Link to Photo Gallery at bottom of page.
MINING DIATOMACEOUS EARTH IN THE WHITE MOUNTAINS
by Rick Russack
From 1911-1919, diatomaceous earth, or Tripoli, as it was also known, was “mined” by The Livermore Tripoli Co. at East Pond, in Livermore, NH, now a part of the White Mountain National Forest. A mill and several other buildings were constructed to process the material, and it was served by the Woodstock and Thornton Gore Railroad, a logging road owned by the Woodstock Lumber Company. Local legend has it that technical difficulties could not be overcome and after a substantial investment, Charles Henry, owner of the company, closed the enterprise and left the buildings to decay. All that remains today are some stone walls and brick foundations-the forest has reclaimed it’s own.
The Pipe from East Pond is visible in this photo.
A larger version is in the Photo Gallery.
It was the only such enterprise in the White Mountains, and one of only two such early ventures in New Hampshire. (The other early enterprise was near Keene, in Troy, NH, begun in 1873. There were also two other short -lived attempts in the mid-20th century. See Note 6.) Diatomaceous Earth, (also, but incorrectly known as Infusorial Earth) is sediment deposited in some ponds and lakes, millions of years ago. As certain types of prehistoric single celled algae, known as diatoms, died and fell to the bottom of ponds and lakes, their skeletons, made of silica, accumulated. This sediment, when later dried and processed, became diatomaceous earth. (Chemical formula SiO2). These deposits have had many uses over the years. The material is not uncommon, on a worldwide basis, but is not common in New Hampshire. The short-lived Livermore Tripoli venture may not have been a profitable enterprise but there are as many questions about it as there are answers.
In the 19th century diatomaceous earth had several uses. It was used extensively as an abrasive compound, often in silver polish. Early photographers used it clean the silver surface of daguerreotype plates. The Keene, NH company, J.A. Wright & Co., used it for making silver polish until just a few years ago. It was, and still is, used as filler in paints, and Alfred Noble used it to stabilize his TNT. It was used in toothpaste. It’s used today in a variety of polishes by jewelers, woodworkers, and metalworkers, and it’s widely used in filtering foods and beverages. It can also be used in papermaking, which may bring us to Livermore, in the White Mountains.
The Livermore Tripoli Company was incorporated in August, 1911 by Charles B. Henry, his wife Katherine, and three other men. (Note 2.) Henry purchased 11 acres of land around, and including, East Pond, from the Publishers Paper Co. on March 15, 1912. (Note 3.) Work at the site almost certainly began before the land purchase was finalized. A photo dated May 3, 1912 shows the main mill. Forest Service personnel estimate, from the state of the vegetation, that the building was at least a year old at this time. (Note 1) It’s unlikely that this building was constructed between March 15, and May 3rd and wording of the deed would tend to support this conclusion (see below).
The sale price, according to the deed, was $1.00 and “other valuable considerations”. (This was a frequently used term in deeds of the day.) The price might tell us something about the relationship between the buyer and the seller. Charles B. Henry was the youngest son of James E. Henry. The elder Henry was one of New Hampshire’s “timber barons”, founder of what is today Lincoln, NH, and President of J.E. Henry and Sons. That company owned thousands of acres of timberland in the White Mountains, operated a logging railroad, saw mills, pulp mills and paper mills. J.E. Henry’s three sons, including Charles, were active partners in the company. Charles Henry ran the paper mills for the family company. Publishers Paper Co. was one of the largest landowners in the region, and there are dozens of transactions recorded between Publishers Paper Co. and J.E. Henry, extending over a long period of time. Perhaps the sale price of $1.00 may be interpreted as part of this long standing relationship. Or perhaps other reasons determined the price.
