In recent years, asbestos has become something of a bogeyman; when it gets in the news it is due to health concerns or the cost of removing the material. The use of asbestos, and related minerals, dates back at least 4,000 years. However, it was only in the mid 1800’s that it became an industrial material. Asbestos was, and continues to be, valued for its fireproof nature and tensile strength. These properties made it ideal for use in insulation, especially for electrical wires, construction, and for use in applications that needed strong, flexible fiber reinforcement such as some glues. The Appalachian mountain chain has a number of asbestos deposits, the largest are in Quebec. Commercial mining of the material in the United States begin in the 1850s, on Staten Island, New York.
New Hartford briefly had an asbestos mine, as well. This mine was located in Nepaug, probably in what is now the state forest, and opened in 1902. It was briefly profitable, with new machinery being installed in 1904. However, the deposit must not have been large for the mine vanishes from the record shortly afterwards. The Nepaug area seems to have been rich in serpentinite geological formations, of which asbestos is a member; for soapstone, also a serpentinite stone, was quarried in the same area by Native Americans for centuries. In fact soapstone tools and artifacts from the area has been found in Long Island and other areas some distance from New Hartford.