The Columbia Mine - Kentucky


Located in southwest Kentucky, the Columbia Mine was opened by Andrew Jackson in the early 1800's. It is situated in the famous Illinois-Kentucky fluorospar belt and is but one of hundreds of little mines that have operated in this area from 1800 to the late 20th century. Jackson originally mined argentiferous galena, and sold the mine to the Columbia Silver Mining Company. The mine closed sometime in the 1950's. Nearby are several other mines (Eureka and others) but the Columbia so far has been the only one to produce significant fluorescent specimens.

The Columbia Mine lead/zinc deposits are known as a Mississippi Valley-type deposit; fluorite and other minerals formed in hydrothermal veins within the limestone and sandstone. The most common minerals found in this area include fluorite, calcite, sphalerite, barite, galena, dolomite, pyrite, and quartz. There are reports of cerrusite and smithsonite. Magnificent fluorite specimens are found at the nearby Eureka Mine and others in the area, but the ardent glow rockhound quickly dismisses these as they rarely glow (some glow a ghostly white).

ben clement gem and mineral display

At some point the land was apparently acquired by Bill Frazer. He and his brother Bohn have worked closely with the Ben E. Clement Mineral Museum providing folks access to the Columbia Mine and others over the past years. A couple times each year the sites are opened up and organized tours run by the museum allow collectors to get their fill of this wonderful material. They also allow privately organized digs; just contact the museum first. Please respect Bill's land and contact him for permission (thru the museum); we should all be thankful to folks like Bill who allow us to pursue our hobby by opening their lands.

Interestingly, the Columbia Mine is not really on "the radar" of most fluorescent mineral collectors. Locally they are aware of the neat fluorescent specimens and have even given them a pet nickname - "Frazerite" in honor of Bill Frazer. But I have not really found any serious investigations into this mine and the fluorescent finds - thus some of the minerals do not have firm IDs and are suspect. I hope to make it back a few more times as I learn what's really good from this area. (If you go - don't miss the fluorescent display at the Clement Mineral Museum - it's a true gem hidden in this rural area of Kentucky - a big surprise for me. Of course the main focus of the museum is fluorite and mining in the area, but they have a huge room dedicated to fluorescent minerals - one of the best displays I've seen this side of Franklin.)


Late last month (Sept '08) Nate Martin (of the Boston Mineral Club) posted a trip announcement on the yahoo fluorescent mineral group (if you're not on this list, you should be - it's becoming a good list to follow). He was planning a private trip for the Boston club to the Marion, KY area and was recruiting folks for the night dig at the Columbia Mine. I had visited this area earlier this summer with great results and was planning on returning this fall. Nate's invite fit well with my schedule so I gave a shout to a couple of my local buddies and we all decided to join. My youngest daughter was in town for the weekend and she graciously consented to being "drug along" as a baby sitter for my two dogs and to accompany me on the 3 hour trip from TN. (I lured her with scenery and fall colors that she doesn't get to see in Miami.) We met my buddies at the mine as they were traveling from a different part of the state.

the columbia mine


We arrived at the mine around 3pm and met up with Nate to pay our dues, sign release forms and get introduced. The Boston group was busy at the Eureka Mine digging in a giant mud hole where they had proudly found some excellent fluorite specimens (apparently after several days of hard work and help from a backhoe). I quickly excused myself to move over to the Columbia where I knew the glow rocks were waiting. My buddies were already on the "dump" hammering away! The Columbia Mine is really just a pile of rocks (dump, tailings) that were built up over the years - waste material from the mine shaft. The mine shaft is nowhere to be found. The trees were just starting to turn color and it was a beautiful setting to collect rocks in.

a boiler at the mine
the boiler in the field at the mine
The only hint (other than the pile of rocks) was an abandoned building which was apparently some sort of boiler room for the mine at one point. The mine is located in a large cow pasture (proven by the cow patties found everywhere - and they don't glow). We were able to drive the truck right up to the mine area. It's a very rough climb, obvious that you are driving over huge boulders which have accumulated over the years of mining, and since overgrown with grass. But 4-wheel drive makes it easy (and a high clearance) - not sure I would do it with a little Ford focus though. The actual exposed dump area is perhaps 100' by 100' but the tailing pile is apparently much larger - only covered by grass and dirt. One could easily pry boulders out of the grass covered field if you had a hunch that some wondrous honker resides under one of those cow patties. I parked at the top and the dogs set off to explore with my daughter, while I set out for the rock pile.
a dog and a truck