The deed has two other interesting statements relating to the sale. It gives permission for the Grantee (Charles Henry) “to take over, without further consideration, all buildings, pipe lines, and other improvements made prior to Jan. 17, 1912”. That statement clearly supports the theory that construction had begun earlier. The deed further states that Henry may, “on the grantor’s (Publishers Paper) land, build and erect such other pipe lines, mills, and other manufacturing plant as may be necessary for the manufacture and refinement of the said infusorial earth”. These two provisions are unusual, but may be explained by another agreement in the same deed. Publishers Paper agreed to sell Charles Henry “hardwood stumpage suitable for fuel”, at 50 cents per cord, from its surrounding timberland. Perhaps securing a long term customer for many cords of fire wood was a plus for Publisher’s Paper Co.
The deed also allowed Henry a right of way between his manufacturing plant and the Boston and Maine Railroad, in Woodstock. Operating in the immediate area at this time, was a logging railroad, the Woodstock and Thornton Gore, bringing logs to the Publishers Paper Company’s large Woodstock Lumber Co. sawmill, in Woodstock. It was this railroad, presumably, which brought in supplies and the large equipment used to process the diatomaceous earth. It also, presumably, hauled out the finished product, at least in the early years. (The railroad was not in service for the entire life of the mining venture.) This logging railroad went directly through the Livermore Tripoli Company’s mill yard, as can be seen in the accompanying photographs. (The photos illustrating this article are the only ones known at this time. They were taken by Charles Henry’s daughter, Katherine-who we’ll discuss later. The photos are in a family album, assembled by Katherine, and the captions are in her hand. The album is in the collection of the Upper Pemigewasset Historical Society, in Lincoln, and the photos are used with their permission.) There is an interesting, early family connection to diatomaceous earth. Charles Jackson, in his Final Report on the Geology and Mineralogy of New Hampshire, (1844, page 109) notes that he visited a “peat bog” with a sediment of “infusorial insects” in Littleton, on the farm of Mr. Joseph Henry. Joseph was Charles Henry’s grandfather.
The raw material, sediment, was dredged from East Pond and seems to have been transported to holding tanks above the mill through 4 inch pipes. The pipes can clearly be seen in two of the photos and are mentioned in the captions. The mill complex had several buildings: at least 10 are shown in various photos and the main buildings appear to have evolved over time. There was a rough wagon road to the pond, and a wooden penstock from the pond, partway down the hill toward the mill. Submerged timbers are still visible in the pond.
Processing the raw material required a number of steps. Being transported in pipes would indicate that the sediment was mixed with water. It would have been necessary to remove the water, perhaps by boiling it, and then drying the sediment. A crucial step followed: separating the desirable diatomaceous earth from the rest of the sand and sediment that had been dredged from the pond. The dried material would be crushed in a hammermill, then further milled to reduce the particle size. It may have required further drying at temperatures of 150 degrees to 800 degrees F. The drying steps utilized kilns which would have required large quantities of fire wood. There may have been large fans to assist in the drying, and there would have been a bagging operation. A process known as “air floating” was used to separate out the different sized particles. If the material was to be used in silver polish, or other fine polishes, particle size would have had to be quite small. ( note 6)
Charles Henry had a price list for various grades of finished product written on the back of his business card and the price appeared to be dependent on the amount of processing needed. (see photo ). We do not know who his customers were but the price list indicates that various grades of Tripoli were sold by weight, and the most expensive was $75.00 per ton for “triple floated” which was probably the smallest particle size. In addition, residents of the Lincoln-Woodstock area state that the “Tripoli mine” produced a silver polish, known as Tripolite Silver Polish. We also have to consider at least one of the other applications mentioned earlier: diatomaceous earth was used in the paper making industry. As stated, Charles Henry and his family were in the paper making business. Charles Henry was in charge of the paper making part of the business, and most likely would have been aware of technical advances in the field.
