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The Landscape of Redding, Connecticut (CT): Geology  

Quick Links: The Rocks, The Soil, Branchville Mine, Redding Garnets

The Rocks:
The geological character of the town was described as metamorphic by the Rev. John Dickinson. Granite, porphyritic rock and especially micaceous schist pre-dominated minerals as are familiar in such rock as hornblende, garnet, kyanite and tremolite. One needs not travel far to find Redding's rock outcroppings. Out the backdoor of most any household you will find the "chiseled" results of natures splendor. The most dramatic geologic masses can be seen along the Falls Trail in the Saugatuck River Nature Reserve, the Great Ledge in Devil's Den, and on "Indian's Lookout" in The Rock Lot/Scott's Preserve. 

On a recent walk in Devil's Den, local historian Roy Spies explained that the Wisconsin III glacer halted in this area, and in melting dropped much of the rock we see here today; existing bedrock was scrapped of its soil cover as the glacer moved across the land. He also mentioned that much of the rich soil within the glacer was washed out to Long Island providing that region with near perfect soil for planting.

Magnesian limestone could be found in the western part of town and was said to be quite pure. The mining of limestone in town took place in and around Limkiln and Lonetown. Just outside of town off Route 53 in Bethel, CT a limestone quarry lives on today as a swimming hole named fittingly "The Quarry". A rather famous mine can be found on Mountain Road. Here is a bit of its history:

Branchville Mica Mine

The "World Famous" Branchville Mica mine lies in the town of Redding on Mountain Road, 550 ft. N.E. of the Branchville railroad station.

The first excavation in the Branchville Mine was made about 1876 by Abijiha N. Fillow, then owner of the property. Fillow was mining for mica. The mica recovered was then considered of inferior quality, and operations ceased sometime before the spring of 1878. At that time, George J. Brush and Edward S. Dana, both of Yale University, became so enthused about the new minerals at Branchville that they engaged Fillow to excavate the deposit with funds furnished by Yale.

The results of these excavations gained the mine worldwide fame as (9) rare minerals (eight were discovered for the first time in the history of science) were mined at this unique location:

(A) Lithiophilite, maganese-iron phosphate, its name indicates its lithium content.
(B) Natrophilite, sodium-manganese phosphate, its name indicates a high sodium content.
(C) Dickinsonite, hydrated acid phosphate of sodium and manganese. Named in honor of Rev. Dickinson, formerly of Redding, CT.
(D) Fillowite, a hydrated acid phosphate of sodium, manganese, iron and calcium. Named in honor of A.N. Fillow of Branchville, CT
(E) Fairfieldite, a hydrated phosphate of calcium. Named in honor of Fairfield, CT
(F) Eosphorite, a hydrated basis phosphate of aluminum with iron and manganese. Named from the Greek in allusion to its pink color.
(G) Reddingite, hydrated phosphate of manganese and iron. Named in honor of Redding township.
(H) Tripoidite, basis phosphate of manganese and iron. Named in allusion to its resemblance to triplite in physical character and composition.

Information regarding these minerals appeared in scientific journals from 1878 to 1890 launching Brush and Dana's careers and one would hope- Fillow's real estate property value.

The World Famous Branchville Mica Mine Today (2006)

In 1880 the Union Porcelain Works of Greenpoint, New York, bought the property from Fillow and operated it for feldspar and quartz until 1891. The principal use for feldspar was in the ceramic industry. Other uses included enameling for metal, glazes, and abrasives in soaps. At this time the mine was renamed "The Smith Mine". Fillow stayed on as supervisor of mining operations but resigned one year later. As a stipulation in the sale, all unused minerals were to be placed at the disposal of Brush and Dana.

