- The Washington Times - Friday, May 30, 2008

AMELIA, Va. - Tomorrow could be the last day that the Morefield Gem Mine, a landmark and destination for many of the area’s schoolchildren, will be open.

Sharon Dunaway and her husband, Sam, have had the mine up for sale for the past couple of years and said that if they are unable to sell the operation, they will not reopen it.

The mine is well-known. Morefield is one of several mines with displays at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington and is also a mainstay of field trips for area schools. Some people in Washington on business will drive down to visit the mine, Sharon Dunaway said. Every state and a number of countries are represented in the guest books.

“On a given year, it’s been as much as 20,000 guests from around the world,” she said.

The mine offers rock hunters “panning” with a screen in a trough of running water, collecting from mine dumps and outcrop digging for more advanced collectors.

Discovered in 1929, the mine is famous for its Amazonite but about 85 minerals, some rare, can be found there.

James and Anne Dandeneau of Lovingston were sitting at the front gate last Thursday morning waiting for the mine to open. They had been there the day before and had so much fun that they spent the night at a hotel and returned.

The couple only recently got into visiting gem mines. “It’s a fun hobby,” said James Dandeneau, who works for a plastics-manufacturing company. “You may never make a lot of money on it, but it’s a good education. I’ve learned a lot about rocks by (doing) this.”

The couple said they hope the mine remains open, but they can understand the Dunaways desire to retire.

“They have a life, too,” said Anne Dandeneau, who works at Wal-Mart. “Everybody needs to live their life instead of working all the time.”

The Dunaways bought the mine in 1996. Sam Dunaway was an engineer in Alaska before they acquired Morefield. What they will do once retired, Sharon Dunaway, said, is “up to where the Lord takes us.”

The business is profitable, and there is the advantage of being a small-business owner and being able to set your own hours, she said. But there is also the expense of running a business and the list of regulations that must be adhered to - some implemented after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks and some after recent mine disasters in other states, Sharon Dunaway said.

The Dunaways have taken the mine “further than it had ever been” with the improvements they made and the next owners will have to take it to a higher level with more mechanization and expansion of the operation, Sharon Dunaway said.

Last Thursday, a group of 116 students from DuPont Elementary School in Hopewell were at the mine. Sam Dunaway was telling the children the rules - no running, take your time looking through the rocks, wash the bigger rocks separately - and quizzing them about the types of rocks they could expect to see. Then the children - accompanied by their adult chaperones and the Dandeneaus - headed off to the mine.

“They will have a good time,” Sam Dunaway said. “Their bedroom or garage will be full of rocks, and that’s the way we like it. We’ve peppered Virginia with Morefield Gem Mine rocks.”



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