The Spiegelberg Whetstone Mine
The ‘whetstone ravine’ is mentioned as early as 1694 in the land register as the western limit of the Steinheim nunnery’s property in Jux forest. It would seem that knowledge of the whereabouts of this hard sandstone – with its fine, regular grain and rich silicate content making it perfect for whetstone production – goes all the way back to the Middle Ages. The local population could hardly make ends meet with farming and working in the forests, so manufacturing and peddling useful wooden objects and especially whetstones was essential for the families’ survival.
When in 1836 the Royal Forest Board outlawed and penalised with a fine the ‘wild digging for whetstones’, the farmers founded a co-operative society in order to open and run an authorised quarry. Thus the more than welcome additional income could be maintained.
The ‘upper quarry’ dried up in 1847 but a new one, fittingly called ‘lower quarry’, was opened 500m further down the ravine and run until 1879. The quarrying proved so lucrative that the society was able to install a 2-foot-gauge light railway track, which at the time was the state-of-the-art means of transporting the heavy sandstone plates from the remote quarry to the block yard near the road. Here the raw plates were split to the required thickness and then cut into slices which the farmers then made into whetstones at home after work.
In 1880 a ‘new quarry’ was started just opposite the working area and it was here that history was made: The sought after sandstone layer, a 240 million-year-old seam, reached back into the steep hillside. The demand for raw material was enormous however, and the workers were extremely reluctant to abandon the valuable seam. Consequently, they followed the stratum where it led them – underground – and thus the only known whetstone mine in Europe began.
Do you want to know more about the mine?
Come and meet us – we’d be glad to welcome you on your visit!