Gouverneur Brown Tourmaline

Lots of joy, but not for me

Steven C. Chamberlain


Revised - 2016


              This deposit consists of a series of silicate pods in the Gouverneur marble distributed over a gently rolling pasture.  Without moving an inch, it has gone from being the brown tourmaline locality in Gouverneur to the Reese farm to the Gomer Jones farm to the Dale Bush farm.  Somewhere in this evolution is stopped being in Gouverneur (although it is in the Town of Gouverneur) and started being in Richville.  I label specimens as being from the Dale Bush farm, Welsh (or Welch) Road, Richville, NY.

              This is one of the classic north-country localities that Iíve visited often and worked hard at, yet never have really hit it big at.  I have found some very nice specimens, especially tremolite, diopside, and fluorapatite, but the killer brown tourmalines have proved elusive.  One of the problems is that most of them are terribly fractured.  When they occur in pods or seams and you dig into them, hypertension is immediate.  I have been excited to the point of incoherence at least a dozen times, only to be depressed the next week as I washed all the great tourmalines I collected only to find that many of them came apart when washed with soap and water or had iron stains on them that could be removed, but only if you wanted tourmaline sand when you were done.  My conclusion is that the percentage of uvite specimens from this locality that rise to greatness is extraordinarily small compared to the number of specimens that have been collected.  When I look at the two gigantic uvites in the Oren Root Collection from this locality, I just canít imagine in which silicate pod they occurred or how they were ever collected largely intact.  Nonetheless, Iíve had some very interesting collecting experiences here, even when the final results werenít always spectacular.


Very large tourmaline crystal from the Oren Root collection, now at the New York State Museum.



(Left)  Tremolite crystals in calcite, probably collected by C. D. Nims, now at the New York State Museum. 

(Right)  White diopside crystals from the Oren Root collection, now at the New York State Museum.


              One of my first good finds occurred on a Labor Day weekend when the Syracuse Gem and Mineral Society went to Mt. St-Hilaire on Saturday, to the Francon Quarry on Sunday and to a northern New York locality of choice on Monday.  I seemed to have been the only one to choose the Bush farm and I found myself sharing the pasture with a single young cow.  I was digging in one of the eastern-most pits and found a seam of very nice white diopside crystals that I was eagerly pursuing.  It was a blue sky and fluffy white clouds kind of a day and my only distraction from collecting was the curious cow.  About every 10 minutes I had to chase her away from the pit itself.  She was curious and lonely, but I was busy.  Finally, she seems to have disappeared and I was hunched down in the hole I had dug happily pulling out matrix specimens of white diopside of a habit slightly different than I already had, when it began to rain.  I looked up and the sky was pretty much clear, yet rain drops were falling on my digging.  Then a few minutes later I picked up one of the wet specimens and found that it was positively slimy!  My friend the young cow was quietly standing on the edge of the pit behind me and drooling and snotting drops of secretions down all over me.  When I came out of the hole and took off my jacket, the back of it was a disgusting mess.  Fortunately, having grown up on a farm, I found it more amusing than gross.  Upon my return home, Helen found it totally gross.

              One of my favorite collecting trips from a social interaction perspective was to this locality.  Three of my students or former students wanted to go collecting with me.  Pat OíNeill had been valedictorian of his senior class at SU, had been drafted by the NFL, and was kicking for the New England Patriots. (Pat is now an orthopedic surgeon.)  Faramarz Samie was an Iranian-American and was about to become the valedictorian of his senior class at SU. (Faramarz is now a plastic surgeon.)  Bill Weiner was a doctoral student who had been valedictorian of his senior class at SU several years before Pat.  (Bill is now a professor at Rose-Hulmann.)  I figured with brain power like this, we surely would find something cool.  We went collecting in Patís brand new white Ford Explorer that heíd bought with part of his NFL signing bonus.  It was spotless.  As we drove up the lane to get as close to the locality as possible, Pat got it mired where a small stream crossed the manure-laden pasture.  Confidently throwing it into four-wheel drive, he proceeded to throw liquefied mud and cow shit all over both sides of his new vehicle.  Everyone else thought it was hilarious, but I felt bad for Pat.  As we walked around the various pits and got the lay of the land, Faramarz noticed several cow pies and asked what animal produced them.  I pointed out that they came from cows.  Faramarz froze and scanned the horizon 360į looking for cows, clutching his lunch bag tightly.  I assured him that cows were harmless and did not eat lunch-meat sandwiches.  I then digressed and told him about the multiple stomachs cows have and raved about seeing the Penn State cow with a glass window in its stomach when I was a kid.  All of this fell on deaf ears.  Cows were equivalent to dragons and were to be feared.  Our visit was not too long after George Robinson and Michelle Picard along with Schuyler Alverson had brought a back hoe into the locality and dug out some of the older pits to see what might still be there.  They had found some nifty sulfur crystals resulting from the breakdown of pyrite, but not too much else.  They had, however, scattered debris far and wide and the next several months of rain had washed some nice thumbnail specimens out.  Things were going pretty well and everyone seemed to be enjoying collecting and finding things, when Faramarz started yelling.  Everyone came running.  Bill got tangled up in some brambles and scratched up his arms pretty well.  When we found Faramarz, he was sitting in the fork of a tree clutching his lunch looking down at a cow, which was standing looking back at him.  Pat and I chased the cow away, but Faramarz wouldnít come down for many minutes until he was certain it was safe.  Thereafter Faramarz served as cow lookout while the rest of us happily collected.

