As seen in the 1991 January issue of the Gold Prospectors Magazine
(and featured in the January/February 2021 Gold Prospectors Magazine)
North Carolina Gold Mining
Rich History of Gold Finds
Mark Twain said, "Miners breathe the same air as anglers." Countries covet it Pirates plunder for it What is it that brings the hot longing to our eyes? Gold!
The lure of gold brought DeSoto within seventy miles of the Golden City of Rutherfordton, North Carolina But he was in such a hurry to find it in plain view he went on his way, missing by a country mile one of the richest gold mines in the country.
Up until 1849, when gold was discovered in California, miners worked day and night to bring gold nuggets from the red ground of North Carolina
The -gold deposits are spread throughout the Piedmont and Mountain sections of the state and are grouped into one of the following belts: Eastern Carolina Belt, Carolina Slate Belt, Charlotte Belt, Kings Mountain Belt, South Mountain Belt ancl Western Belt.
There are 660 gold mines on record and who knows how many more, unrecorded! Space prohibits a detailed description of each mine, but the following is a sampling of each belt, beginning with the Eastern Carolina Belt
"Gold Fever" began in North Carolina in 1799 when young Conrad Reed was fishing in the meandering Little Meadow Creek in Cabarrus County. He found a large yellow rock that a silversmith in Concord was unable to identify, so the rock was used, for several years, as a doorstop in the Reed house.
Maxie Ellenburg sets up a sluice, preparing to pan for gold. Phalo lay Mabel H. Cox
Then in 1803, a jeweler in Fayetteville recognized it as gold, melted it into a bar, and paid Reed the agreed price: $3.50 or one tenth at that time of its real value. It was later he paid Reed $1,000 when he tried to buy some more of the "heavy rocks."
The Reed continued to be a big success and was one of the state's three major gold mines in 1824.
John Reed died in 1845, at the age of 88. He was relatively wealthy, his estate including a 745 acre farm, the Reed Mine, and 18 slaves was valued at $40,000. A good sum in those days.
Very little mining occurred in the Reed Mine in the 1850s. The 1860 census listed the mine "inactive." During the Civil War, mining was discontinued. Later, Armin Kelly from Philadelphia bought the mine.
This historic tract of land was transferred on Dec. 31, 1971, to Cabarrus County from the Kelly heirs. Thus began a systematic and comprehensive planning program to develop the Reed Mine into a state historic site. The result is a visual interpretation of the story of North Carolina mining from the early 1800s through the early part of the twentieth century.
Governor James B. Hunt, Jr., dedicated and opened the mine to the public on April 23, 1977, as the Reed Gold Mine Historic Site. During the spring and summer months, visitors can actually pan for gold and view an operating nineteenth century stamp mill used to crush ore.
On the heels of the Reed discovery, other fanners in the area began searching their creeks arid also found gold In 1804, the United States Mint in Philadelphia processed $11,000 in Cabarrus County gold By 1824, that amount had increased to $100,000.
The Rudisil Mine is in the Charlotte Belt and was an important gold mine. It is located within the city limits of Charlotte, approximately one mile southwest of the intersection of Trade and Tryon Streets. Soon it became one of the largest producing mines in the state.
In one month, more than $30,000 in gold was mined. Operations continued until the Civil War and again from 1880 to 1887, and from 1905 to 1908. The mine was reopened in 1934 and closed in 1938. The total amount produced from the mine was about $1,000,000.
The Kings Mountain Belt is a narrow, northeast trending belt where the Kings Mountain Mine is located It was discovered in 1834 and worked intermittently until about 1913. It was worked as a placer operation, then later as lodes, the deepest shafts reached a depth of 330 feet. The total estimate of production was from $750,000 to $1,000,000.
Don and Ida Lovell of Marion, North Carolina, are caught up by the spell of gold fever. They prospect in the Vein Mountain area near their home, as well as other likely places.
The South Mountain Belt is mountainous, with elevations 3000 feet above sea level to an average of 1100 feet
Christopher Bechtler found gold in Rutherfordton in 1830. Soon more gold was being mined in North Carolina than in any other place in the United States.
Bechtler, a skilled metallurgist, was the first man in the United States to coin gold dollars; until then the medium of exchange was gold dust He had the only privately owned mine in the country. At that time currency was rare, and the nearest government mint was in Philadelphia
So Bechtler got permission to coin SI, $2V4, and $5 pieces from gold dust According to the 1988 Coin Dictionary, a Bechtler gold dollar is now worth $2,500.
Bechtler coins were of various sizes and weights, but he minted only three denominations. This was because the gold brought in contained foreign particles. They weighed different amounts, but all of Bechtler's coins had the right amount of pure gold required by the government. There was a difference in the color from the states of North Carolina, South Carolina and Georgia
The press used by Bechtler is in the museum of the American Numismatic Society in New York. In Bechtler's time, North Carolina could have been called the Colden State, as all domestic gold coined by the United States Mint came from North Carolina.
