Port Henry Iron Ore Company and 21 Pit

The Port Henry Iron Ore Company was formed in 1864 by a veritable who’s who of the 19th century iron and steel industry in Troy. There was Henry Burden of H. Burden & Sons; John A. Griswold of Rensselaer Iron Works and the firm of John A. Griswold & Co., and Erastus Corning and John Winslow of Albany Iron Works and Erastus Corning & Co.  Griswold and Winslow would need the steady supply of iron from Crown Point and Moriah after partnering with the holder of the rights to the Bessemer process in the United States, in order to process the ore into steel for rolling at the new rail mill constructed at the Rensselaer Iron Works. Witherbee, Sherman and Company was a minority shareholder in the Port Henry Iron Ore Company under contract to sell its ore on a commission basis. Others involved in the Port Henry Iron Ore Company were Edward S. Beck, James B. Brinsmade, and Albert Tower of the Poughkeepsie Furnaces.

It is believed to be the first company to use electric lights in its underground mines. Nearly all of the ore came from what was known as the 21 Pit (or South Pit). Former Republic Steel engineer and manager, and chronicler of the industry Patrick Farrell writes that Port Henry Iron Ore Company “was a lean operation.”  This company maintained no office, had no salaried officers, no mining engineers and only a superintendent and foreman in each pit in a high pay grade.”  By the late 1860s, miners were paid two dollars a day. “Two and a half tons per day were mined and raised for each man employed.”  Farrell describes 21 Pit as “spectacular.” When “standing on the north rim looking south, it resembled a giant bowl where the ore had been mined. Below the cap rock massive ore with openings therein was visible on three sides, and work could be done by daylight.”

The company slowed down mining operations in the 1920s, having more ore in stock than it could sell or use for its own purposes.  Cutting wages and borrowing against the value of ore in stock was only viable until 1924, when after 60 years, Port Henry Iron Ore Company officially ceased operations.


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