The Times - Philadelphia

August 2, 1882
[page 4]



Operations In the Old Montgomery County Shafts to be Renewed
How the Copper Veins were Discovered and the Mines Worked and at Last Deserted

The once famous copper mines in Montgomery County are to be reopened at an early day, and the handful of old-fashioned people who live in Shannonville predict that that comatose little village will soon become as prosperous as it was when five hundred Cornish, Welsh and Irish miners swarmed in the workings tapped by the Acton and Perkiomen shafts.

These mines were the first prominent and most productive in Pennsylvania, but the original managers stopped operations during the early part of the rebellion [Civil War], owing to the cost of shipping the ore to Boston and Baltimore to be smelted. Arrangements have now been made by which the ore will be smelted at Phoenixville, three or four miles from the shafts. At present the workings are so flooded that it is thought two months’ pumping, night and day, will have to be done before any ore is taken out.

Nearly half a century ago Israel Hewitt, an ex-Devonshire copper miner, who was employed as a laborer in Montgomery County, found a chunk of copper ore in a field near Shannonville. Following up the discovery he found where a rich vein of yellow sulphuretted ore cropped out on the farm of Mathew Dill, on the Egypt road, a quarter of a mile from the hamlet named. Hewitt went to New York and, it is said, sold his secret to an English capitalist for $500. A mineralogist was at once sent to Montgomery Ccounty, and he reported that the vein Hewitt found was all the original discoverer had represented.


Shortly after the mineralogist appeared in Shannonville it was rumored through the county that a rich find of gold had been made on old man Dill’s farm. Sheffield promptly suppressed the rumor by assuring the public that only a deposit of iron had been found. One farmer, suspecting that Sheffield was not telling the truth, secretly purchased a controlling interest in the mineral rights of the farm from Mr. Dill and in that way obtained a footing in the mining company afterwards formed by Sheffield and half a dozen others. Ground was broken at once for the Acton shaft on the left side of the Egypt road and for the Perkiomen shaft on the opposite side of the highway. When down thirty feet the first vein was struck. At seventy feet another and richer vein was found, and two others were struck before the shafts reached their present depth of 360 feet. Expensive fans, pumps and other machinery for the workings were purchased in England, and power houses, washing mills and other buildings were erected near the mouths of the shafts.

Three hundred skilled copper miners from Cornwall, Devonshire and Wales were imported and got to work, and later two hundred more came, and the ore was turned out in astonishing quantities, particularly from the lower levels, where the vein was fattest.


From a cluster of two dwelling houses, a tavern, a store and a blacksmith shop Shannonville became as prosperous a village as there was in the country, for as one of the oldest inhabitants said yesterday: "Them miners didn't care no more for a five dollar gold piece than I did for a fig." The ore after being washed and culled was hauled to the canal, five or six miles distant, and shipped to Philadelphia, from where it was sent to Boston or Baltimore to be smelted, and notwithstanding the cost of handling and the heavy freight bills the company made a great deal of money—so much money, in fact, that shortly before the [Civil] war a rival company was founded in Norristown, but it amounted to nothing.

One of the chief difficulties the owners of the Shannonville mines experienced was to keep them free from water. So many springs were struck in the mines that it is said when the pumps stopped one night that it would be impossible to work in the lower levels for several hours on the following morning. By constant pumping, however, and the driving of a waist-away tunnel that tapped the lower workings the place was kept dry enough for the men to work full time. After eight years’ successful work the expenses became so heavy that some of the company became dissatisfied and the mines were closed and remained so for several years. The difficulties were patched up again in 1863 or 1864, the water was pumped out of the mines, and in a few months copper was being taken out as before.


There was no trouble for a year, but at the end of that time some of the company charged the others with bad management and attributed the smallness of the profits to the expensive manner in which the operations were conducted. The miners were called up from the workings and paid off and since then not a pound of copper ore has been taken out of the shafts.

Five or six years ago there was some talk of culling the waste piles and selling the large quantity of ore they contain, but it was never done. The machinery, except the big pumps, was removed several years ago, but the place is carefully guarded by Jackson and Thomas Bevin, who live in cottages near by and make it unpleasant for trespassers. The workings are now filled with water, the buildings are rapidly approaching dilapidation, and Shannonville can boast of no greater population than it had before Hewitt made his find half a hundred years ago.

This 1882 article makes no mention of earlier lead mining on the south side of Egypt Road, which was owned by the Audubon family, and which John James Audubon was supposed to supervise when he first came to the United States.

Follow this link to view a circa-1950 map of Mill Grove, John James Audubon's home in 1803.

--Mike Szilagyi


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