              That evening on the way home, we stopped at Longwayís Dineróa collecting tradition with me.  Pat being another native Pennsylvanian worshiped diners just like I did.  Bill was willing to try anything, although Iím not certain heíd eaten in quite such an establishment before.  Poor Faramarz was just bewildered.  There were no table cloths.  There were no placemats, there were no napkins brought with the silverware.  In the end he agreed the roast beef with mashed potatoes was delicious, but I think he spent most of his meal thinking he was getting some horrible disease, and that the Iranian version of Emily Post would not approve of all of this.

              One of several collecting trips to this locality with Charlie Bowman gave me a first-hand experience of how a master north-country field collector can do things I cannot.  Charlie consistently would walk around a pit and then dig where there were tourmalines.  He did it four or five different places.  When I asked him how he was doing this, he smiled and told me he could hear them singing, which I later realized meant that he didnít know.  I donít believe in luck except the kind you make yourself.  Charlie was one field collector who just intrinsically knew how to make things happen and itís scary.  None of Charlie's copious tourmalines were really any good when they were cleaned up, but the collecting part was inspiring.

              The best specimen I ever personally saw collected at the Bush farm was a plate of calcite and tremolite with four or five nice pyrite crystals on it.  They were sharp pyritohedra, but altered on the surface to goethite.  Bill Condon collected it and for many years it had a place of honor in his mineral display cabinet.  When Rob Wallerís iron removal technique was presented at the Rochester Symposium and then published, Bill was one of many of us who bought the ingredients and started cleaning up some of our specimens.  One evening when I was visiting him, he showed me how five successive applications of the Waller method had improved his Bush farm pyrite.  As I examined the specimen, I was horrified.  The pyrite crystals were now bright and brassy, but the outer half millimeter of goethite was gone and the surfaces underneath were anything but flat crystal faces.  I never mentioned to Bill that I thought heíd ruined his specimen, and it was still one of his favorites when he passed away.  As time went on, I did gently emphasize that one needed to check that the iron minerals you were removing were on top of the underlying crystals.

              In 2010, the president of the St. Lawrence County Mineral Club arranged with owner Dale Bush to have a back hoe clear the overburden from a large area adjacent to one of the most productive old collecting areas.  The final result was a large number of very fine brown tourmaline specimens entered collections.  However, there was initially quite a kerfuffle.  When a classic locality that has been relatively dormant suddenly changes, possibly for the better, it is like flies on road-kill.  Local collectors somehow hear about it instantaneously and are immediately hot on the trail.  Given that this has been a public fee locality for decades, two or three, very capable local field collectors were digging successful pits within a day or two.  One of them left  a cache of valuable tools to mark his spot.  When these disappeared, he immediately assumed they had been stolen by one of his competitor local collectors and called the state police.  The club president was a bit upset that people other than club members were scarfing up the goodies in advance of the scheduled club field trip.  The land owner didnít like the state police coming around and asking questions.  In the end, it worked out fine since everyone got lots of great specimens which soothed their upset.  I was otherwise occupied during the first frenzied week of collecting and thereby missed out on probably my best chance to actually personally collect a really good brown tourmalineÖ


Cluster of tourmaline crystals collected after the back-hoe excavations in 2012 by Donnie Carlin, now at the New York State Museum.


              In doing our research for our recent book on the black tourmaline from Pierrepont, we discovered historical records that suggest that Floyd Hamlin, a neighbor of R. T. Cross, who discovered the black tourmaline on the Powers Farm, showed a teenaged Cross the brown tourmaline locality.  Shortly thereafter, legendary local collector-dealer C. D. Nims contacted Cross and asked to be shown the brown tourmaline locality.  Nims then employed Cross for a while to collect brown tourmaline, which Nims distributed world-wide very much like he did the Pierrepont black tourmaline.

              I now have some nice Bush farm tourmalines, but Iíve bought every single really good one.  Having collected there for years and years, I understand that a really quality Bush tourmaline specimen is a rarity and worth whatever price is being asked.  I guess my favorite came from Bob Whitmore who got it in a collection of New Hampshire minerals collected by a Vermonter back in the 1930s.  On the other hand, my self-collected tremolite and diopside specimens are on a par with the best of what I find for sale.  A great Bush farm uvite is a thing of beauty and rarer than you might think!


For more information:                                                           

Robinson, G. W., S. C. Chamberlain, and M. Walter.  (2016) The history and mineralogy of the classic brown tourmaline locality, Gouverneur, New York. Rocks & Minerals 91:520-527.

Walter, M. (2011) Bush Farm Minerals. Rock and Gem Magazine.