The discovery of tin in 1872 at Vegetable Creek (now known as Emmaville) led to a mining bonanza at the end of the 19th century. Within three years, the Glen Innes population had swelled to about 1,500. The town had a two-teacher school, three churches, five hotels, two weekly newspapers, seven stores and a variety of societies and associations.
In 1884 the new train line from Sydney to Glen Innes opened. The arrival of the rail service and the expansion of mining brought prosperity to the area. Most of the grand buildings in Glen Innes were erected at this time. Many of these buildings still stand today and have been placed on the Register of the National Estate.
Sapphire was found alongside tin during the prospecting and mining activity in the creek valleys west of Glen Innes. This brought more miners to the region, but commercial sapphire mining didn’t commence until after World War 1.
By the 1920s, the reputation of the deep blue Glen Innes sapphire had caught the attention of gem buyers around the world. Most of the local stones were sold to dealers in Europe.
The Depression effectively put a stop to the industry and it didn’t resume on a large scale until prices for roughs increased in the late 1950s.
By the 1970s, sapphire mining was in a boom period, with more than a hundred mining plants operating around the region. Main areas of interest for miners were the major sapphire deposits found along Reddestone Creek, Wellingrove Creek, Kings Plains Creek, Horse Gully, Frasers Creek and Swanbrook.
By the 1980s many of the alluvial sites had been exhausted. This, combined with falling prices, led to a decline in mining activity and today there are only a small number of commercial miners still operating.
As well as sapphire, the Glen Innes area has produced topaz, garnet, zircon, acquamarine, emerald, citrine and quartz.
“Rod Cook of Reddestone Sapphires working in the dry creek bed of Reddestone Creek approx 1967. With 42 days straight of frosts each day remained fine and still, but the ground and water was freezing cold with icicles under the banks getting longer each day. Rod Cook had stopped sluicing and was working by hand. Then it rained.”