One of the major unanswered questions about the Livermore Tripoli Company is for what reason it was created. The articles of incorporation are vague and of general nature, and do not mention what the company intended to sell. Was the object to sell refined diatomaceous earth, in bulk, for use in a variety of industrial applications? Was it to be used in silver polish marketed by the company? There’s no hard evidence that the final product was used in the family papermaking business but it’s reasonable to assume that it was. Diatomaceous earth is known to have been used as filler in paper making and also as a dulling, or flattening agent. In addition, when added to the pulp stock before “dewatering” on the Fourdrinier wire, it speeds the drying of the pulp mixture, allowing higher production. Two Fourdrinier machines were in use by the Henry Paper Company at this time. (Technical works of the period on papermaking include mention of these processes.) I find it hard to believe that Henry did not at least experiment with this use.
The Livermore Tripoli Company was officially dissolved in October, 1919. (See Note 1.) Local residents state that the business was a failure and that technical problems in separating the earth from the sand could not be solved. They say the silver polish was too abrasive and scratched silver. But this is where the questions really begin.
No company records exist to discuss its problems. Charles Henry, who had bought the land in his name in 1912, sold it to his company in 1915, and bought it back from his company in late July 1919, just three months prior to dissolving the corporation. The buildings were left standing, to deteriorate over time. All that remain today are scattered ruins. Charles Henry died in 1922, three years after closing the business. Might the closing, in his mind, simply have been for a short time?
Map of the 11 Acre Parcel Showing East Pond & The Wagon Rd.
The property remained in the Henry family until 1994. Charles’s daughter, Katherine, who took the pictures and wrote the captions, repeatedly refused to sell the property to the Federal Government for inclusion in the White Mountain National Forest, although they had been asking to buy it since the 1920s. Only after her death, in 1990, was the sale made. Her reason for refusing to sell is clear: she wrote the Forest Supervisor on June 27, 1960, “East Pond contains a deep and somewhat valuable deposit of diatomaceous earth which it is my right to mine, i.e. dig out and remove, whenever I wish to go into the diatomaceous earth business.” Forest Service Land Acquisition files (Note 4.) in Campton include voluminous correspondence between the Forest Service, Katherine Henry Benedict, and her attorney, on this subject, over an extended period of time. (Interestingly, in the late 1970s two Massachusetts businessmen wanted to start dredging for diatomaceous earth at Lake Umbagog, in Errol. Massive opposition to the plan resulted in it finally being abandoned. Note 5.) When the Federal Government originally bought the cut-over land around East Pond, around 1920, they paid Publishers Paper Co $2.75 an acre. When they bought the 11 acre East Pond site, with the remains of the mill complex in 1994, they paid $65.000 for it. Katherine Henry may have been right after all.
Question: Is it likely that Charles Henry’s daughter would have seriously considered re-starting the mining if her father’s venture had been a technical and financial failure? And is it likely that several photos of a failed business venture would have been carefully mounted in her family photo album? Almost all the other pictures are of vacations, family members, pets, houses etc. There are only 3-4 photos of the mills in Lincoln, which supported the family and made them millionaires.
Question: Were technical problems the reason for the company closing? Keep in mind that a similar enterprise, only about 100 miles away, in Keene, had solved these problems. Would Charles Henry not have sought advice from such a close source? And if we say that maybe he didn’t want to do that, isn’t it likely that he’d have tried to hire knowledgeable employees of that company before writing off a substantial investment?
Question: Is it likely that Charles Henry, who we have to assume was a reasonably astute businessman, would have kept investing money, over a period of at least seven years, in a failing business?
Hopefully, as time goes on, additional information will turn up. For now, this is all we know about the only diatomaceous earth mining venture in the White Mountain National Forest.
Photo Gallery with Katherine Benedict's Photos
1. Steve Wingate, retired Forest Ranger, White Mountain National Forest.
2. New Hampshire Sec. of State’s office.
3. Grafton County Registry of Deeds, book 509, page 555.
4. File 57-I, exception #1
5. Box #29, Society For The Preservation of New Hampshire Forests Collection, Dimond Library, University of New Hampshire
6. New Hampshire Mineral Resource Survey, Part II, Andrew McNair, 1941, NH Planning and Development Commission.