The summer of 2016 was a bit ho-hum at the Hayes Quarry on Noyes Mountain in Greenwood, where miner Frank Perham had been digging into the granite.
Fast forward to July 1, 2017, and it’s a different story.
“It’s been a beautiful mining summer,” said octogenarian Perham, of West Paris.
Perham had been digging into the pegmatitic granite at Hayes for a couple of years now, working only on weekends when his volunteer crew members are available for the complicated work.
Using a heavy pneumatic drill and blasting with commercial explosives, the crew used excavators to remove tons of tailings and did some of the finer work by hand. Mining stopped in the summer of 2016 and the crew had to wait until after June this year to restart work because the narrow 1½-mile road leading to the mine needed to be repaired to accommodate heavy equipment.
On July 1, “We dug into some of the feldspar with the teeth of the (excavator) bucket, pulled off a piece of rock on the side, and it turned out that we had 85 pounds of beautiful smoky quartz crystals,” Perham said.
“They were in sand and gravel,” he said. “But the crystals came out nice and shiny and they were beautiful. So we knew we were into something.” Some more strokes with the excavator bucket opened up a void in the granite.
Perham christened it the “Mother Mary Pocket,” in honor of his wife.
According to Perham, the sausage-shaped pocket eventually stretched 45 feet from end to end and yielded over three tons of quartz specimens, including many “scepters,” pieces in which a more-recent period of crystallization produces a bulging growth at the termination of an earlier crystal.
Gary Howard, who lives in Bath and has mined at the Consolidated Quarry in Georgetown for 22 years, in addition to multiple locations in Oxford County, said miners who worked in Maine more than a century ago were after feldspar.
Which, he said, “is part of the pegmatite” granite.
“This stuff ended up going down to Ohio and New Jersey and they ground it all up and used it for glazing on dinnerware,” he said. “So because of the old-timers going in and finding these pegmatites, we know right where to look because they weren’t after gemstones.”
Miner Jeff Morrison, who has been successful with recent gem finds at his Havey Quarry in Poland, organized a tailgate party at Havey in early October where about 15 miners and dealers sold minerals to about 200 attendees. Perham did a brisk business there with dozens of specimens from his Mother Mary Pocket.
Gemstones are marketed more elaborately, and Morrison partners with a cutter to provide faceted stones to stores, including Cross Jewelers in Portland.
“Over the years we have developed very good working relationships with all of the miners so that when there’s a find, we usually get first pick of what they have,” said Karen Pride, the store’s vice president.
Pride said that Maine’s pegmatite gems are among the best in the world.
“These are beautiful gems that actually were found in Maine, which is important to the people who choose them,” Pride said “If it was just a pretty pink tourmaline, it still will find a good home because it’s beautiful, but there are people who feel so strongly about Maine, that having a gem that was mined here is more important to them than just having a beautiful gem in a piece of jewelry.”
Frank Perham, right, and mining partner, Ralph Brown pose in Perham’s home basement mineral museum with the largest specimen of quartz crystals removed in July from the Hayes Quarry on Noyes Mountain in Greenwood. (Submitted photo)
Carlton Holt works a small mineral pocket he discovered Sept. 17 next to the opening of the “Mother Mary Pocket” at the Hayes Quarry in Greenwood. Frank Perham said Holt, who drives to Maine weekends from New Hampshire, has been volunteering for him “for years and years.” (Submitted photo)
Frank Perham, left, autographs a specimen display card Oct. 7 for collector Art Doyle at a mineral “tailgate party” held Oct. 7 at the Havey Quarry in Poland. Doyle is from Orange, Connecticut and is president of the New Haven Mineral Club. (Submitted photo)