Bill Frazer had run his backhoe over the mine dump prior to our arrival and lots of fresh material was exposed. From my previous trip I had a good idea on how to start and what would be most productive. So we unpacked the sledge hammers, lights, BBQ grill cover (it wouldn't be dark for another 3 hours) and got started. My daughter promptly took the dogs out for a nature walk where they found a giant mud hole - nothing worse than a white dog in a mud hole.


a calcite boulder


Large boulders of calcite lie everywhere. Some are buried in the dirt and easily pried out with a crow bar, others had been exposed by the backhoe. The calcite was the main target especially those that had sphalerite and signs of other minerals. Most were 50 to 100 LBS and needed to be broken up into manageable rocks; doing this early before darkness proved to be a good idea.

cracking rocks with a hammer

Dave - one of my buddies - did just that. He gathered quite a pile of rocks with the intention to lamp them once it got dark. He brought a 72W AC powered display lamp (complete with handles) and a car battery/inverter to power it. Later in the evening he just sat there high-grading his pile and ended up with some killer specimens. Note: we broke two wooden handle sledge hammers in this process - evidence of hard rocks, big boulders, and probably amateur miners. (Note to self - buy a fiberglass handle next time).

two dogs on a pile of rocks


I sent Minnie and Marshmallow off on a rock sniffing hunt to see what they could find - every rock they sniffed glowed!

The next few hours were spent busting rock, huddling under a BBQ grill cover to see what was inside, and impatiently waiting for sundown. I collected a good sampling even prior to sunset, and once it got dark enough I was able to round out my finds with some other great treasures.

At sunset the rest of the group arrived (the Boston club); they had elected to go back to the hotel to clean up, eat - and a few came back for the night dig. Bill Frazer joined us and was quite keen on what we were finding - although he's not a glow hound himself.

The Boston crew proceeded to lamp the dump along with us and great finds were made by all. A young lady was there with her father and she brought over a magnificent specimen which I swear was a fosslized leaf - the outline was clearly marked by bright blue hydrozincite and the leaf area was fluorescent calcite - I thought it was a really neat find.

Lamping the dump you immediately think of Franklin's Buckwheat dump. But instead of the ever-present orange calcite, here it's all bright blue/white hydrozincite. It was easy to find specimens with white calcite but the rarer material seemed to be pieces with pinkish glowing calcite. Sphalerite was quite common, glowing various intensities of yellow. Some pieces showed nice phosphorescence, and there were several pieces which had a purple glow from a yet to be identified mineral.

reading in a truck

I roused my daughter from the backseat of the truck where she had planted herself with a good book while "Dad played on his pile of rocks". She consented to lamping with my extra lamp to see what she could find - after 10 minutes she said "Is that enough Dad?" - I've failed her as a father. :-( 

After about an hour of lamping in the dark we had our full. It was a long drive back to TN so we all packed up and headed out. But before I left I did a little Greenland show and tell with the Boston folks and we all chatted about fluorescent mineral collecting in general. As we drove off the Boston group were still diligently exploring - they probably found the "real stuff" after we left; I heard reports that all were very satisfied after that night. 


Calcite (white and pink), Sphalerite (yellow), hydrozincite (blue/white),
purple ??, blue ??, dark yellow???

Calcite, Sphalerite, Hydrozincite
Calcite, Sphalerite, Hydrozincite
Calcite, Sphalerite, Hydrozincite


All pictures taken with "fullwave" (Shortwave+Midwave+Longwave). The calcite glows best under Shortwave UV light, the hydrozincite only glows under Shortwave. Sphalerite glows brightest under Midwave and Longwave. Some areas are phosphorescent. Note the blue glow in the third picture (middle left area of the rock) - quite interesting.

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