"I was shocked," said Matthew Schwartz as he drove through the Lehigh Gap in 1998, passing by the remains of the West Plant of the New Jersey Zinc Company and the denuded Blue Mountain.
Schwartz had grown up in Ogdensburg, home of the Sterling Mine of the New Jersey Zinc Company. Strangely, Palmerton reminded him of his home-and when he invited friends from Ogdensburg and Franklin, the other NJZ mining town, one friend looked at the Blue Mountain, quizzically asking, "What the heck happened here? It looks like a bomb blew up."
"That was New Jersey's gift to Pennsylvania," Schwartz replied.
Schwartz's family moved to Ogdensburg from Philadelphia, in 1973 when he was nine years old. Moving from a city of row homes, he soon found a group of friends that enjoyed romping the wooded countryside. Ogdensburg was only about a square mile, and much of the land was undeveloped mining land where the friends built a cabin as they came of age.
The downtown area was, and still is, about one block of mid-1800s construction. The main businesses were the pubs.
"For a small town, they had three pubs-mostly serving the miners," Schwartz said. "I remember my dad saying, 'Bar opens at nine, fights at 11.' In the 1970s, we weren't allowed to go downtown."
To bring order to the town, in 1931 Ogdensburg hired "a tough motorcycle policeman" – Howard W. Fatzinger from Pennsylvania – as the first police chief. He retired in 1966 and moved to Palmerton.
Ogdensburg looked so much like an old western town, that it served as the set for the early silent movies: The Great Train Robbery, the Perils of Pauline, and The Last of the Mohicans.
What Schwartz most remembers are the sirens. "Several friends lived in the old row homes near the mine," he said, recalling how, the sirens would blast every day, except Sunday, at 1 p.m. and the mothers would stop what they were doing to make certain to slide braces in place to hold their dishes in place in their cabinets. For, a few moments later, the zinc company would set off a blast that would shake the house-and any unsecured dishes, off the shelves.
Although Ogdensburg was known as a source of zinc for the NJZ company, mining in the town originally focused upon iron. By the late 1800s, the iron mine had become uneconomical because all the high value ore had been removed.
Thomas Alva Edison saw this as an opportunity. He had invented a magnetic ore separator that could convert the low grade ore. In 1889, he sold his shares in General Electric and invested the $3.5 million in purchasing the iron mine and developing the processing facility.
By the turn of the last century, huge iron ore discoveries in Minnesota made Edison's process uneconomical. Edison said, "That's a three and a half million dollar hole in the ground up on the mountain, but we had a helluva lot of fun making it."
When Schwartz discovered Palmerton, and then learned about the Ogdensburg/Palmerton connection through the New Jersey Zinc Company, he thought, "I had to wonder if zinc had magnetic properties on me."