Bonne Terre Mine
Bonne Terre is a city located in St. Francois County, Missouri. It had an estimated population of 7,065 in July 2009* and has a decidedly rural feel. Bonne Terre is home to numerous fun and premiere family-centered attractions such as The Space Museum, St. Francois State Park, Bee Rock Outdoor Adventures, Bonne Terre Mine, St. Joe State Park, Bonne Terre Family Fun Center, The Cave House and The Old Rectory. In addition, golf courses are available in Bonne Terre such as Terre Du Lac Golf & Country Club, Valley Golf Course, Skyview Golf Course and Lead Belt Golf Club. But of all these, the city's claim to fame lies in the heart of Bonne Terre Mine.
Bonne Terre Mine is one of the earliest lead mines in Missouri, and was once the largest producer of lead ore in the world. The city itself was named “La Terre Bonne” meaning “Good Earth”, by the French settlers who discovered it in 1720, for the vast mineral wealth found in it.
The first in the network of lead mines by St. Joe Minerals, Bonne Terre Mine eventually produced as much as 70% of the lead output by Missouri for the whole of the United States. Workers mined here for almost 100 years until 1962 when the mine finally closed due to a drop in lead price and geologic evidence showed that the richest lead had been mined. It was this time that the pumps that kept it dry were turned off. Over the years, fresh groundwater trickled into the mine and eventually completely submerged the lowest three of the mine’s five levels, leaving the second level only partly submerged and the uppermost level dry. Parts of the floor of the underground mine is littered with abandoned mining equipment and tools such as ore carts, railroad tracks, dynamite boxes, a timekeeper’s shack and even a 15m long mine locomotive. The dive site is often referred to as Billion Gallon Lake and is one of the world’s largest underground lakes. It is also larger than the city of Bonne Terre, MO, above it.
Doug and Cathy Goergens, owners of West End Diving, first visited the mine in 1978 and recognized its potential. Three years later, they acquired the rights to it and developed it to become what is now known as one of the most unique diving sites worldwide. Deep Earth Diving, as many refer to diving in Bonne Terre Mine, offers something entirely different even for the most seasoned divers. Doug and Cathy Goergens employ an exceptional and experienced dive staff and standard procedures are followed to the letter, including an extensive briefing for all divers before they descend into each of the mine’s 24 dive trails.
Underground temperature is at a constant 62 degrees while the water temperature is at 58 degrees, with visibility exceeding 100 feet. Diving in Bonne Terre mine is safe due to its predictable conditions year-round and is not affected by weather changes.
Non-divers are offered walking tours that go along the Old Mule Trail, which show 17th century mining techniques, as well as boating tours aboard a pontoon.
Accommodations are also offered by the Goergens, such as a renovated railroad depot which has been converted to an old-world bed and breakfast and several railroad cars and train caboose adjacent to the depot have been equipped and furnished with comfortable lodgings.