How the Sterling Hill Mine Came to Be
In the 1600s, copper and iron became sought-after by early Dutch settlers. Initially it was thought that the zinc minerals at Sterling Hill and Franklin contained iron and copper. Several attempts were made to extract iron and copper and some of the rock was even sent to Wales in 1772 for smelting where they discovered that neither iron nor copper could be extracted from the minerals found at Sterling Hill and Franklin. The predominant minerals were finally identified to be rich in the element zinc, and in 1836 several small companies began mining, triggering quite a few land disputes. In 1897 the New Jersey Zinc Company consolidated the properties and began a major operation for the extraction of zinc. The mine operated continuously until 1986, first as an open pit south of the gift shop and later as an underground mine, which reached a depth of 2,675 feet below the surface and had 35 miles of tunnels. The entire mine is now flooded and only the upper level, which is above the water table, is open to the public.
After the mine closed, due to rising production costs and the falling prices of zinc, Ogdensburg foreclosed on the property for back taxes. In 1989 brothers Richard and Robert Hauck purchased the land at auction, determined to turn it into a museum and share this unique mine’s treasures with the public. The Museum opened in the early 1990s as a privately owned attraction and then was transformed into a non-profit educational foundation, which is managed by a Board of Trustees and CEO Bill Kroth. In1991 the Museum was designated a National Historic site. It houses the largest collection of fluorescent minerals in the world.
Since its opening, the Museum has added new exhibits annually to fulfill its mission “to tell the story of Sterling Hill and to inspire learning about earth sciences, engineering, history and the responsible use of the Earth’s non-renewable resources”. The Museum awards several scholarships a year to local students, who pursue STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) careers. It also does research on the composition of over 350 minerals that have been found here and at the neighboring Franklin zinc mine, which closed in 1954. . A number of these minerals are found nowhere else on Earth.