in the history of Warren's copper mines. On Aug. 23, l871, Manning F. Coddington and S. Fanny, his wife, sold three tracts of land to Field for $9000. Situated near the lands of Nathaniel Taynor, William Sherwood, Henry Allen, Samuel Pope and David Coon, the tract at the southeast corner of Mountain Blvd. and Warrenville Rd. consisted of about 65 acres. Warren Township tax records of the l870s value the Field property at $3000, indicating either a serious underassessment by the tax assessor or a very bad bargain indeed by Field.
On Feb. 6, l893, little less than a year after Field's death, the Coddington property was sold by the Somerset County Sheriff to satisfy a mortgage held by Isaac N. Field. Isaac purchased the property for $2000, then on Jan. 10, l894, sold it to Peter Bowers for $1800. Clearly, if as the Courier-News states, Rev. George Bowers reopened the mine in l883, he did so as a partner or possibly lessee of Richard R. Field, not as owner.
Interestingly, the Coddington property is not the only land in Warren in which Field had an interest. In November and December l870, Field entered into five mining leases for properties in the area of Dock Watch Hollow and Ferguson Rd. Typical of such leases was that signed by Theodore Brogley on Dec. 6, l870. Brogley leased "all mines and minerals" upon his 28-acre farm to Field for a term of 20 years, granting Field the right to remove ore from the land "with the right also to use, open, maintain and repair any wagon ways necessary or convenient for the prosecution of said mining operations upon said premises, together with the right to erect any buildings or structures for the better conducting and carrying on of such mining operations," provided that such rights were "exercised in a reasonable manner doing no unnecessary injury to said lands." Field was to pay Brogley 25 cents per ton of ore extracted. If digging was not commenced within one year, or, if digging began and then was abandoned for more than six months, the term of the lease would automatically end. Finally, Field agreed that when the lease ended, he would "fill up any holes, excavations or diggings he may have caused to be made on said premises at his own cash and expense."
Similar leases were also executed by Andrew Muntz (38 acres), Jacob Gunton (28 acres), Martin Muntz (43 acres) and George Muntz (67 acres). The records are silent as to whether Field ever opened any mines in Dock Watch Hollow or, if he did, whether he discovered any copper there.
(Ref: Harry & Grace Weiss, The Old Copper Mines of New Jersey, l963; Plainfield Courier-News, 5-14-l928; The Plainfield Constitutionalist, 3-24-l892; F. C. Pierce, Field Genealogy, Vol. II, p. 861; Somerset Co. Clerk's Office, Deeds I4-238, M7-204, Q7-438, F4-l74-l80; additional material by Geo. Bebbington)