New York claims many famous “firsts” and “bests,” but one of its lesser known may be its sparkling natural endowment — the Empire State boasts the world’s biggest and strongest garnets. In 1969, Governor Nelson Rockefeller proclaimed the garnet the official New York State gem.
Around 1790, the Adirondacks town of Johnsburg was settled by New York City merchant John Thurman. What followed was the establishment of creekside grist and saw mills, a distillery, textile factories, tanneries, a logging industry, and garnet mines in Gore Mountain.
The garnets found within Gore Mountain are superlative in both their size — they comprise the world’s largest garnet formations — and their density — they are uniquely 12-sided and the hardest garnets on earth. The Barton Garnet Mines on Gore Mountain were founded by Henry Hudson Barton in 1878, and remain the oldest family-owned and operated mines in the United States. From the mid-1800s through the early 1900s, these hardy stones were extracted primarily for their use as abrasives in products like sandpaper, an essential tool in the woodworking industry. In the 20th century, Adirondack garnets were utilized in the glass grinding process.
The Barton company moved operations to nearby Ruby Mountain in 1982, and modernized their business model. The garnets they mine are now used in Abrasive Waterjet Cutting technology. Nevertheless, visitors can still explore the old Gore Mountain mine site of one of the world’s richest garnet deposits, and even take some gemstones home as souvenirs with a visit to Barton Garnet Mines.
Travelers can also explore the abandoned Hooper Mine site on Garnet Hill, which was operational from 1908 to 1928. In another New York claim to fame, Frank Cyrus Hooper, the founder and manager of his eponymous Hooper Mine, studied at The School of Mines at Columbia University in New York City, which was the first mining and metallurgy school in the United States.
How fitting that one of the official New York State symbols is as sturdy as the people themselves.
Photo Credit: Audra Herman for New York Makers