State of NH

Why Ruggles Mine Should be Saved

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The signs announcing Grafton's Ruggles Mine are a fixture along Route 4 and 104. They’re painted brown and look a little homemade. Some announce the former tourist attraction as “world famous,” which maybe convinces some, but may come across as a little grandiose.

And yet, Preservation Alliance field service representative Andrew Cushing notes that his grandparents love to tell a story about their vacation out West in the 1970s when someone pointed to their station wagon’s wooden rooftop cargo box emblazoned with “Grafton, NH” and shouted across the parking lot, “Hey, Ruggles Mine!”  Those "world famous" brown signs seemed a little more believable after that.

After closing its door as a visitor destination in 2016, the future of Ruggles Mine has remained in limbo. Several price cuts failed to attract serious bids and the site has been subject to trespassing and vandalism – Grafton’s sole police officer can attest.

The New Hampshire Preservation Alliance approached officials in the N.H. Division of Parks and Recreation several months ago and proposed the site become the newest state park. While it would not be a conventional park, it would be a unique offering that combined historical, geologic, and natural features as well as incredible scenery. Its 235 acres is mostly forested, is adjacent to the Forest Society’s Grafton Pond Reservation and Blodgett Forest, and it sits squarely within the Quabbin to Cardigan Initiative.

1911 crew at Ruggles Mine. Courtesy Grafton Historical Society.

1911 crew at Ruggles Mine. Courtesy Grafton Historical Society.

The mine has tremendous historical value, not only to the state but the country. New Hampshire may be the Granite State, but the western hill towns of the state were especially known for their mica mines. Mica mines were common in the towns of Alstead, Gilsum, Grafton, and Groton, where the material would be used in lanterns and stove windows – and later, for electrical insulators.

Ruggles was the first mica mine in the United States. (In fact, before the Civil War, New Hampshire produced all of the mica in the United States.) Samuel Ruggles started mining in earnest in 1803, though records suggest that mica had been discovered in Isinglass Mountain as early as the 1770s. (Samuel Ruggles was actually more of an investor than a farmer or miner.) What ensued was over 150 years of active mining during which Ruggles was the largest mica and feldspar mine in New Hampshire.

Courtesy Grafton Historical Society.

Courtesy Grafton Historical Society.

The result was a scarred landscape with spectacular pegmatitic arches. When the mine closed in 1962 due to changes in the global markets, the site was purchased as a tourist attraction. Between 1962 and 2016, the mine welcomed rock hounds and curious families alike, with the draw being the ability to hammer away in hopes of finding gems or rocks.

The Preservation Alliance is pleased that the N.H. Division of Parks and Recreation is actively exploring whether the property meets its mission as well as financial and operational issues.  New Hampshire has nearly one hundred state parks, including mountain peaks, lakeside beaches, gorges, and historic sites. Because the state’s park system is largely self-funded, new additions are rare. (Jericho Mountain State Park in Berlin is the newest member of the park family, purchased in 2007.) Ruggles could provide income to the state park system – and creative types have already suggested using the mine for concerts or outdoor art exhibits, such as the one created by the Revolving Museum in 2017.

Such an endeavor will take time, money, and imagination. The result, however, will be an important landscape preserved for the future. Support for such an initiative can surely be...mined.

The view from the parking lot at Ruggles Mine affords northerly views toward Mount Cardigan.

The view from the parking lot at Ruggles Mine affords northerly views toward Mount Cardigan.

New Commissioner Offers Vision, Priorities and Some Favorites

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Sarah L. Stewart of Manchester became the commissioner of the N.H. Department of Natural and Cultural Resources on June 4. In addition to the Division of Historical Resources, the department includes the Division of Parks and Recreation, the Division of Forests and Lands, the State Library and the State Council on the Arts.

When her nomination was announced by Gov. Sununu, Commissioner Stewart said why such a diverse department is important: “We represent so much of what is great about our state. We can leverage those unique assets to attract and retain a skilled workforce while providing top-notch customer service to our residents and visitors.”

Responding to questions from the N.H Preservation Alliance, Stewart noted New Hampshire citizens’ well-known ability to draw on grassroots support to reach community goals, including for historic preservation projects, is something that drew her to the position – as did the skill and passion of the department’s staff – and that she looks forward to new opportunities. “While I’ll be helping our staff continue the excellent work they’ve done for generations, I’m also focusing on showing how all of the elements of the DNCR work together to provide what folks love about New Hampshire, and to raise awareness of all that we offer.” 

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Here are some other thoughts from Stewart, in response to recent questions from the Preservation Alliance:
What drew you to this new position?

I’ve been living and working in New Hampshire for almost two decades, spending time in communities of all sizes, across the entire state and I’ve seen first-hand that our natural and cultural resources are places, experiences and treasures that define who we are and how we connect with each other. New Hampshire is famous for using grassroots support to get things done, including for historic preservation. I’m honored to be in a position to advocate on behalf of not just the NHDHR but all five of Department of Natural and Cultural Resources’ divisions every day.

What are your priorities for the Department?

Our mission at the Department of Natural & Cultural Resources is to protect, preserve and manage a wide variety of natural, recreational and cultural resources. One of my priorities is to ensure that our residents, workforce and visitors to our state have access to all of the above and have the very best experiences possible. We’re a full-service department in that we are dedicated to not only historical resources, but also state forests, libraries, arts organizations and artists, and our wonderful state parks (many of which are important from a historic preservation standpoint, by the way). While I’ll be helping our staff continue the excellent work they’ve done for generations, I’m also focusing on showing how all of the elements of the DNCR work together to provide what folks love about New Hampshire, and to raise awareness of all that we offer.

What are some of your favorite historic buildings, communities or preservation success stories?

That’s kind of a trick question because there’s so much to love in New Hampshire from a preservation standpoint. But the first thing that comes to my mind is our amazing town halls. I’ve had the opportunity to spend time at town halls all across the state. The history when you walk into them is palpable. They’ve served and continue to serve as inspirational backdrops for community gatherings and town hall meetings, and each one has its own unique charm. A few of my favorites include the Bedford Town Hall, the Peterborough Town Hall, the Canterbury Town Hall and the Sandown Town Office.

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“Commissioner Stewart brings a passion for New Hampshire, experiences with collaboration, and creativity and communications skills to this job,” said Jennifer Goodman, executive director of the Preservation Alliance.

Stewart has served on several boards, including Stay-Work-Play New Hampshire, Amoskeag Industries and N.H. Citizens for the Arts. She was also a member of the Commission to Study the Economic Impact the of Arts and Culture in New Hampshire, which, in the historic preservation section of its final report (2016), noted that, nationally, properties in historic districts have higher values and are better maintained; that neighborhoods with a mix of older, smaller buildings support greater levels of positive economic and social activity than areas dominated by newer, larger buildings; and that heritage travelers stay longer and spend more on average than other visitors.