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Division of Mineral Mining

Orphan Land Program History

Orphan Land Program History    |    Mining Impacts    |    Report an Orphan Mine

Mining in Virginia has taken place in one form or another since man’s initial habitation of the land. Early mining in Virginia began with the retrieval of flint and stone by American Indians for use as tools, and with the mining of bog iron ore near Jamestown in 1609. The first ironworks were set up in 1619 about 66 miles above Jamestown on the James River. The Virginia ironworks were small local operations using local sources of ore for raw material. The only other metal of any importance in colonial America was lead, which was used mostly for bullets. The Austinville Lead/Zinc Mine in Wythe County, Virginia operated in the 1700’s and was important in the Revolutionary War.

View of Saltville, Virgnia

From Harper’s Weekly, January 14, 1865

Salt mines, located in the town of Saltville, were utilized for preservation purposes during the Civil War. In the 1800’s numerous gold mines existed in Virginia. Shafts were sunk and drifts driven to explore and mine the deposits of gold, copper, iron, lead, and silver. As the mineral deposits in the western U.S. were discovered and found to be richer, Virginia’s metal mines began to close down. The majority of the gold mines in Virginia closed during the Civil War with only minor attempts to reopen them after the war. Other metal mines in Virginia remained viable during this period; the Crimora Mine, the largest producer of manganese in the United States, operated until 1958.

The materials mined in the 1900’s included the only arsenic mined east of the Mississippi River, the Brinton Mine, which operated from 1912-1917. Manganese and iron mining continued throughout the state until production ceased for the most part in the 1950’s. Barite production began in Fauquier County in 1845 and continued also until the mid-1950's. Titanium ore mining and processing continued from the 1940’s to the early 1970’s. The mining of construction materials, which was first documented in the late 1800’s, continues today and includes sand and gravel, granite, limestone, gneiss, and sandstone used for crushed stone, and dimension stone, gypsum, clay, and others. At one time or another, over 50 minerals have been mined in Virginia, contributing greatly to the state’s economy but also sometimes causing adverse impacts on the public’s health and safety, and the environment.

Learn more about historic mining in Virginia »