Next the Bridgeport Wood Finishing Company of Bridgeport & later New Milford, Connecticut, operated for quartz and feldspar at the mine as well as other locations in the Branchville area from 1891 to 1917. These "other" areas included Mountain Rd., Pine Mountain Rd. and parts of the land we now refer to as the Scott Preserve/Rock Lot. Deeds indicate Jesse Fillow leased a 3-acre triangular piece to the BWFC at 32 Mountain Rd. in 1911, BWFC transferred it to Gininone Di Giavanni in 1914. BWFC also leased a 4-acre tract from John Barrett in 1911 at 34 Mountain Rd. for "the purpose of searching for quartz or silica; of conducting mining and quarrying operations and of recovering from here any quartz or silica…" Details also note "BWFC has the right to renew this agreement on the same terms and conditions for a further period of 10 years upon written notice..." the mining operation called for the removal of 100 gross tons of quartz or silica. More specifically "if 100 gross tons of quartz or silica are not mined or quarried, as now contemplated by said parties within any year during the continuance of this agreement…then these presents and everything contained therein shall cease and be forever null and void."

"Silex" was the trade name for quartz sand, a form of silica BWFC used extensively in making paste wood fillers; it is chemically inert, does not absorb moisture or shrink and can be stained to match any finish. Unfortunately for its workers it was also extremely damaging to the lungs. BWFC was in business from 1876 to 1917 when it was purchased by DuPont.

In addition to Bridgeport Wood Finishing Co. the properties in and around the mine were leased to several other individuals and companies in this time frame. For example, a June of 1897 lease between BWFC and William Haaker for 65 acres of land in Redding and Ridgefield, provided BWFC the right to mine for quartz and feldspar, and specifically stated that Haaker only had the right to quarry granite. In 1907 Haaker leased the same parcel to Traylor Manufacturing and Mining Co. of New Jersey for the purpose of mining quartz and feldspar for a period of 5 years. In 1914, Anna Haaker leased the same parcel to Monarch Mining Co, formerly Traylor Manufacturing and Mining Company. Traylor Manufacturing and Mining Company incorporated in 1907 with capital stock of $20,000 and one year later would increase that stock to $50,000 and change their name to Monarch Mining Company.

Branchville Mine. Town Road shown to the right is Mountain Road.
Pine Mountain Road now runs to the north of the mine today.
*Sure wish I had a larger version of this map but at this point this is all that's available.

J. Frank Schairer located 31 different minerals at the mine in 1926. It was part of his research work on "The Minerals of Connecticut." He collected the data while he was at Yale.

From September 1943 to November 1944, Fred and Joseph Burrone and Carlo Rusconi, all of North Branford, Connecticut, operated the mine for mica, and the Sandy Ridge Mica and Mining Company, Inc., 927 15th Street N. W., Washington, D. C., worked the mine in November and December 1944. Also in 1944, detailed studies of the geology were made as part of the strategic-minerals investigations of the United States Geological Survey.

Sheet and scrap were the two types of mica mined. Sheet mica was used primarily for insulating electrical equipment. Specifically it was used in spark plugs, lamp sockets, radio apparatus, fuse boxes, heating devices and telephones.

Scrap mica was used for roofing, wallpaper, paints, for filler in rubber such as automobile tires, and lubricants. The demand for sheet mica during World War II induced operators to work the long dormant mine in 1943 and 1944.

After1944 the mine was sporadically operated until 1954.

The last attempt to reopen the mine was made in 1979 by geologist, Michael DeLuca but his request was turned down by the zoning commission.

About Mica:

The word "mica" is thought to be derived from the Latin word micare, meaning to shine, in reference to the brilliant appearance of this mineral (especially when in small scales).

Mica is found abundantly throughout Asia, Africa, as well as North and South America. Until the 19th century, mica was quite rare and expensive as a result of the limited supply in Europe. However, its price dramatically dropped when large reserves were found and mined in Africa and South America after the early 19th century.

Mica has a high dielectric strength and excellent chemical stability, making it a favored material for manufacturing capacitors for radio frequency applications. It has also been used as an insulator in high voltage electrical equipment.

Specific varieties of mica include:

  • Biotite
  • Muscovite
  • Lepidolite
  • Phlogopite

Mica is a general term for a large group of minerals, hydrous silicates of aluminum and potassium, often containing magnesium, ferrous iron, ferric iron, sodium, and lithium and more rarely containing barium, chromium, and fluorine. All crystallize in the monoclinic system, but mica is most commonly found in the form of scales and sheets. All the micas have an excellent basal cleavage, splitting into very thin, elastic laminae. Some varieties are transparent; resistance to heat is high.

Commercially, the most important micas are muscovite (potassium mica) and phlogopite (magnesium mica).

