Ducktown, Tennessee: Old Copper Mining Operation

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The tiny community of Ducktown’s major claim to fame is an environmental disaster.  The town is home to an old copper mine, which produced riches from the earth for well over a century.

Ducktown is just a few miles north of Copperhill, Tennessee (and the TN/GA state line) on TN Rte. 68.  The turnoff to the museum and viewing area is in the middle of town, and is marked.

Copper ore was discovered in the area in 1843.  Full-scale mining operations began around 1860, and continued until 1987, when the final mine closed.

This is an area that is still struggling to recover from the devastating effects of the destructive mining industry.  Some plant life has returned to the landscape, but the greenery is still sparse.  The pool of water at the bottom of the pit is an unnatural bright green.

The devastation to plant life began before the turn of the 20th century.  As the ore was smelted, sulfur was released into the air, which came back down in the form of acid rain.  The copper companies built smokestacks to reduce the damage to the immediate area, but only ended up spreading the sulfuric acid over the entire region.  Tens of thousands of acres of trees were lost.  Much of the immediate area was also deforested to provide fuel for the smelting process. It all led to terrible erosion problems (not to mention the runoff of toxic stuff).

In the 1940’s, efforts to repopulate the area with trees and grasses began.  The effort continues, and as you can see, it’s having some effect.   A friend of mine told me the area “looked like the moon” when he visited back in the 1980’s.  It’s better now, but the problems are far from gone.

You’d better not cross the fence.  Why? Because the damage to this area isn’t limited to the surface.  Once mining operations ceased in the 1980’s, tunnels were sealed off, water pumping ceased, and the web of underground passageways weakened.  Now, the land in the area appears “lumpy”, thanks to frequent subterranean collapses.  The weight of an automobile could be enough to cause a hole to form.

Across from the viewing area, you’ll find the Ducktown Basin Museum, which has all the information you could ever want about the mining industry in the area.

Admission to the Ducktown Basin Museum is $3 for adults, 50¢ for children.  If you can’t stop by the Museum, visit GAMineral.org.  It’s a great resource for exploring the history of mining in the region, as well as the environmental effects and recovery efforts. I gathered much of the information on this page from their helpful website.

Note: This trip was first published in 2006.

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