An Afternoon at Cabin Branch Pyrite Mine

Photo by Michael Kleen

Walk among the remains of an early 20th Century pyrite mine in this northern Virginia forest.

The 16,084 acres of Prince William Forest Park west of Quantico, Virginia was once home to at least three small towns, two mines, and dozens of homesteads. The Cabin Branch Mine, which operated from 1889 to 1920, was among them. During the Great Depression, the Federal Government bought up the land to form the Chopawamsic Recreational Demonstration Area.

Final eviction of the local residents came during WW2, when the Office of Strategic Services wanted to turn the land into a training ground. They forcibly removed dozens of residents without compensation. After the war, the National Park Service took over management and renamed it Prince William Forest Park, charging visitors $15 a week to walk the trails.

Photo by Michael Kleen

Not much remains of the old pyrite mine, but you can still see some concrete structures along the Cabin Branch Mine Trail, off Pyrite Mine Road northwest of the Visitor’s Center. Interpretive signs tell the mine’s history. Pyrite, Iron Sulfide, or “Fool’s Gold” was a source of sulfur used to make products as diverse as glass, soap, bleach, textiles, paper, dye, and even gunpowder.

Photo by Michael Kleen

The mine had three main shafts, which remained open for decades until finally being sealed in 1995. A sealed entrance is pictured above with markers on all four sides. A pulley system allows staff to test the cap for collapse.

Photo by Michael Kleen

A company town of approximately 70 buildings served workers at the mine, including a store, machine shop, blacksmith, engine room, and six dormitories. Most of those structures are gone, but you can still see the cement foundation of the commissary.

Photo by Michael Kleen

It doesn’t look like much, but this metal pony truss bridge served miners as they crossed the North Branch Quantico Creek. It was under construction and closed to traffic when I visited earlier this year.

Prince William Forest Park is run by the National Park Service, which reclaimed the mine site for Mother Nature. The park is located at 18170 Park Entrance Road in Triangle, Virginia and open from sunrise to sunset. The Visitor Center is open daily 9am to 5pm in spring, summer, and fall, with limited winter hours. Check the website for details.

Author: Michael Kleen

Michael Kleen is an author, raconteur, and occasional traveler. He has a M.A. in History and M.S. in Education. He enjoys studying military history, folklore, and philosophy.

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