Zinc mines and prospects in Virginia

Zinc is a bluish-white, lustrous metal with the chemical symbol Zn.  Its main ore mineral is sphalerite (ZnS).  Some of its uses are for galvanizing (plating thin layers of zinc onto iron or steel to protect from corrosion), production of brass (combination of zinc and copper), and coloring in rubber and paint.

Year of first production in Virginia: 1870s
Location of first production in Virginia: Austinville, Wythe County
Year of last production in Virginia: 1981
Location of last production in Virginia:  Austinville, Wythe County
Total cumulative production in Virginia: 1,326,000 short tons (Sweet et al, 1989)
Current annual production in Virginia: none

In Virginia, zinc has been mined from localized, massive sulfide lenses in the Cambrian Chopawamsic Formation and the Ta River metamorphic suite.  The Cambrian Chopawamsic Formation crops out for 110 miles northeast-southwest across central Virginia, and includes Louisa and Buckingham counties.  Zinc and copper are commonly enriched as secondary oxides in weathered gossan zones that overlie the primary sulfide deposits.

There are historical lead-zinc mines in the Mesozoic Culpeper basin of the northern Virginia piedmont, mainly in Orange and Prince William counties.  The zinc was probably deposited by metal-rich hydrothermal solutions associated with hot springs in permeable Upper Triassic red-bed fluvial and lacustrine siltstones and sandstones.

Zinc was mined from sulfide deposits in the Gossan Lead district in Floyd County.  The sulfides of the Gossan Lead are massive pyrrhotite with chalcopyrite, sphalerite, pyrite, and galena.  It is estimated that there is 2.0 weight percent zinc in the sulfide bodies in the Gossan Lead.  This deposit is enclosed in the clastic metasedimentary rocks of the Late Precambrian Ashe Formation of the Lynchburg Group.

Copper, lead, and zinc deposits have been found in the Cambrian Shady Dolomite and the Ordovician Beekmantown Formation in the Valley and Ridge Province.  The most important deposit of the zinc-lead ores within the Shady Dolomite is the Austinville-Ivanhoe group of ore bodies in Wythe County.  The deposits within the Beekmantown Formation are located in Augusta, Rockingham, and Shenandoah counties.

Selected References: Currier, L. W., 1935, Zinc and lead region of southwestern Virginia: Virginia Division of Mineral Resources, Bulletin 43, 122 p.

Foley, N. K., and Craig, J. R., 1989, Mineralogy and geochemistry of the lead-zinc ores of the Austinville-Ivanhoe District, Wythe County, Virginia: Virginia Division of Mineral Resources, Publication 88, p. 23-39

Luttrell, G. W., 1966, Base- and precious-metal and related ore deposits of Virginia: Virginia Division of Mineral Resources, Mineral Resources Report 7, 167 p.

Sweet, P. C., Good, R. S., Lovett, J. A., Campbell, E. V. M., Wilkes, G. P., and Meyers, L. L., 1989, Copper, lead, and zinc resources in Virginia: Virginia Division of Mineral Resources, Publication 93, 185 p.

Watson, T. L., 1907, Mineral Resources of Virginia: Lynchburg, Virginia, Jamestown Exposition Commission, 618 p.
(available as Virginia Division of Mineral Resources, 2003, Digital reprint of T. L. Watson’s 1907 Mineral resources of Virginia: Virginia Division of Mineral Resources Publication 175, [CD-ROM; 2003, September 1].

Weinberg, E. L., 1980, Austinville mining – 1756 to present: Virginia Division of Mineral Resources, Virginia Minerals, v. 26, n.1, p.11.