Muscovite, the commoner variety, is usually colorless, but it may be red, yellow, green, brown, or gray, with a vitreous to pearly luster. It occurs in granites, syenites, mica schists, and gneisses, but is most common in pegmatite dikes. It is widely distributed.

Phlogopite varies in color from yellow to brown, some specimens having a coppery tint and others being greenish. It occurs in crystalline limestones, dolomites, and serpentines in Canada, New York, New Jersey, and Finland.

Mica mining, because of the necessity of keeping the crystals intact, is a delicate operation; drills and blasting powder must be used carefully, if at all. The mined crystals are first “cobbed,” i.e., roughly trimmed of rock and cut, then split with a hammer into plates, and further split into sheets with a knife.

Sheet mica is used as an insulating material and as a resonant diaphragm in certain acoustical devices.

Scrap and ground mica is used in wallpaper, fancy paint, ornamental tile, roofing, lubricating oil, and Christmas-tree snow.

Ground mica is sometimes pressed into sheets (micanite) that can be used as sheet mica.

Most of the sheet mica used in the United States is imported, chiefly from India and also from Brazil. Synthetic mica was produced in the United States after intensive government-sponsored research began in 1946.

Ridgefield/Branchville Station in the 1850's

Granite Mining in Branchville:

Abijiha N. Fillow's Branchville Mica Mine was by-far the "magnetic force" that attracted mining companies and geologists to the area. However, as the map above shows 20 years prior to the discoveries at Fillow's mine, Philo Bates' Ridgefield Granite Works was operating out of the station area. In land records regarding properties on Mountain Rd., Philo W. Bates is listed in 1875 as owning land "East" of 32 Mountain Rd. and in 1890 as conveying a 20 acre parcel to Abijiha Fillow at 34 Mountain Rd. which would place at least a portion of his mining areas on Mountain Rd. and in the areas of the Scott Preserve/Rock Lot.

Little is known about the Ridgefield Granite Works aside from the 1856 Clark's Map reference and land records of properties owned by Philo W. Bates but it is presumed that it was a successful business given the span of time it operated in the area. Also appearing on the 1856 station map as a business is Walter Bates, mason and builder, which very likely involved a joint-venture with the Granite Works.

Fillow's home or business shown in the 1850's down on what is now West Branchville Road. This map is a close up of Branchville Station (branchline would come in 1870). Road running behind A.N. Fillow is Mountain Road. The business next to Fillow is of interest, Ridgefield Granite Works, location of busines may shed some light on who was responsible for the
mining evidence up in the Scott's Preserve/Rock Lot.

About Granite

Granite is the name used for a variety of light-colored, coarse-grained igneous rocks. Orthoclase (potassium) feldspar is typically the most abundant mineral in granite and significant amounts of quartz and plagioclase feldspar are generally present as well. Minor minerals include muscovite mica, biotite mica, hornblende and others.

The coarse grain size of granite indicates a slow rate of cooling that occurred below the earth's surface. The insulating effect of the surrounding rock caused the magma to crystallize very slowly. The slow cooling allowed the mineral grains adequate time to grow to a large size.

Because it crystallizes "at depth" Granite exposed at the surface indicates a location where deep erosion has taken place.

Granite is a very strong, durable stone and is used in a variety of ways. Its attractive appearance makes it useful as an architectural stone. It is also widely used in monuments, grave markers, stair treads, counter tops, window sills, street curbing and other dimension stone uses.

Granite is also used in the form of crushed stone or aggregate. Granite aggregate is mainly used for road construction and maintenance, however there are many other uses which include concrete, landscaping stone and paving. The U.S. Geological Survey estimates that granite accounts for about 16% of the United States crushed stone production, behind limestone and dolomite.

What Created The Mining Scars Found on Granite Rocks in and around Branchville?

Hand drilling was the method used by quarry miners to extract granite blocks from the landscape. Hand drilling helps remove rock three ways: (1) A rock may be split into chunks of manageable size by steel drilled into a natural seam; (2) If the steel in the seam does not split the rock by itself, the hole may be fitted with the wedge and feathers. The wedge is driven between the feathers with a hammer until the rock breaks; (3) Finally a hole may be used to prepare a rock for blasting. In general, the larger the rocks, the more likely you will use explosives to move them. Although hand drilling was slow work, it was a safe and simple way to chisel out granite blocks and/or prepare the rocks for blasting.

