Memories of West Pierrepont

Steven C. Chamberlain


Revised - 2007, 2016


        The exposures of tremolite and fluor-fluor-uvite in the woods along Selleck Road, northeast of West Pierrepont are one of the more prolific collecting localities in the North Country.  A line of small hills and ridges begins to the west of the access road and runs roughly perpendicular to the access road across it for quite a distance before ending at a small stream.  Display quality specimens of tremolite have been collected at points all along this line.  Most of the tremolite is green; however, nice specimens of terminated colorless crystals have been collected at the eastern most end of the line and nearly black crystals have been found in the middle.  George Robinson, Schuyler Alverson, Charlie Bowman, Terry Holmes, Ron Waddell, Bill Condon and doubtless many other  collectors have extracted outstanding specimens of tremolite in the past 50 years.  George Robinson’s original collecting site was west of the current collecting area along the north side of a dome of Popple Hill granite.

        I’ve been to this site countless times.  Something interesting always seems to turn up and sometimes spectacular things appear.  This is one of those sites where I never seem to know where I’m going to dig when I get there and I just wander around until either I find something on the surface and then dig there or just dig somewhere for no apparent reason.  This is one of those localities where people with the “knack” for field collecting really show it.  When you ask one of them why they dug where they just found some very nice specimens, they rarely can tell you.  They just knew, somehow, that this spot was a good place to dig.  Charlie Bowman has often told me, only partly in jest, that he can hear the crystals singing to him and he just digs where he hears them.  Of course, part of the explanation is that the mineralization here is so widespread that the probability of a randomly chosen spot having something is higher than normal, but it still isn’t very high as all the dry holes indicate.  Field collectors with a good ability to find things rarely seem to dig dry holes at West Pierrepont.

        This is also a great place to take new collectors because there is a lot to look at.  It’s been in the curriculum of the advanced geology class taught by Tim Connors and Terry Brooks at Chenango Forks High School for decades.  You can turn a bus load of students loose here and they will find a nice variety of minerals in a safe environment that doesn’t require hard hats.

        For me, the dark brown tourmaline crystals have always been the most desirable mineral occurring here.  In the 1960s, Ron Waddell and Geoff Palin of Syracuse and Ivan McIntosh of Gouverneur collected some very nice specimens ranging from thumbnails to large plates of fluor-fluor-uvite crystals on dark green tremolite crystals.  They were working just to the west of the parking area and there is still a prominent trench there.  In the late 1970s, I found several fluor-fluor-uvite crystals on the surface at the end of the mound that is just north of where they were digging and then collected a number of very nice matrix specimens, many with both calcite and tremolite.  .  At the other end of this mound, Terry Holmes collected some more really nice tremolites just a few years ago.

        In the 1980s, Dean Stahl did his bachelor’s thesis at St. Lawrence University on the crystallography of tourmalines from several sites in St. Lawrence County, including West Pierrepont.  His specimens were all from the exposures on the west side of the access road.  He found that many of the West Pierrepont fluor-fluor-uvites were strongly hemimorphic in their development and showed some unusual faces on the more pointed end.

        In the 1990s, Larry Bowman of Gouverneur found an area of tourmaline mineralization on the east side of the access road on top of the ridge.  He and Charlie Bowman dug a large trench and large pieces of massive fluor-uvite can still be collected in the debris around this trench.  One of the crystals they found was large enough to be dubbed the “beer can tourmaline” by Mike Hawkins of the New York State Museum.  Only a few really good specimens were recovered, but they were much larger than previous fluor-uvite crystals and were associated with feldspar as well as tremolite.  As I write this, the beer can tourmaline is on display at the New York State Museum.  It’s not my favorite West Pierrepont fluor-uvite in my collection, but it is by far the largest.

        At about the same time, Terry Holmes of Edwards apparently “heard the fluor-uvites singing” because he dug a hole further east of the McIntosh/Waddell/Palin fluor-uvite trench and found what many collectors regard as the finest suite of tourmalines ever collected in New York State.  These were largely floater, hemimorphic single crystals and groups that had weathered out of calcite.  The largest crystals were just under 3 inches in length, had lustrous faces, and were remarkably complete.  A few matrix specimens were collected with calcite, but most were just loose in the soil.  Altogether about 30 high quality specimens from thumbnails to small cabinet specimens were recovered.

