Fun In The Piedmont
Reed Gold Mine
In the early 1800s, you could hardly cross North Carolina without falling into a gold mine. And what a profitable tumble that would have been. Many industrious men made fortunes in North Carolina during the nation’s first gold rush. But it was a boy who started it all.
A spot between Charlotte and Albemarle is where 12-year-old Conrad Reed made the first documented gold discovery. It is today a state historic site where you can experience gold fever for yourself. Conrad was the son of a Hessian mercenary who left the British army near the conclusion of the Revolutionary War. The boy was walking along Little Meadow Creek in 1799 when he spied something shiny in the water. He pulled out a 17-pound rock that became a doorstop. The elder Reed took the rock to a Fayetteville jeweler in 1802 and sold it for $3.50 when it was probably worth about $3,500.
And the rest, as they say, is history. Gold mining became second only to farming in the number of North Carolinians it employed, and production reached more than one million dollars a year. It was a colorful time. Mines had intriguing names like the Yellow Dog, the Black Cat, the Queen of Sheba, King Solomon’s, the Empire and the Mole Hill. Colorful characters like Italian Count Chevalier de Ravafanoli came to the Charlotte area and bought every available mine. Ravafanoli was a sight bedecked in evening wear, carrying a gold-headed cane and walking through red mud to inspect his mines.
The deep shafts of his mines had the unfortunate tendency to fill up with water while his miners were 350 feet under ground. The Old North State led the nation in gold production until 1848, when the great rush to California began. The gold business fizzled out here. But you can experience some of the excitement of days gone by at Reed Gold Mine in Stanfield, NC.
Portions of the underground tunnels at the Reed mine have been restored for guided tours. A visitor center contains exhibits of gold and historical mining equipment. An orientation film highlights the first gold discovery, and tours of a restored ore-crushing stamp mill are offered. A picnic area is available, and trails wind through the historic mining area. You can even pan for your own gold.
Want to know more? Check out the ultimate source for Cultural Resources in North Carolina, NCDCR.
added: December 18, 2008
updated: February 18, 2011