Dive team uncovers secrets of Crystal Cave

Lying within Fort Drum property is a site that may be hidden now, but in the past it was as clear as crystal.
Lewis County rescue divers made a special trip to Quarry Pond near the impact area to refine their skills by searching the bottom of a once thriving quarry now filled with water.

The dive was accomplished by the Lewis County Sheriff’s Department dive team, which is led by dive captain Pete Monnat. The training involved seven divers and two shore crew personnel. All personnel – divers and shore crew – are volunteers.

“We got into this dive by hearing stories about it from other divers, historians and local citizens who stated it was deep, cold and full of history from the old lime quarry that existed before it filled with water,” said Rob Gates, a volunteer with the team. 

“The purpose of the dive was for the team to become familiar with another body of water within Lewis County as well as (to) practice search patterns, underwater communications and our submersible live feed camera,” Gates said. “A secondary purpose was to provide the Fort Drum Cultural Resources Office with information, video footage and approximate locations of the mining equipment that was left behind when the quarry filled with water.”

While diving, members of the team located the system of railroad tracks and a railroad car that were used during the days of the lime quarry. They also located a flywheel for a steam shovel and even a 1953 Chevy.

“Some of what we learned was the conditions beneath the surface, including the layout of old equipment and land features,” Monnat said. “We also learned how and where to best access the water. All of this information is helpful in the event we are ever needed to conduct a search, rescue or recovery mission in this pond.

“We would just like to say that we particularly enjoyed this training mission and appreciate being given the opportunity to do so,” he added. “It was our pleasure to be able to help Dr. (Laurie) Rush and her staff (Dennis O’Connell and Kurt Hunt) from the Cultural Resources Office, and hopefully we will be able to do this again someday to further explore the old quarry and become more familiar with everything beneath the surface.”

The quarry, located near Natural Bridge, had been in operation for several years when in the Fall of 1906, a discovery of great importance was made.

The mine had been excavated to a depth of 60 feet, and one day workers scurried to safety as part of a rock wall collapsed to reveal an opening of a cavern. When workers had a chance to look inside, they were amazed to discover the largest calcite crystal formation ever found.

“It turns out that the Crystal Cave at Quarry Pond has the largest calcite crystals in the world,” Rush said. “Some of them are as big as nine feet tall. The opening of the cave alone was 10 feet wide by four feet high, and the cave went back 20 feet and was filled with the crystals.”

When the mine superintendent notified his superiors, they contacted the assistant state geologist, who would supervise the project of carefully removing and shipping crystals to Albany.

These crystals would go on to be displayed in the New York State Museum’s Crystal Cave exhibit for several years.

“It was a highly significant mineralogical discovery that is still talked about today,” Rush said.

While searching the old mine, divers also located the entrance to the Crystal Cave.

“The dive team did in fact find the opening of the Crystal Cave, and the divers reported finding a wooden platform inside the cave opening, so that must have been part of the structure the miners used to stand on as they carefully removed the crystals,” Rush said. “Because when we think about it, that was a pretty significant accomplishment to get a nine-foot-long crystal out of the cave without breaking it. 

“Hopefully, as the divers get more opportunities to explore, we may have some more answers exactly about how (the miners) did it. We know they were successful, but we don’t know anything about their methods.”

By the late 1930s, miners had dug below the water table and the mine was overtaken by the water.

From the Fort Drum Blizzard

My photos from the project.

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