Some of Bechtler's dies are in the State Hall of History at Raleigh. Others are owned by his descendants.
Don and Ida Lovell of Marion, North Carolina, are caught by the gold fever. They prospect in Vein Mountain, as well as other likely places.
"The thrill of searching for the Mother Lode is enough to make some of us go out, loaded with equipment, and spend the day standing in water up to our waist," Don says. "After hours of grueling work we may have a few flakes of gold in a small 'brag' bottle. That's all right' We could have found a 'nest' of gold nuggets," he exclaims with a twinkle in his blue eyes.
He put his arm around Ida They stood looking at their gold prospecting equipment no doubt thinking about another prospecting trip.
"Any chip that is as large as the head of a straight pin is a gold nugget, anything smaller is a flake," Ida explains. She shook the clear bottle and the gold flakes and nuggets sparkled in the sunlight.
In the early 1800s, Welsh, Cornish, Germans, Poles, Austrians and Italians felt the lure of gold and rushed to North Carolina with one dream: to discover GOLD!
The Western Belt includes the gold mines west of the Blue Ridge Mountains. Most of the deposits are small and the majority of the mining in that area is for other minerals. The Fontana Copper Mine is an example. The mine produced pyrrhotite, pyrite, cholcopyrite, sphalerite and galena Gold content was 0.00072 ounce per ton.
The 1800s was such an exciting time in the state. The names of the miners and mines reads like a Who's Who in Mining.
"During that time," Lovell explained, "the names were really colorfuL The Black Cat, Queen of Sheba, Empire, Black Ankle, St Katherine, just to name a few."
Publicity of the gold being mined in North Carolina was so great that word got to Washington, and just as it would happen today, a congressional committee came down to see what was happening in the Carolinas and Georgia The committee reported back that there was plenty of gold and that it would have influence on the wealth of the whole nation.
Maxie Ellenburg searches for that hard found thing • GOLD! Photo by Mabel Cox
In 1835, Congress approved three banch mints. They were located in Charlotte, N.C.; Dahlonega, GA. and New Orleans, LA.
A modern-day prospector, Maxie Ellenburg, started gold prospecting when he retired to his Vein Mountain home. "I'm amazed at what I've learned playing in the creek these past 17 years," says Maxie. He is a selftaught miner and lecturer and is very knowledgeable about the mountains of western North Carolina The local large mining operation hires him as a resource person.
The advice he gives the hobbiest or amateur gold prospector sounds practical. "The gold prospector of today can take with him a portable sluice, shovel and pan. He will have to shovel down to bed rock before he begins to put sand into the sluice." On his prospecting outings Maxie carries a can of beans, a bottled drink and crackers. No cooler, the water is plenty cold to chill the drink.
"After about four shovels full of sand and gravel goes through the sluice, and you have accumulated sand in the bottom of the sluice box, then it is time to use the pan," Maxie explains.
Pushing his cap further back on his head, Maxie talks about the "riches" of prospecting. "I take people prospecting sometimes. To me it is fun to meet new people who have a hobby like mine. I haven't made very much money from gold. But who could ask for more than to live here in the mountains, do what I do, and have a dream of finding the Mother Lode?"
Collectors and dealers are drawn to the hundreds of pegmatites found in North Carolina Some have luck finding emeralds, golden beryl, aquamarine, garnet, kunzite, gold and many varieties of quartz. Most no doubt dream of finding a "nest" of gold nuggets or a rich vein.
An interesting collection of minerals is on public display at the Blue Ridge Parkway Museum of North Caroliona Minerals at milepost 330. Most of the old mines are not profitable to mine, even with today's inflated gold prices. But there are many places where gold panning can be enjoyed with some success. I have two small nuggets and five flakes in my "brag bottle" after spending six back-breaking hours on the river, panning for gold. Now, that is real fun!
It is interesting to note that the modern gold prospector uses almost the same equipment as the prospector of long ago to coax that elusive gold from the streams and ground of North Carolina But it's a different story with the big gold mining operations. They spend millions just getting ready to mine for gold, gravel and other by-products. They build roads, holding ponds and buildings. They stock laboratories with expensive equipment Then there are the huge trucks and pick-ups to travel from one "working" to another. Yet with all the draw-backs; the good, the bad, the strong and the weak all flock to the likely spots to search for that hard found thing: Gold! Gold mining, the large and small deposits, helped the young southern states grow as the rest of the nation did. Maybe the Mother Lode has not been found At any rate, there are many of us ready to go looking. Any day!
Part of a modern gold, sand and gravel processing plant