The Neda drift mine is located in the "Iron Ridge" a 3.5 mile westward facing segment of the Niagara Escarpment located in Dodge County, Wisconsin. The elevation of the site is approximately 1100 ft. above sea level. The Niagara Escarpment is a limestone rock shelf that extends under the Great Lakes basin. This is the western most exposure, and has the largest concentration of iron ore.
The iron ore itself is of two types. The majority is a fine grained "seed ore" (a marine oolitic deposit) composed of small flattened spheres of about 1mm diameter. The ore is about 70% peroxide of iron giving it a metal content of about 50% iron. Various trace elements are also found, about 4% aluminum, 3% magnesium, and other non-metallic elements. The ore body also contains a hard ore of a similar makeup. The seed ore is soft and greasy feeling and will crumble in your hand (while staining it and your clothing red). This ore was very easy to dig out, but it's soft composition is one of the factors that makes the mine so unstable today.
The ore body is overlaid with about 30 feet of limestone (Mayville Dolomite). The ore body varies in thickness from just a red stain between rock layers up to in excess of 30 feet. Generally the ore body at the drift mine site is about 8 to 12 feet in thickness. Under the ore body is a layer of Brainard Shale, this shale contains many marine fossils.
The drift mine was dug into a limestone cliff of up to 65 feet in height. This 1910 photo shows cliff as it appeared at that time. At the present the area is completely wooded. If it were not for a few signs and a fence a passerby would not know the mine's location.
This map shows the drift mine tunnels largely as they exist today. It was prepared by Bill Zarwell and Edward Arters. The drawing has been flipped for presentation, the bottom of the drawing is West as shown. The estimated length of the mine tunnels is about 4 miles. The southern most tunnels are from the earliest period.
This photo from about 1910 shows an entrance to the Drift Mine while the mine was being worked. A narrow gauge rail system was set up in the mine to accommodate the mule pulled ore cars. This is the mine where the Neda Mine Bat Hibernaculum is located. The mine was opened in 1864 and closed in June of 1914, the shaft mine closed in 1928 and the "paint" mine in 1937.
Miners from about 1910. Many of the miners where from eastern Europe and had a sometimes uneasy relationship between themselves and the other local people. Some contemporary newspaper reports refer to them as "mostly foreigners".
The Mayville Iron Company was the largest iron related facility in the area. It was closed in 1928 due to the transition of industry from iron to steel and the increasing rail freight rates. For much of the life of the plant it had received a majority of it's iron ore from upper Michigan, northern Wisconsin, and Minnesota. At the time the plant closed only 15% of the ore was of local origin. The buildings were demolished during the depression as part of a government works project.
Pig Iron ingots. Floor space near the iron smelter was covered with sand. Channels were cut in the sand and the liquid iron was poured into the channels forming the ingots shown here. The bars were cut apart while the iron was still soft.
There were three iron mines operating in the area, a pit mine, a shaft mine, and a drift mine. This picture is of a hoisting derrick that was located over a vertical shaft in the Shaft Mine. The shaft mine filled with water when the mine was closed and pumping was discontinued. The shaft mine has been capped for safety and is not accessible.
This is a picture of the Pit Mine while it was being worked. There were two pit mines in the area, the one shown here, as well as the "paint pit". The paint pit was the last mine to close as it was the least expensive to operate. The ore from the paint pit mine was of a lower grade but was easy to extract and was suitable for making paint pigment. The ore was ground between millstones and mixed with linseed oil to make a reddish brown paint that was used on such items as barns and railroad cars. The paint was produced by the "Winters Metallic Paint Co." which closed in 1937.
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Historical photographs and information are from "When Iron Was King" © 1993 by George G. Frederick, published by The Mayville Historical Society, Inc. ISBN 0-9638443-0-X under license from the author unless otherwise noted. The book is out of print, so interested users should ask their local library to locate a copy through inter-library loan. If they wish to purchase a copy, they can look for a used copy at a larger used book store or at a site on the internet. Items used by permission of the author.
Further information and original artifacts are on display in the "Iron Country" room at the Mayville Limestone School Museum, 215 N. Main Street, in Mayville, WI. The museum's website can be accessed at Mayville Limestone School Museum The museum is open to the public on the 1st and 3rd Sunday afternoons from 1:30 - 4:30 pm, beginning May 4 and ending October 19, 2003. For museum information, call: (920) 387 2593. Other special tours can be arranged to accommodate visitors on different dates or times. You may contact the "Iron Country" curator at firstname.lastname@example.org
George Frederick is available to make slide presentations to school, church, and civic groups. The presentations can be customized for the age and interests of the audience as well as the time allotted. The minimum cost for a presentation is $50.00. Presentations that are outside of the local Mayville Wisconsin USA area may require additional travel expenses.