Geology of the Clay Deposits in the Olive Hill District, Kentucky1

Sam H. Patterson and John W. Hosterman
U.S. Geological Survey, Beltsville, Maryland
1 Publication authorized by the Director, U.S. Geological Survey.

Abstract: The Olive Hill fire clay bed of Crider (1913) is the principal source of the raw material used in the refractory industry of eastern Kentucky. The bed is a discontinuous underclay from 1 to 20 ft above a prominent unconformity which separates Mississippian and Pennsylvanian rocks. Upper Mississippian rocks consist of ten marine limestone and shale units all truncated by the unconformity. Pennsylvanian rocks are chiefly: (a) massive deltaic sandstone; (b) cut-and-fill deposits of shale, siltstone and sandstone which contain several beds of coal and underclay including the Olive Hill fire clay of Crider (1913); and (c) dark-gray shale beds.

The Olive Hill fire clay of Crider consists of approximately one-third flint clay, two-thirds semiflint clay, and minor amounts of plastic clay. The clay mineral content ranges from nearly pure kaolinite to kaolinitic clay containing about 40 percent illite and mixed-layer clay. The kaolinite ranges from highly crystalline to very poorly crystalline “fireclay” kaolinite. The degree of crystallinity of the kaolinite and hardness of the clay vary inversely with the amount of illite and mixed-layer clay present. The nearly pure kaolinite is believed to have formed by removal of silica and alkalies from mixtures of kaolinite, illite and mixed-layer clay by leaching shortly after deposition.

An isopach map shows that Crider's Olive Hill fire clay occurs in irregular, lens-shaped deposits. Fossil plant rootstocks with rootlets attached in the clay clearly indicate it supported plant growth. The overlying coal and presence of some organic material in the clay suggest that the Olive Hill fire clay was deposited under a reducing environment in swamps.

Clays and Clay Minerals; 1958 v. 7; no. 1; p. 178-194; DOI: 10.1346/CCMN.1958.0070110
© 1958, The Clay Minerals Society
Clay Minerals Society (www.clays.org)