A new exhibit on the Ore Knob Mine will soon have a permanent home at the Museum of Ashe County History in Jefferson.
The life-size exhibit, featuring two miners at work inside the Ore Knob Mine, and a diorama of the entire mine itself, will appropriately be housed in the old, dark and cavernous Register of Deeds vault inside the museum, which served as the Ashe County Courthouse from 1904 to 2001. There’s even going to be a battery-operated bird in a small cage to go alongside the miners - a dead bird being the miners’ signal that toxins were present in the mine-shaft.
The Ore Knob Mine diorama will be similar to the “Virginia Creeper” diorama, which debuted at the museum in December 2011.
Ramona Renfroe, the museum’s director, said the exhibit will more than likely be ready for public viewing by December.
“It will probably be finished by December, although I’d love for it to be ready before,” Renfroe said.
Like the Creeper diorama, the Ore Knob Mine diorama and exhibit is being constructed by a small army of local history-loving volunteers.
The volunteers who created the Creeper diorama, known to museum officials as “The Crew” consisted of Bill Baker, Bart Bartholomew, Dr. Lee Beckworth, Al Hellmann, Mike and Rick Herman, Job Hopkins, Jim Judson, Mike Kelly, Andy Lindley, Tony Padgett, John Reeves, Stephen Shoemaker and Nancy Zoppi.
According to Renfroe, most of them are involved in the Ore Knob Mine project with the exception of Batholomew, who passed away in 2012.
Like the Creeper diorama, the Ore Knob Mine diorama is being made from modeling kits and H.O. scale miniatures, some of which have been ordered from as far away as Germany.
Debbi Farmer, who owns Gem Valley which is located near the old Ore Knob Mine, said it’s possible some relics recently unearthed at Ore Knob Mine may make it into the exhibit.
“We are in the process of going through some of these old relics that we were able to salvage from EPA’s (Environmental Protection Agency) clean-up efforts when they had to seal one of the old shafts,” Farmer said. “Hopefully the museum can use some of these in their exhibit.”
The Creeper diorama and exhibit have generated a good amount of visitors and some out-of-state publicity for the museum, which opened at its present location in 2010.
Renfroe estimates it took “The Crew” a total of 15,000 hours over two years to finish the Creeper diorama.
The Ore Knob Mine was a copper mine that operated intermittently from 1855 to 1962. It was located in Laurel Springs and was the largest producer of copper in N.C. Thirty-one thousand tons of copper, 9,400 ounces of gold and 145,000 ounces of silver were produced from 1.5 million tons of ore brought up from the mine when it was in operation.
In 1982, the bodies of two men were recovered from the bottom of the 250-foot, dormant mine-shaft, bringing state and national attention to Ashe County. The two men were killed over drugs and money; the murders and subsequent recovery and trial being the subject of Rose Haynes’ 2013 book, “The Ore Knob Mine Murders: The Crimes, the Investigations and the Trials.”
The murders and trials will not be the subject of the newest exhibit. The exhibit will instead focus entirely on the mine while it was still in operation.
The Museum of Ashe County History is located at 301 East Main St. in Jefferson, and is open 10 a.m. — 4 p.m., Monday — Saturday. Admission is free.
Alan Bulluck can be reached at (336) 846-7164 or on Twitter @albulluck.