The Morefield Gem Mine was discovered, and mining began in 1929. During WWII, it was mined for strategic minerals. After the end of 1949, the mine was closed until 1985, and it was reopened as a “find your own gems gem mine” and mined for amazonite. 2015 was the 30th year the mine has been operating as a recreational mining operation. There is plenty of mineral in the mine to last for many years to come.
The Morefield Gem Mine is an exciting place for the whole family. Over the many years of operation, the mine has produced many varieties of mineral specimens. It has produced about 80 different mineral species, and new “unknowns” are sometimes found. Many are small but are of scientific interest as well as being fun to find. Everyone who comes can find something interesting and or colorful to take home. Children being shorter and closer to the ground may have an advantage over parents when it comes to seeing tiny minerals.
The Morefield Gem Mine is a highly mineralized pegmatite dike having a length of 2000 feet and a projected depth of about 300 feet. It was mined historically for mica, tantalite, amazonite, and massive topaz. Today, it is world-famous for the amazonite, and when we are mining, more can be found on the ground than anywhere in the U.S.A. As mining progresses underground, rock is hoisted, stockpiled, and spread on the surface for collecting. Even the red clay contains much rock and minerals from over many years of mining. Simply put, the more you dig, the more you find.
No flip-flops or open shoes. Wear clothing you can get dirty in. On a wet day, a change of clothing may be in order, especially for children.
A bucket or ziplock bags for taking rocks and minerals home in. Each paying person can take a 5-gallon bucketful home for the price of admission. You can bring your own shovel or trowels. NO hammers, hand picks, large picks, or sledgehammers allowed.
Sam and Sharon Dunaway moved from Anchorage, AK to purchase Morefield Gem Mine in the summer of 1996.
At the time of the purchase, Sam and Sharon were living in Anchorage, AK. Sam grew up in Newport News, VA and joined the Gem and Mineral Society there as a young boy. When he was twelve, the society took a tour of the Morefield Gem Mine, and he was completely taken with it. He went on to become a mining engineer working in Virginia, Tennessee, California, and Alaska. He has mined lead, zinc, gold, molybdenum, borax, and coal. He was visiting a family in Virginia and found out that the Morefield Gem Mine was available for purchase in 1996 and was open for rock hunting.
Sharon is from Maine and familiar with the fabulous tourmalines from famous pegmatites in this state. She has been a mineral collector and gold prospector in Alaska over the years. She has her degree in Business Administration and handles all of our business for the mine.
We are often asked how the mine was discovered. The story, as written by Mr. Silas Morefield in the Lapidary Journal Jewelry Artist, says he was hunting on his land in September 1929 when he came across an outcrop of quartz with a large beryl crystal exposed. It was very familiar with the minerals of the older Rutherford Mine and Champion Mine, also in Amelia County, and he suspected that this outcrop may be a pegmatite. At some point, he drilled a hole in the outcrop, loaded the hole with dynamite, and shot it. He exposed large masses of mica and weathered amazonite.
Mr. Morefield operated a store and gas station in Amelia Court House, and he set some of his newfound mineral specimens in front of the store. Within two weeks of his discovery, a vehicle with travelers from the National Bureau of Standards (NBS) stopped by, and they saw the flashy specimens and inquired about the source of the specimens. Later, back in Washington, D.C., they told coworkers at the U.S. Geological Survey about their find, and the mine was then known to the geological world.
Mr. Morefield operated the mine by open cut methods from 1929 until 1931 when it was leased by the Seaboard Feldspar Co. and mined for amazonite, beryl, mica, and tantalite for about 3 years. Mr. Morefield resumed operations then leased it to Minerals Separation North American Corporation in 1942. This company was taken over by the Metals Reserve Company, and they returned the mine to Mr. Morefield in 1943. The Metals Reserve Company was a government agency under the Reconstruction Finance Corporation that was in charge of the national stockpile of “strategic and critical materials” for the WWII war effort and national mineral security. The critical minerals at the Morefield Gem Mine were mica, beryl, and tantalum minerals.
The U.S. Bureau of Mines first explored the deposit during the summer and fall of 1943 during which time they drilled four diamond drill holes and excavated four trenches crosscutting the pegmatite. Then two more definition diamond drill holes were drilled and an additional trench added.
In 1948, the U.S. Bureau of Mines returned to the mine and conducted experimental development and mining at which time they deepened the shaft to 115 feet; conducted underground diamond drilling to establish the wall rock/pegmatite contacts; drove a drift 75 feet at the 100-foot level; and extracted a large bulk sample by selectively shooting long drill holes (‘longholes’) in the high-grade part of the pegmatite. The purpose of this work was to test underground methods of mining pegmatite should mica, beryl, and tantalum become in critical supply.
Deck Boyles of Amelia County bought the property from the Morefield Estate and used the shaft as a water source for serving customers with swimming pools for many years. He sold it to Warren (Bill) D. Baltzley in 1985 who then developed the mine as a recreational and commercial operation very much as it is seen today. Mr. Baltzley sank the 45-foot deep Baltzley Shaft and extended the stub drifts excavated by the U.S. Bureau of Mines at the 45-foot level and connected the old and new shafts.
Mr. Baltzley sold the mine to the present owners, Sam and Sharon Dunaway, in March of 1996, and they have operated the mine ever since. In the intervening 19 years, the mine has been expanded and lengthened to 425 feet on the 45-foot level, 85 feet on the 32-foot level, and a new 60-foot level has been driven 135 feet in excellent pegmatite. This level has produced a number of very nice, large topaz crystals. The largest is now in James Madison University’s museum and Virginia collection.
Present work consists of two projects: the first, removing a very high-grade sill between the 45-foot and 60-foot level, which contains rare minerals and high-quality amazonite; and the second, extending the 60-foot level Northeast to break into the old U.S. Bureau of Mines test stope. The top of the U.S. Bureau of Mines stope is visible on the 45-foot level.
Preparatory work is also taking place to examine and explore the 100-foot level, which is the present source of water for sluicing (flume) operations. This includes installing pumps to dewater the 100-foot level, removing rock and mud that has fallen in and filled the shaft bottom over many years when the mine was inactive. Mining in the years to come may well come from this level. No one had explored this level since 1949 when the U.S. Bureau of Mines ceased operations.