Mining Memories As Told by Our Local Miners

Sun, May 6, 20183:00 PM - 4:30 PM


A panel of men who worked in the Upper Mississippi Valley Zinc-Lead District during the heyday of the zinc era and a prominent historian will describe details about the mines and zinc processing industry at a special forum scheduled for 3 p.m. Sunday, May 6, 2018.  

The panel discussion, titled "Mining Memories As Told by Our Local Miners," is part of the celebration surrounding the seasonal opening of the Bevans Lead Mine at the Mining & Rollo Jamison Museums.

Loren Farrey, a native of Leadmine who resides in Mineral Point, has accepted an invitation to be on the panel. He is the author of A Tour Guide to the Mines of Lafayette County. He studies zinc mining and lead mining history. Others invited to sit on the "Mining Memories" panel with Farry include Tom Golden and Rod Zuelke, both of Galena, Illinois.

"I want to keep the mining knowledge alive," Farrey said.

He added that lead mining in the Driftless Area boomed by the mid 1800s, but its economic prominence began to fade after the Civil War in the 1860s and 1870s. "If we didn't have zinc, not many people today would be familiar with the mining history in the Driftless," he explained.

The zinc mining activity reached its peak production in the first half of the 1900s during World War I and following WWI due to technological progress and market demand, according to Farrey.

An example of the zinc boom cited by Farrey included zinc mines within a two to three mile radius of Benton in 1917. The monetary equivalent in 1917 from zinc mining and processing in the Benton vicinity converted to 2018 values would be approximately $75 million today, he said.

The larger zinc mining operations in and near Benton employed up to 300 or 400 men at each mine during the 1900s. The demand for labor caused a shortage of workers in Benton. As a result, companies worked with the federal government to recruit laborers from Europe - nations such as Serbia, Croatia, and Hungary - to travel to the Driftless Area to supply manpower.

Robert Bennett of Platteville, a native of Leadmine and a longtime educator and pastor in Southwest Wisconsin, helped organize the forum ideas. His family was active in the mining industry for generations. He supports efforts in the Driftless Area to preserve the mining heritage so future generations are educated about the region's beginnings.

Dave Ralph of Platteville, secretary-treasurer for Friends of the Mining & Rollo Jamison Museums, said he would like presentations like "Mining Memories" an annual event for the Museums. He also is attempting to have the captured on video for educational purposes.

"It's a great opportunity for the public to learn about mining from the people who helped build and shape our communities. It has the potential to be 'living history' that goes beyond books and exhibits," Ralph said.