At the turn of the Twentieth Century, a natural formation on Stone Mountain promised to be a major attraction. Stone Mountain is directly on the boundary line between Wise and Scott Counties, in Virginia. Locals found this geologic oddity on the Scott County side of the mountain. Scientists were puzzled, locals were baffled, and the discovery even made its way into textbooks for a brief time. Unfortunately, the discovery fell into obscurity until it simply vanished.
There once was an ice mine on the northern slope of Stone Mountain. It wasn’t just an ice mine, per se. Even geologists referred to it as a “natural ice house.” The ice shelf covered around one acre of land, but stretched far below the surface. The frozen water mimicked a coal vein. The mine was six miles from the mouth of Stony Creek, on the mountain’s northern slope.
The ice was a thick wall in some places, while thin in others. The only protection against the heat of summer was a thick layer of moss. The protective moss was compared to thick Spanish moss found in the Deep South. Several sources reported the moss was more akin to that found around Chesapeake Bay. Year after year, the ice formation retained it shape and solidity no matter how hot summer became.
The most common legend surrounding the ice mine’s discovery is connected with a county settler named Dandridge. The early resident found the mine while out hunting game. There is a historic conflict over the period of discovery. Most accounts list the discovery as occurring in 1830, while several place his finding the ice field much later, in 1880.
Dandridge attempted to buy the property on Stone Mountain, but the land was not for sale. He never revealed where the mine was located. In times of sickness, he supplied what was necessary, but never divulged the mine’s location. In retrospect, Dandridge might be considered an early conservationist because public knowledge essentially destroyed the geologic feature.
Dandridge died before he revealed the location. Most locals thought it was lost forever.
There are a few accounts that use Dandridge’s story, but use the name of Marion Carter.
Foragers stumbled across the mine while they searched for ginseng, in 1892. After that, knowledge of the mine went public. It became an instant attraction. Scientists soon came to try their skill at solving the puzzle. Some of them believed the ice shelf was a remnant from the ice age. Others stated the ground produced a natural form of ether, which helped create and preserve the ice. Other theories involving a host of other gases came later.
Less than a year later, newspapers proclaimed the “natural ice factory” near Big Stone Gap produced highest quality ice. It was already being mined and sold by “Goodloe and Youell.” By January of 1893, they harvested 210 tons and they’d only mined since late fall.
The formation drew attention into the early 1900s. Beyond that point, it faded from memory and from mention.