NEW BRUNSWICK, NJ–More than 200 years ago, a copper mine operated deep beneath the surface of the Hub City's Sixth Ward, according to state geologists, roughly traversing the same area where present-day Mine Street and parts of Rutgers University occupy.
"We believe mine workings have been intersected in and around Mine Street during construction of the sewer or water mains many years ago," said Fred Sickels of the NJ Department of Environmental Protection.
A document titled, "Map showing the location of a tunnel constructed for copper mining about 1780 near Rutgers University," shows the mine ran roughly parallel to Hamilton Street and intersected Robinson, Hartwell and Guilden Streets, as well as Easton Avenue, Union Street, and College Avenue.
The operation consisted of a straight tunnel running from the Mile Run creek, towards the Raritan River, terminating approximately under the present site of Van Dyck Hall. At this point, the straight tunnel becomes a crooked one, and heads towards the river and perhaps what is now Johnson and Johnson worldwide headquarters.
The basement of the old Rutgers Engineering Building, modern-day Murray Hall, intersected some of the mine, and some artifacts from the tunnel are preserved in the school's Geology Museum, the nation's oldest.
"If we remember correctly there was a mattock, some shoes, and a few other items," said Sickels.
The tunnels date to the mid-eighteenth century.
In 1748, according to NJ Geological Society reports, the land that today makes up Voorhees Mall, the main academic quad of Rutgers University, belonged to a farmer named Philip French.
French, the namesake of today's street of the same name, gathered up several lumps of copper, weighing in excess of 200 pounds in all, eventually spurring the formation of a copper mining company in 1750.
The head of the mine company was Elias Boudinot, who took out a 99-year lease on the French farm. In 1751, the company dug a mine shaft approximately 300 feet from the Raritan River, and was rewarded by finding chunks of copper between the rocks.
During the construction phase, one eyewitness reported seeing flames rising from the ground at 3 in the morning at the site. It is unclear what caused the flames, if they occurred. A copper vein was discovered, and the miners followed the vein underground for 30 feet.
The mine reached 60 feet below ground level, and legend has it that the mine went several hundred feet under the Raritan River, leading to much trouble with flooding. The company built a stamp-mill and supposedly exported several tons of copper to England.
The stamp-mill was apparently somewhere on or near today's Voorhees Mall. Some 50 to 60 feet underground, the miners found a"fine body of solid ore." The mine tunneled away from the shaft in several directions, including – allegedly – under the river.
Flooding proved to be the company's downfall, and the mine was abandoned due to the seeping groundwater not long into the mine's existence.
There were subsequent attempts to find workable ores in New Brunswick, none of which were successful, and all of which ended before the early 1840's.
Nowadays, Mine Street is a mixed-use street that has been at the center of a high-intensity battle over redeveloping the former Rutgers Catholic Center.
A controversial proposal to build a four-story, 52-unit apartment building in place of the two homes will face a public hearing at 7:30pm on Tuesday, October 14 at the Middlesex County Freeholder Meeting Room at 75 Bayard Street in New Brunswick.