Local Folks: Craig Hamilton

Local Folks: Craig Hamilton
Craig Hamilton shows off the Jacksonville Gem and Mineral Society’s vast collection in their museum.

A Man of Many Minerals

At his core, Craig Hamilton is a collector. Over the years, he has collected coins, stamps, seashells and history, but what he loves collecting most is gems and minerals. He first started digging for rocks more than 65 years ago.

When he was in sixth grade at North Shore Elementary in Jacksonville, he bought a cigar box filled with three rocks for 25 cents from a fellow student.

“One of the specimens that I remember in particular was a yellow apatite crystal,” Hamilton said.

After that, he started going to a set of railroad tracks near his house to search for rocks.

“I just puttered around the railroad tracks for a few years and collected whatever I could find,” he said. “I’d spend hours breaking the granite open to get the little, teeny granules out of it. I was intrigued about finding something; it’s almost like buried treasure. When you go looking, you don’t know what you’re going to find.”

A few years later, he went to the Jacksonville Fair and met members of the Jacksonville Gem and Mineral Society who shared his love of gems and minerals. He joined the society later that year. He has been a member of the society ever since, except when he was in the Air Force and in Texas for technical school.

“The best part about rock collecting is the camaraderie as much as anything else,” he added.

Hamilton is not only a lifetime member, but an active one. He has been president of the society twice, in 1975 and 2015. He is also heavily involved in the society’s Community Outreach Program. He teaches a general geology class to fourth and fifth graders in Duval, St. Johns and Nassau counties as well as classes to various groups around the community.

“I’ve taught everyone from kindergarten to age 90,” he said.

In 2015, the Jacksonville Gem and Mineral Society opened its clubhouse on Crown Point Road, which includes a 5,000-square-foot building with a museum dedicated classrooms to teach lapidary arts. They host auctions, arts and crafts sale, dinners and other community events. Their 35th annual fall show was in October at the Jacksonville Fairgrounds.

One of Hamilton’s favorite pieces in his vast collection was found during a dig at a limestone quarry in Lecanto, Florida, in the late 70s. During the dig, Hamilton and a few others shimmied up a pile of limestone and climbed into a pristine cave.

“I always equated it to a jewel box,” he said.

In this cave, he found a large chunk of limestone with honey calcite. He chiseled out a section of the rock as big as a steering wheel and found a snake skeleton. A 2-foot gardener snake died in the cave, then calcite dropped and crystallized on its bones. Hamilton offered this specimen and others to the University of Florida’s paleontology department. That specimen is still on display today in the Florida Museum of Natural History.

“It was very spectacular,” he said.

Some other favorite pieces in his collection are the rare and interesting ones, like his rock within a rock, a rock with mud inside, and a rock with water trapped inside. All of these are fully intact with no breaks.

“Those are all very special, all self-collected,” said Hamilton.

Besides being a collector, 80-year-old Hamilton also gardens, cooks, writes poetry, paints and enjoys arts and crafts. Every Christmas, he makes a different craft for friends and family.

“I’m up to between 80 and 100 people now,” Hamilton said. “It gets involved, but it’s a lot of fun for me. It’s sort of therapeutic.”

By Jennifer Jensen
Resident Community News

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