Lead once extracted from Gratz and Moxley communities

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By Bonnie Strassell

Sought after by both the American Indians and the early frontier settlers, it was necessary when hunting game in the wilderness, and a means by which an army attained victory on the field of battle. 

Round balls, molded from lead, was the ammunition of early America. They were used in muskets and the famous Kentucky rifle, and this vital commodity helped conquer the American frontier.

During the American Revolution the lead mines of Fincastle County, Va., from which Kentucky was formed, provided a large percentage of lead shot for the Continental Army. Kentucky lead also played a significant role in both the War of 1812 and the War Between the States. 

Lead mines were scattered throughout the Commonwealth, and there is evidence that the metal had been extracted in and around Gratz and Moxley since the Revolutionary War. Eventually, lead was used in pipes for city water systems and in paint, and had been a component in the type used in the printing trade since the 1600s. 

In a 1939 News-Herald article, columnist John Forsee described the Gratz lead mine.  

“Although the mine was worked prior to 1901, it was in that year that Matt Miller organized a company which began operations on a much larger scale. This company employed 20-30 men, mostly miners. Common laborers received $1 per day, with foreman drawing $1.50. Not only lead but zinc and barium were mined.

“Miners now living in Gratz (1939) report the shafts and tunnels of the mine as being very beautiful. The metals, lighted by the eerie glow of the lamps on the miners’ caps, reflected all the colors of the rainbow. Water crystals, resembling branched icicles, snow white in color, hung from the ceiling of the tunnels. These crystals were carefully chiseled from the rock, wrapped in burlap and shipped to market.”

On Sept. 16, 1914, a fire broke out in the Gratz mine. Two men, one of whom had only worked at the mine for three days, were killed. Charles A. Stamper succeeded in finding the bodies of the two men at a depth of 565 feet. Stamper was awarded a Carnegie medal for his bravery in facing his own death to rescue his friends.  

When the demand for lead dwindled, the mines at Gratz and Moxley closed. For well over a century lead contributed to the progress of American industry. As businesses closed, Americans were faced with new challenges. 

However, history records the undaunted spirit of the American people. With dogged determination, they have always persistently faced adverse situations and successfully overcame seemingly insurmountable odds. 

The historical society board will meet tomorrow at 6:30 p.m., Jan. 26, at the I.O.O.F. Hall.