AUGUSTA — Oxford County mines and minerals figured prominently in presentations and mineral exhibits on Saturday during the 21st annual Maine Mineral Symposium.
Held at The Senator Inn on Western Avenue, the largest such symposium in the nation attracted a record crowd of more than 300 people of all ages.
They learned about last fall’s discovery of Eureka Blue, a unique blue tourmaline on Plumbago Mountain in Newry, and the continuing formation of a Maine mineral and mining museum in Bethel.
Louise Jonaitis of Portland and Hanover opened the educational talks, detailing the Eureka Blue discovery about a thousand feet from the site of America’s largest gem find in 1972.
“We’ve been mining for five years and we’ve finally found something good enough to make a little bit of a fuss about, so Woody invited us to be the guest speaker,” Jonaitis said of Woodrow “Woody” Thompson of the Maine Geological Survey, which hosts the symposium.
She said that on Sept. 24, she and her mining partners were getting ready for a field trip, after which they planned to start mining, so they moved machinery into place.
“We just had pure luck,” Jonaitis said. “The day we brought the machinery up, we ran right into it. It was sticking right out of the ground, so we dug 4 feet down and there was a pocket, and then it kept going.”
After some careful blasting about 50 feet behind the Crooker Quarry, the former social worker and crew revealed what would be the first of nine pockets, so far, that vary in size from 8 inches to 2½ to 3 feet. The first Eureka Blue rock was 111 carats, Jonaitis said.
On Dec. 28, on the north wall of gem pocket No. 7, they found two large blue tourmaline crystals centered within two feather-white radiant crystals of cleavelandite that formed within brown lepidolite, a specimen that was dubbed “The Owl,” because it looks like the face of an owl. More have since been found.
“It was kind of exciting after all this time,” Jonaitis said. “We found more blue tourmaline than anyone else in the world has found.”
Jonaitis said the zone in which the gems were found is about 150 feet long. They don’t yet know its width.
They also found purple tourmaline and five unknown minerals, one of which was identified as zigrasite on Saturday. Thompson called the Plumbago discovery “somewhat unique.”
“There’s been a lot more gem tourmaline found in Maine that is green or pink, but not a lot of blue or electric blue,” he said.”Some of the best blues lately have been coming from Newry and also Mount Marie down in Paris.”
Larry Stifler of Albany Township said he and partners are buying the 3,300-square-foot Kennett Realty building on Main Street in Bethel.
It will become a mineral and mining museum, the goal of which, Stifler said, will be to keep as much material from Maine in Maine and “to interest future generations in the wonderful mining history we have here in Maine.”
Stifler and his partners plan to build a curriculum on mining in Maine that teachers can use, and they would like the museum to become a research center for colleges, a number of which are interested.
“People will be able to go to Bethel and see rare (mineral) species they’ve never seen before,” said Stifler’s partner, Jim Mann of Mt. Mann Jewelers in Bethel. “This is big. We could see 3,000 to 4,000 visitors annually.”
Another presenter, mineralogist Vandall King, spoke about lithium mineralization in granite pegmatites, telling people searching for gem tourmaline to look for secondary phosphates and to know their micas.
Frank Perham of West Paris closed out the presentations, enthralling a rapt audience with his recent endeavors in the Albany Rose Quarry in Albany Township where miners found gigantic and complete feldspar crystals while searching in vain for beryl.
One feldspar crystal weighed 2 tons and was 4½ feet long. They also found garnet, smoky quartz, and tons of rose quartz.
“It proves you can go into something and get going with it and things will turn out completely different than what you thought you were getting into,” Perham said.
Larry Stifler of Albany Township tells more than 300 people attending Saturday’s Maine Mineral Symposium in Augusta that he and partners are buying a Bethel building in which to create a Maine mineral and mining museum that will feature minerals from Maine and serve as a research center for college students.
While the grownups examine mineral exhibits behind them on Saturday at the Maine Mineral Symposium in Augusta, 4-year-old twins Sebastian, left, and Trey Gagnon of Augusta check out their own little bucket of gems and rocks. Their dad, Jason Gagnon of Readfield, said he brought the youngsters to the show to check out hundreds of crystals and gems, because they like to go mining. “They’ve been pawing through this stuff for about an hour,” Jason Gagnon said. “I’ve just started getting them into it. There’s definitely some beautiful stuff here.”
Legendary Maine miner Frank Perham of West Paris talks about his recent pegmatite mining at the Waisanen and Albany Rose quarries in Oxford County at Saturday’s Maine Mineral Symposium in Augusta.
John Buckley of Whitefield, Mass., examines a crystal exhibit on Saturday at the Maine Mineral Symposium in Augusta.