Old drill holes are now filled with moss (middle of photo along crack)

The driller drives the steel by methodical hammering and turning. When the hammer strikes the head of the steel, the bit is forced against the rock. After each blow of the hammer, the driller turns the steel slightly and strikes it again. With each blow the bit chips small amounts of rock that collect in the hole as "drilling dust." The driller removes the dust by adding water to the hole, which creates a mud that sticks to the sides of the steel. To clear the mud, the driller removes the steel and raps it against the rock. The procedure is continued until the hole is deep enough; longer steel is substituted as the hole lengthens.

Lone drill hole with another one started to the left of it.

The steel is manipulated with one hand while the other hand hammers (single jacking), or the steel is manipulated by two hands while another person hammers (double jacking).

Ambidexterity was very helpful for the single jack driller because he could work longer by shifting the hammer from one hand to the other to distribute the work. In double jacking one or two drillers hit a drilling steel with large sledge hammers while a holder turned the steel slightly after each blow. As the hole deepened, the holder substituted longer steels in a way that did not interrupt the driller's disciplined rhythm.

Redding Garnets from "The Rock Hound" Redding Times, 1955

Some of the finest garnets in Connecitcut came from a garnet vein in Redding. A Mr. Lloyd writing to the editor of the Amercian Journal of Science dated Weston Conn. May 27, 1820 says: "Garnet Rock or the precipice in and about which Garnets are found in abundance and perfection is situated one mile and a half south of the Congregational Meeting house in the Town of Redding and about one half mile west of the junction of the two large branches of the Saugatuck River, which unite a short distance above the south boundary of the Town of Redding. The northwest branch of the Saugatuck River runs a winding course in a southerly direction at the foot of the hill on the top of which are the rocks under consideration. On top of the hill and at the base of these rocks on the south east side the Garnets will be seen by the most inattentive observer, projecting from the rocks in a manner resembling musket balls shot halfway into a board."

These large red garnet crystals are not as easy to find today as they were in 1820. This is due in part to man's development of the river areas in this vicinity and the destruction of some of the better collecting grounds.

Fine cinnamon brown garnet crystals are also found in Redding and could be seen in museums and private mineral collections all over the world.

The various well-colored, transparent garnets are cut as gem stones, the rough granets are used as an abrasive.

Ronald E. Januzzi

The Soil:

The Redding area experienced glaciation in recent geologic time(1.5 million years ago) the last glacier believed to have receded 10 to 15 thousand years ago according to Former Wetlands Officer for the Conservation Commission, Stanley Schleifer.
New England soils are very close in composition to their parent rock. This is due largely to the fact that weather and vegetation has not had adequate time to breakdown the minerals as it has in unglaciated regions. Minerals are as prevalent in the soil as they are in the bedrock that has yielded it. The topsoil layer that exists averages a depth of 2 1/2" to 8", a depth that would be suitable for agriculture if not for the boulders and larger rocks scattered through it. Some areas contain a sub-soil that makes cultivation possible. This topsoil mixes with approximately 10 centimeters of  sub-soil and gives the appearance of a thicker soil than actually exists.

Soil is generally thought of as a mixture of particles of three different sizes: sand, silt, and clay. In New England, however, we cannot overlook the particles larger than sand size, such as pebbles, stones, and cobbles. Although these larger particles do not contribute very much to the physical and chemical properties of the soil, they do play a crucial role in determining whether or not the soil is fit for agriculture, no matter how suitable it is otherwise.

When sand, silt, and clay are present in about equal amounts, the soil is known as loam. Usually, one or another predominates and the soil is then further classified as sandy loam, silt loam, or clay loam.

Southern New England is now about 60 to 75% woodland. Most of the soils are too sandy, stony, or wet for cultivation. In fact, probably less than 15% of the area now in woodland is potential cropland.

Soil maps of most of southern New England resemble intricately sewn patchwork quilts, showing soils often of widely differing properties existing in close proximity. Such a condition makes modern farming almost impossible.

Click below to continue on reading about the landscape:

Bodies of Water

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