Saturday, September 1, 2012

The Old Tiff Mills

Interviewed a lady named Mary Jean Daugherty who grew up during World War II in Richwoods, in Washington County, next county over from here. She said, "We lived around the tiff mills, that’s what kept Richwoods going."

Q:  Around the what?

A: Tiff, white tiff, that’s what kept Richwoods going.

Q: What is tiff?

A: It’s white rock. I don’t know what they do with it, but we had big trucks come in and haul it out, and they did go dig in the forest. There was a good five mills in Richwoods; that’s what kept the town going.

I Googled "tiff mills" with no results. So I hunted up this bit of Missouri mining history. "Tiff" is a local name for the mineral barite, and Washington County just south of Richwoods had the richest barite deposits in Missouri, and companies tore up the woods to get at it.

Although barely harder than a fingernail, barite will not dissolve in water and is so dense that it sinks through mud and is impervious to radiation. It is the chalky substance in the “barium milkshake” used to diagnose digestive problems, and an ingredient in concrete and important to oil drilling. Ultimately the Missouri tiff mining companies dug up 13 million tons, and after the war found bigger deposits overseas.

The photo at the top is labeled "Tiff Mill, Mineral Point", a tiny town just northeast of Potosi in Washington County. You also see barite from my Missouri mineral collection. When bonded with sand, barite can form "roses" or "desert roses," a geological novelty item. My barite is more of a rosebud, but thought you'd like to see it.

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