Artwork and sculptures representing miner life are on display in Zobel Hall.
The industrial heritage of the northeastern United States has, in many areas, purposely been obliterated-buildings have been torn down, mine sites regraded, and former industrial areas turned into residential subdivisions. The Sterling Hill zinc mine, which closed in 1986, might well have suffered the same fate, had the site not been purchased in 1989 by the Hauck families. Long interested in the mining industry, the Hauck families set out to preserve the legacy of Sterling Hill, an irreplaceable piece of New Jersey history, by making the site accessible to the public as a mining museum. The Sterling Hill Mining Museum opened for tours on August 4, 1990 and is now visited by more than 40,000 people annually.
New Jersey History
Made At Sterling Hill
Closure of the zinc mine at Sterling Hill was due not to exhaustion of the orebody, but to the low price (at the time) of zinc on the world market, coupled with a property tax dispute with the Borough of Ogdensburg. Together these two factors made continued operation financially unsound, and finally, with up to ten years of zinc ore yet unmined, the New Jersey Zinc Company opted to leave Sterling Hill and deed the mine property to the Borough of Ogdensburg in lieu of back taxes. Having inherited the property, the Borough then set out to assess its options, and in 1989 decided to put it up for sale at public auction. Richard and Robert Hauck were the successful bidders and immediately assembled a small army of volunteers to transform an abandoned industrial site into an operational museum with numerous historical and educational New Jersey attractions awaiting guests. Buildings were cleaned, exhibit cases installed, hundreds of items of mining equipment brought on site, and the mine reopened and made ready for visitors, all in barely more than a year.
Since those early days several major additions have been made to the museum, making it one of the finest New Jersey attractions dedicated to education and history.
First was the acquisition, through a donation by Steven Phillips, of the upper part of the Sterling Hill mining operations. This donation added several major mine buildings plus the iconic headframe to the museum, and expanded the grounds to 35.2 acres.
Second was development of the Thomas S. Warren Museum of Fluorescence, housed in the foundation ruins of the original (1916) mill building at Sterling Hill. The Warren Museum was dedicated on October 16, 1999 and has since been through several periods of expansion; currently it occupies four rooms totaling about 2,000 sq. ft of exhibit space.
Third, in 2005 the Ellis Astronomical Observatory was built on the northern end of the museum grounds. The observatory features a 15-ft-diameter rotating dome and houses several telescopes, among them one of the largest reflectors in the state. The museum is fortunate in being located in a rural part of New Jersey and thus does not suffer from the light pollution that affects so much of the state; viewing conditions here on clear nights are superb. In between these major projects, numerous additional exhibits have been added in a continual effort to lend truth to the maxim, "Always something new to see."
Visitors to the Sterling Hill Mining Museum step into a piece of New Jersey history as they enter the grounds of this former industrial site. The museum exhibits, offices, and other facilities are housed in the original buildings used by the New Jersey Zinc Company when the mine was operational. Most of the on-site structures date from two major periods of construction, the first from 1914 to about 1930, and the second from 1954 to 1957.
Several of these buildings, as well as the underground zinc mine itself, are featured parts of our public tours. Additional buildings, not yet open to the public, are slated to become part of the museum at some time in the future. The Sterling Hill Mining Museum is the only place in New Jersey where members of the public can tour a large underground mine and see for themselves how mining was done at one of the world's most famous mineral localities.