The Huron Bay Quarry (better known as Arvon Quarry) and town of Arvon didn't have a very long lifespan. Around 300 people lived out here once, halfway between the entrance of Silver River into Huron Bay and Mount Arvon, and pulled slate from the pits for around thirty years. The entire operation was closed down in the 1890s, right around the time that the Iron Range & Huron Bay Railroad was being built. The town soon dried up and left only a few large pits and overgrown fruit orchards as a reminder of the bustling activity here.
Splashing sounds lured me from my tent. I had spent the night on the edge of the old quarry, a restless sleep on hard ground, sore from a long string of hikes yesterday. The ground was wet from an overnight drizzle or heavy dew, I wasn't sure, as I made my way clumsily towards Slate River. There was a surprising amount of loose slate scattered around the woods that skittered and cracked under my blundering footfalls that slowed me passage down to a cautious creep. I didn't feel like taking a tumble so early in the morning, before the sun was up, when I had a whole quarry to explore.
There was no real waterfall here, not like Black Slate or Quartzite Falls only a mile or two downstream, yet the river dropping loudly down some rapids was still pleasant to watch. Looking downstream I saw an interesting feature, a rise of slate pilings on the far side of the river. It looked suspiciously like the footings of an old bridge. If there was an old bridge here they sure dropped a lot of rock here for it, as the ends and grade was all built with loose slate chunks. I thought about attempting a crossing of the river to see what was on the far side that warranted a bridge. The high waters convinced me to stay on the west side. There may have been a nice high bridge here once but now there was just rushing water and me.
I headed back west, climbing the bridge footing on the way back, bypassing my campsite on the way out. The rock up here was interesting. There were large chunks that may have been economically viable and smaller, worn pieces that approached the consistency of a gritty sand.
This didn't make much sense to me. I understand waste rock - not all the rock that you mine out is rich enough to process - but there was a lot of slate here and this was a slate quarry. Were they only interested in huge slabs and had to dig out/blast out around to get to the 'good pieces'? Or did they just dig, dig, and dig and then ship out pieces when it was convenient? However this place was managed it was obvious that they had, and still have, far more slate than the market needed.
After passing my campsite I headed south, following Slate River upstream along a narrow little track. There were a few puddles along the way that stretched across the road but none that caused too much of a detour. After a few hundred yards I noticed some piles of slate to my right that dwarfed the bridge footings from earlier. I found a small path leading that way and left the road, curious as to what was over here, and managed to sneak along one and come out on a huge pond. A very familiar looking pond.
Several years ago Katie and I had taken a drive down the Peshekee Grade right up to this quarry. It was a long and snowy drive, one I'm not entirely sure I would attempt in my little car (we were in her old SUV). We didn't stay long at Arvon, stopping long enough to see this one pond surrounded by heaps of slate, eat some lunch, and head east over the Yellow Dog Plains. I now stood on the far side of the pond, gazing across at the spot where we had stood three years ago, and then turned and left the memory behind.
The track continued south beyond the first pond. I wasn't entirely sure where I was walking but figured that the track had to go somewhere. Soon enough the forest opened up and the road started to climb up a hill of slate. As I climbed the hill I peered over to the left, down towards Slate River. The rocks slid down right into the water, creating an odd illusion of a slick wave rising up from the river below.
The road evened out and a second rise of slate lay like a wall ahead of me. These pieces were huge, again making me wonder how much of these piles were made up of waste vs excess. It was also obvious that I had hit a popular spot, as many of the rocks had messages scrawled out with spray paint across their face. Curious I headed up the second rise, passing the messages, trying to find out exactly how big this spread was.
There was a lot of slate. It sprawled out to the southwest in long fingers, stretching into a swamp, and towered high above the forest floor below. It was not tall enough to break through the trees, though another dozen feet could potentially open up some humble views. I crept along the fingers, making my way to the swamp, hoping to find another pit to explain all this slate. I doubted it came from the swamp or the pond I had passed earlier, as neither seemed large enough to explain the tons below my feet.
As I picked my way over the unsteady ground my back was slowly lit by the rising sun which had finally started to break the horizon. I couldn't find a pit, though a small pond was barely visible to the west, one that was much smaller than the northern one. I turned and headed back to the road.
After the track climbed up the tip of the huge spread of slate it curled back north to complete a large loop around the north pond. I ventured back to it and followed it, gazing at the occasional pile of slate that soared up in the nearby woods. There was little structure to the place, with huge heaps of slate spread about randomly not easily matched up with any pits. I added this to my pile of questions as I neared the large pond and stood at the same spot Katie and I had visited years ago.
On the way back to my car, which was parked just off of Arvon Road, I paused a few times and peered into the woods. I wasn't sure where the old town of Arvon had been, or even if any foundations remained, but I figured keeping an open eye wouldn't hurt. There were a few ditches, probably for draining the pits, and some open woods for possible fields or orchards. No foundations or ruins showed up on the way out. The town of Arvon eluded me, hidden in time and brush.
There are more quarries out here, at least three more to the east, that I would like to visit one day. None of them are as expansive as these, though, and I'm not sure if I'd even find piles of rock or just swampy holes in the ground out there. I've also heard of a graphite mine out here, which may have been a side venture at one of the quarries (maybe even Arvon Quarry itself). Another day, perhaps.