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28 June 2013

Shelburne, NH: A Trek to Basin Falls and to an old Lead Mine

Part 1: Trek to Basin Falls along Pea Brook

A thin peninsula of WMNF land juts down to Rt. 2 on the east side of Pea Brook at a point about 1.5 miles east of Gorham (as measured from the junction of Rt. 2 and Rt. 16).  From Rt. 2, there is a well-maintained trail that heads southward along the Pea Brook drainage for about a mile.  This trail leads to some attractive cascades.  

I've heard some refer to this location as Basin Falls.  But according to Dean Goss who maintains a waterfalls website (click HERE) the cascades on Pea Brook were historically known as the Shelburne Basins.  They are referred to by that name as early as 1891 in Moses Foster Sweetser's  book entitled "The White Mountains: a Handbook for Travellers".

You can park on the road shoulder by squeezing in at a small widened spot on the south side of Rt. 2 immediately after the road crosses Pea Brook.   It is okay to park there as long as all 4 tires are completely off the pavement, but it's a busy road so use extreme caution!  There is no trail sign at the beginning, but there is an obvious footpath, although a bit overgrown in spots.

After following the footpath for 0.1 mile, you arrive at the gas pipeline corridor.  On the other side of the corridor (south side), there is/was a sign that simply read "Basin".  From this point onward, the trail is wide and easy to follow.  There are directional signs at significant turns along the way.  At one turn there is a sign indicating which is the public pathway, and which is private.  The private path leads (I presume) to the White Birches Camping Park.

Shown below is a photo collage that shows some of the signs along the trail.
Photo collage showing some of the signs along the trail along Pea Brook
The next photo collage provides a sampling of the sights that can be seen by following this trail along Pea Brook.
Sampling of the sights that can be seen by following the trail along Pea Brook
As far as I can tell, none of the present-day topographic maps show this trail corridor which leads along the east side of Pea Brook.  However, the trail does show up on some earlier topographic maps.  Shown below is a 1937 map.  I've highlighted the trail in pink.  And, using a dotted line, I've drawn in the corridor that leads from Rt.2 to the junction where you see the "Public/Private" trail sign.  Beyond that sign, the remainder of the corridor is a public trail.
Map showing location of trail along Pea Brook (CLICK TO ENLARGE)
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Part 2: Trek to an Old Lead Mine

For anyone who might read my Blog on a frequent basis, you will recall that I recently trekked up the entire length of the Lead Mine Road corridor in order to do a loop hike in the southern Mahoosucs. (Click HERE to read that report.)  At the time of doing that trek, I was aware that an old lead mine was located somewhere in the general vicinity.  However, I was uncertain about its location, and didn't really have time to spend snooping around to find it.

Subsequent to the above hike, a Shelburne resident indicated to me that I should begin searching for the mine about a tenth of a mile east of the Lead Mine Road corridor, at a point about 1.5 miles from the junction of North Road and Lead Mine Road.  Using that information, I left Lead Mine Road at a likely spot, and the old mine was eventually located.  Along the route, I encountered some sporadic tape flagging.

Two water-filled entrances to the old mine were spotted.  One was adjacent to a cascade at the upper end of a tributary to Lead Mine Brook.  This entrance could easily have been mistaken for a cave if you didn't know the history of this spot.  The second entrance was spotted lower down on the brook and was much more impressive.  It was partially enclosed by a brick structure.  There was even a chain of some sort that was still attached to a crossbeam that was submerged just under the surface of the water at the lip of the mine entrance.

Below is a photo collage which shows the things mentioned in the above paragraph.
Photo collage showing various aspects of the old lead mine
Perhaps it should be mentioned that neither the upper entrance nor the lower entrance are readily apparent.  If you're not looking for them, then you might walk right by without knowing it.  To illustrate this, the next photo shows the lower entrance as seen when standing just a short distance away.
Lower entrance to old lead mine as seen from just a short distance away
Earlier in this report, reference was made to the trek I'd done along Lead Mine Road just about a week prior to this quest to locate the old lead mine.   On that previous trek, I took some rather pathetic photos of a cascade that is located in the same general vicinity as the lead mine.  

