Maybe if you're
from one of the great western states with their
huge mining operations and vast caverns and
passageways where once solid rock stood a small
mine isn't going to impress. But we aren't and
boy did our jaw drop when we carefully walked
into the gloomy dark of the Widow Jane Mine.
There's no elevator dropping away beneath you,
there's no rail system with charming little
tracks and cute little cars, all there is is
a great hole.
As you approach
the Widow Jane Mine all you see are a couple
of large holes punched into the face of a tall
cliff, holes at ground level. Walking up to
them you suddenly realize they are actually
vast, great gaping cavities with a looming darkness
beyond. Standing in one of these entrances you
suddenly feel small, tiny in comparison and
before you is a immense darkness stretching
into the distance. Descend a ramp and you find
yourself in a expansive cavern, huge pillars
of stone supporting the ceiling, and the room
going back and yet further back into darkness.
It's an awe inspiring
space on many levels. First and most obvious
is its sheer scale, the dimensions of this excavation
is immense. Water drips from somewhere filling
a pool as the floor slopes downward. Light filters
in from the openings trying to cut into the
darkness, and failing. The second and more powerful
sensation is less tangible, the effort, the
sheer physical effort undertaken by nameless
and uncounted people to hack the resources of
the mine from the grip of the mountain. When
this mine was dug technology was simpler and
less sophisticated. This mine was dug with picks
and shovels and black powder. This mine is the
life effort of people, the sweat and pain of
real men struggling against the rock.
Created to claim
the vast lime resources to feed a booming cement
industry made large by the D&H Canal running
just yards away, the Widow Jane Mine now lies
quietly behind a shady glen with mossy banks
and dappled sunlight. You almost stumble across
it down a grassy path, turn a corner and before
you a short distance away are the entrances.
Artifacts of the once vital economic engine
of the Valley, the cement industry, lie beneath
an enveloping blanket of vines and thickets
of limbs all around you, peering from the shade.
Remnants of the old kilns tower from behind
a curtain of leaves and old hand trucks and
implements lie beneath a layer of leaves. You
are invited to explore the mine and grounds
on your own at your pace not being interrupted
by a streaming narrative. Or you can request
a guide go with you and inform you of the site.
It's a quiet and almost tranquil experience
giving you the time to approach the mine, and
recover from its impact.
Located on the grounds
of the Century House, the Widow Jane Mine and
associated small museum are one of any number
of struggling historic sites in the Hudson Valley,
little visited and a little off the beaten path.
Even if you are looking for it, because of the
configuration of roads and quick turns you can
entirely miss it, we did twice. But it is absolutely
worth taking the time to find it and experience
its power and presence. Odd in a way to say
that a void has a presence, but it does, it