        How I acquired these specimens is an interesting story.  I have only ever been to one meeting of the St. Lawrence County Mineral Club.  I don’t remember any more why I went.  Terry had just collected the tourmalines and brought them in two flats to the meeting to show off.  Everyone was stupefied, especially Schuyler Alverson and I.  Schuyler could tell that I was overcome with tourmaline lust, and I could tell he was overcome with tourmaline lust.  As is my tendency, I spent a fair amount of time examining each of the specimens figuring that I’d never be able to get them, so I needed to memorize in detail what they looked like for future reference since they were spectacular and important in NYS mineralogy.  As the meeting began, I said to Terry that if he ever wanted to sell them, I would be very interested.  During the fellowship time at the end of the meeting, Terry quietly walked up to me and asked how many I’d like to buy and how much I thought each worth.  Although I am excitable by times, when the chips are really down, I can play poker with the best of them.  We quietly negotiated a price per specimen and I bought all of them except 5 or 6 that Terry wanted to keep.  As we were leaving the meeting, I was carrying the two flats and Schuyler asked me about why I was carrying Terry’s tourmalines.  When I told him that they were now my tourmalines he stopped, became silent and turned pale.  I thought he was going to pass out right there.  Then in his best Walter Matthau imitation he laughed about my never missing an opportunity to add specimens to my collection.  Later when George Robinson saw them, he just looked at me and said he thought these were the finest tourmalines ever found anywhere in New York State.  Over the years, I have managed to acquire most of the pieces Terry kept that night when he no longer needed them.  His daughter had found a spectacular thumbnail in the discards a couple days after the major find and I later was able to purchase that specimen from her about five years later.  When I hear the crystals singing, apparently all is not enough.



The best of the fluor-uvite specimens collected by Terry Holmes.


        George Robinson and Michel Picard came down from the Canadian Museum of Nature the next month and excavated a trench in both directions from the hole Terry had dug, but found not a single additional tourmaline crystal.  The occurrence was obviously very localized.  They did find some nice pyrite crystals in the odd granular diopside rock that is common at this locality, but no tourmalines. When I asked Terry Holmes what led him to dig there in the first place, he couldn’t answer.  Like Charlie Bowman, he somehow just knew that was a good place to dig!

        All was quiet on the West Pierrepont tourmaline front for about 10 years.  Then in the summer of 2006, Scott Wallace had his own tourmalines-are-singing experience and began a hole even further west in line with the McIntosh/Waddell/Palin and Holmes excavations.  He brought in Mike Walter on the find and the two of them extracted another suite of superb fluor-uvites, many on matrix.  Again I was fortunate enough to acquire the whole suite.  Interestingly, they also found scapolite and Mike collected a very reputable scapolite crystal and several smaller crystallized scapolite specimens.  Up to this point, I had only seen evidence of scapolite at West Pierrepont on the other side of the access road where albite pseudomorphs after scapolite are occasionally found.

        Not quite ten years ago, Donnie Carlin showed me one of several interesting phlogopite “coins” he had just collected on the western end of the ridge that runs from the parking lot to the east.  It took me a long time, with assistance from crystallographer par excellence, Pete Richards, to understand that these were triplets (three-way twins), although Mike Walter realized what they were immediately.  Donnie collected a large number of specimens and Mike Walter made a major excavation and collected many more, including some really good matrix specimens.  I’m not certain I completely understand how these unusual triplet-twins form, but they are certainly uncommon here and elsewhere in the Grenville province. More recently, we have recognized them as occurring sparing at the black tourmaline locality near Pierrepont as well.


Unusual phlogopite triplet collected by Mike Walter


        Several years ago, Donnie Carlin was prospecting both sides of Selleck Road to the east and discovered that there was further tremolite/tourmaline mineralization east of the creek that truncates the classical collecting locality.  Two main mineralized areas have been found and we named these the East Pits. Some extremely fine specimens of tremolite and tourmaline have been found, including some stunning “jackstraw” tremolite specimens.


“Jackstraw” tremolite from the East Pits collected by Donnie Carlin


        I have a sneaking suspicion that we have not heard the last of spectacular specimens from West Pierrepont.  The large size of the mineralized area, the absence of clear surface indications where interesting mineralization may occur, and the localized nature of the really good occurrences suggests that more spectacular finds will be forthcoming.  Meanwhile, the New York State Museum has gotten a huge number of fluor-uvite specimens from West Pierrepont, along with tremolite and other minerals, as I donated that suite to them these past several years.


For more information:                                                      

Chamberlain, S. C. and R. P. Richards (2012) Phlogopite triplets from the Sellect Road occurrence, West Pierrepont, St. Lawrence County, New York.  Rocks & Minerals 87:279-280.

Chamberlain, S. C., G. W. Robinson, M. R. Walter, and D. G. Bailey. (2015) The Selleck Road tremolite and tourmaline locality, West Pierrepont, St. Lawrence County, New York.  Rocks & Minerals 91:116-130.



Phlogopite Twin Information