In an attempt to redeem myself, I made a side trip to once again visit this cascade and take some photos which would hopefully be a bit better than before.   Shown below is one of my "second time around" snapshots.  Although it lacks the stunning quality of a true waterfall photographer, it's at least better than my previous endeavor.
Cascade located in Lead Mine Brook drainage
For anyone who might be interested, the following is a brief history of the old lead mine in Shelburne, NH.  About 1820, a rich deposit of lead was found.  Shafts were sunk in 1845 and the mine first opened in the Autumn of 1846.  An engine pumped air into the shaft and water out of it.  The ore was hauled up by a horse-powered windlass.  A large framed building was erected at the site.  In the basement was the heavy crushing machinery and smelting works.  Above were pleasant rooms for the use of the superintendent and others.  A small village sprang up with a dining and cooking house, and several dwelling houses.  However, the enterprise was not profitable, and it was abandoned in 1849. In 1856 the mine was reopened.  One shaft was partially pumped out.  A few blasts were put in, the ore was crushed and put in barrels, and then the mine was once again deserted.  The dam rotted away, and for many years the Shelburne Lead Mine was one of the interesting features of the past.  In 1880, a new dam was built, and water was emptied from the shaft and some mining operations took place.  However, this revival of the mine was also short lived and it was once again abandoned, and remains so to this day.  All that is left  are the shafts (some flooded and others filled in) and the name given to the brook, i.e. Leadmine Brook.

To sum it up, I thoroughly enjoyed the two treks described in this report.  The Pea Brook hike is by no means a "blockbuster" adventure.  However, if you're driving through the area of Gorham/Shelburne, then it's certainly a pleasant way to spend about an hour's worth of hiking. Regarding the trek to the old lead mine, this will have some appeal to those who are comfortable with off-trail travel, and who have an interest in finding artifacts in the forest from times gone by.


Steve Smith said...

Nice discoveries, John! I had no idea there was a path up Pea Brook. Those are some nice cascades and pools, similar to Rattle River nearby. Great find and historical background on the mine, too.


1HappyHiker said...

Thanks Steve for your kind words!

Regarding Pea Brook, just like you, I also was surprised that there is a maintained trail along the brook. I was even more surprised to learn that the cascades were mentioned in Sweetser’s 1891 guidebook, and that he describes the trail in that book. Out there in the forest, there are so many lovely little surprises to be discovered, or re-discovered, as the case might be!


Rita Wechter said...

John, you're right about the many little surprises to be discovered in our forests. A few weeks ago I was in Lancaster County, PA. The area is mostly farmland but my sisters and I discovered a small 250 acre forest preserve, filled with 100 foot tall Tulip Poplars, White Oaks and Elms (and surrounded by farms on all sides!).

The Pea Brook trail looks like a wonderful place for a forest stroll.
And I enjoyed the story about the mine. It's fun to see the evidence of human settlement in the most unlikely of places and I am continually amazed at the tenacity of 19th century Americans to "go boldly where no man has gone before"—especially if they thought there was money to be made by extracting the resources there! Thankfully, many of the old mining sites are now being reclaimed by nature.

1HappyHiker said...

Hi Rita,

Your thoughts and comments about the 19th century Americans are very insightful, and I’m in total agreement. And yes, it is indeed fun to find evidence of human undertakings in such unlikely places as a remote gorge on Lead Mine Brook in northern NH!

And speaking of “finds”, it sounds like you and your sisters made quite an exciting discovery in Lancaster County, PA. Having lived for many years in nearby Wilmington, DE, I’m familiar with that area, and know how rare and precious it is to find little “islands” of woodlands such as the 250 acre forest preserve that you mentioned in your comments.

As always, thank you for taking time to read my blog and post your comments.


Trail Guy said...

Really like your blog John! This post made me miss New England a bit. I lived in Connecticut while I was in school but tried to get up north to explore as often as my school schedule would permit. I've been in the pacific northwest for almost a decade now but hope to get back your direction to do the north end of the AT sometime in the not too distant futue.

Keep up the good work on your blog!

1HappyHiker said...

Thanks for your kind comments, and great to read that you like my Blog.

Regarding your plans to hike the north end of the AT, don’t know if this will be your first time, or a repeat visit. Regardless, in my opinion, the north end of the trail through the White Mountains and Maine are the best part.

Happy trails to you!


Hunter Tupick said...

I can't find this Shelburne NH lead mine anywhere and I would like to find it soon, I trekked the area in back where it might be. It's not there


1HappyHiker said...

Hunter, I can empathize with the difficulty you’re having with finding the old mine. It’s barely recognizable even after you’ve found it. Can’t tell you how many times I walked right by it before finally recognizing it for what it is.

If you want to send me an e-mail to: randonneur8 AT yahoo DOT com, I can provide you with some additional information which might be useful to you.


Hunter Tupick said...

I have found the mine a while ago...