Transcribed by Crist Middaugh


Jersey Hill contains mysteries

Genesee Reflections

Bill Greene

What is the mystery of Jersey Hill? At the risk of being permanently classified as a crackpot (in Alfred that would be a psycho-ceramic), we will endeavor to set down some of the facts, fancy or folktales concerning Jersey Hill in Birdsall, and some similar places around our neck of the woods. We assume that, because these stories seem to persist and come from so many sources, there must some truth to at least some of them. That’s probably the rationale that Cortez had about El Dorado.

In basic form the tale goes that someone’s grandfather, being in good graces with the Indians, was allowed to visit their secret lead mine. He would be taken there blindfolded and brought home the same way. It was always close enough so that they could leave early in the morning, have time to dig ll the lead they could carry, and still be home by evening. There seems to have been two principal locations for these mines: the lesser one was in a cave on a hill top near Canisteo, while the principle site seems to be what is now known as the Orebed Road gully in the Town of Willing.

Somehow I had always pictured lead ore as something to found in igneous rock like granite. Not necessarily so - a little study shows that the primary ore of lead is Galena or lead sulfide. This is made up of little gray crystals that can very well be found in shale or sedimentary rock.

Perhaps someone in the Genesee, Pa., area could explain the origins of the name Leadville on their map. About 10 years ago one nearby resident told me tat she had seen a chunk of what an Alfred professor told her was silver ore that he found in the area. Silver sounds a little unlikely, but the glacier could have left a few ounces here and there. Canisteo was always too far away for me to check.

Now on to Jersey Hill. It has its share of legends. Again, about 10 years ago, a man from Black Creek told me that he was witness to this event: He was up at Johnny Herdman’s when some “city fellow” came by to do some prospecting. He disappeared into the woods for about an hour, and came back with some interesting rocks. Johnny had a plumber’s torch which they used to heat the rocks. After a few minutes lead dripped out of the rocks. That seems a little to easy.

About that same time a group of men who raise homing pigeons for a hobby decided to release their birds form the Jersey Hill fire tower. Instead of circling and taking a course for Hornell, the pigeons went off in all directions. The experiment has been repeated a number of times - always with the same results. They just get mixed up up there. Recently these events were described in a film on magnetism seen on WXXI (Channel 21). They called it a “magnetic anomaly.”

About five miles northeast of there is an area known today as Klipnockey. The Indians called it Witch’s Corners, and still consider it to be haunted. As recently as last week the subject came up for discussion with a local resident of Indian descent who admits to being a little nervous about driving around the place.

The 1830 census lists two iron smelters in Allegany County. One of those was definitely in Pike. From several bits of circumstantial evidence we believe the other was in the Keeney Swamp area, on some 5,000 acres owned by Andrew Hull. He apparently mined bog ore from the bottom of sediments at the bottom of the swamp. This is just under six miles due north of the tower. If there is that much iron in the swamp it would have had to leach in from some place higher up. On the other hand, that much ore should make it impossible to get good compass readings when surveying. Yet our here Moses Van Campen made a good subdivision map of West Almond in 1818. At least one same of glacial gold has been reported.

Two unusual holes in the ground may or may not be related. One of these is trench 100 feet above the Shawmut cut at Swain; the other looks somewhat like a gravel pit, but with very straight sides, in Baker Valley. Not close enough to be directly related, but not far enough away to be ignored is a four-inch thick bed of hematite (iron ore) at Hallsport. Not far from the Dimmic Cemetery in the southeast corner of Wirt is a hole called Indian Cave.

Could the so-called anomaly be cause by a long-buried metro? If so it would have been so long ago that the glaciers erased the sides for the crater. The parent material in our bedrock is outwash from the erosion of the Catskill mountains some 400 million years ago.

In the 1940s and ’50s, when everybody was prospecting these hills for uranium, the state found an anomaly of another kind. This was a lower-than-normal background radiation. Such a phenomenon could be associated with lots of lead. The state was trying to correlate the low radiation with a lower than average rate of handicapped babies in the area. The people doing the magnetism study are trying to relate their findings to mental health.

At least two seismic studies have been done in the area, but you can bet that no big oil company is going to let on if they found anything. Economically important? Well, that remains to be seen. This is not the first article on the subject, nor will it be the last. It can make for a good evening’s discussion at your favorite pub.

One final note: Regardless of what’s on top of our hills, about 5,000 feet down there should be enough salt at 10 cents a pound under county land to finance the budget forever.