Gold and Gem Mining in the State Where It Began

Gold and Gem Mining in the State Where It Began

Reed Gold Mine in Midland

In the early 1800s, you could hardly cross North Carolina without falling into a gold mine. During our gold rush, the nation’s first, many industrious men made fortunes in North Carolina. Today, you can visit the gold mine where it all began, and go to gem mines that give you hands-on experience with our state’s mineral resources and history.

Reed Gold Mine

In 1799, 12-year-old Conrad Reed, son of a Hessian mercenary who left the British Army near the conclusion of the Revolutionary War, made the first documented gold find in the U.S. at a spot between Charlotte and Albemarle. He spied something shiny in Little Meadow Creek, dug up what turned out to be a 17-pound rock, and started using it as a doorstop. The elder Reed sold the rock to a Fayetteville jeweler in 1802 for $3.50, when it was probably worth thousands more.

Today, the Reed Gold Mine is a state historic site where you can experience gold fever yourself. When you visit, you’ll learn that gold mining became second only to farming in the number of North Carolinians it employed. Production reached more than $1 million a year. Mines had colorful names like the Yellow Dog, the Black Cat, the Queen of Sheba, King Solomon’s, the Empire and the Mole Hill, as well as colorful characters like Italian Count Chevalier de Ravafanoli, who inspected his mines in evening wear.

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. You can watch a film about the first gold discovery, tour a restored ore-crushing stamp mill, and even pan for gold. For details, visit the North Carolina Department of Natural and Cultural Resources website.

Emerald Hollow Mine

The Wizard of Oz had his Emerald City, but North Carolina has the real thing. Deep in the Brushy Mountains of Alexander County about 20 minutes northwest of Statesville is the little town of Hiddenite. Many of the world’s largest emeralds, including the million-dollar "Carolina Queen," have been found right here, and one emerald mine in Hiddenite is actually open to the public for amateur prospecting. Some valuable gem-quality stones have been found, but the Emerald Hollow Mine’s biggest treasure is its mother lode of inexpensive family-friendly outdoor fun.

The mine offers visitors three different types of gem hunting experiences: sluicing, creeking, and digging. At the sluice, you’ll carefully sift through your bucket of ore, inspecting some of more than 60 types of gems and minerals native to this area. For an extra fee, you can rent a screen and shovel and go prospecting in the nearby creek. If you’re a serious rock hound, pay a little more and go digging in the mine itself. Remember to wear old clothes and shoes, and bring towels, sunscreen and bug spray.

Gem and Mineral Museum

Located in the old Macon County jail, this folksy museum welcomes families and school groups to eight rooms of gems and minerals from all over the world. It’s run by the Gem and Mineral Society of Franklin and is staffed entirely by volunteers.

Colburn Earth Science Museum

Located on the lower level of Pack Place in the heart of downtown, this great museum brings the Earth alive with interactive, hands-on exhibits on geology, plate tectonics, meteorology, and the history of mining in Western North Carolina.

Museum of North Carolina Minerals

Spruce Pine
This scenic museum is located on the Blue Ridge Parkway at Gillespie Gap, an important stop for Revolutionary War fighters on their way to the Battle of Kings Mountain. It features interactive displays about the minerals and gems found in the region and the historical importance of the mining industry to the local economy. The Museum also hosts a visitor center for the Mitchell County Chamber of Commerce.

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