The Stanly News and Press (Albemarle, NC)

September 7, 2010

‘There’s gold in them thar hills’ may be the truth around Stanly County

By Tiffany Thompson, News Editor
CNHI

Sunday, September 5, 2010 — In recent months, gold has been rediscovered in what was once considered an extinct gold mine in Kershaw. But while new owners, Romarco Minerals, are learning that the Haile Gold Mine has not “dried up,” one does not have to travel outside Stanly County to do a little gold prospecting of their own.

Stanly County is home to two of its own gold mines, Cotton Patch and Mountain Creek, and is a neighbor to the site of the first documented gold find in the United States, Reed Gold Mine in Midland.

From the time of the first discovery of gold in 1799, gold mining spread gradually to nearby counties and eventually into other southern states. During its peak years, gold mining was second only to farming, and the estimated value of gold recovered reached more than $1 million a year.

North Carolina was a leader in gold production until 1948, when the California Gold Rush led those looking to find their fortune out west.

As the story goes, German native John Reed, who was a Hessian soldier sent to North America to fight for the British during the American Revolution, deserted the military and settled near what is now Midland in an attempt to blend in with other German settlers in the area. He later married Sarah Kiser and began farming the 30 acres that were part of her dowry.

Then in 1799, Reed’s 12-year-old son, Conrad, was bow and arrow fishing in Little Meadow Creek when he discovered a large, shiny rock. Though it is believed that Conrad took his find home to show his dad, little is known of what was done with the rock until 1802.

It was at that time that Reed took the rock with him to Fayetteville where he went to buy farm supplies. A jeweler in Fayette-ville identified the 17-pound rock as a gold nugget and purchased it from Reed for $3.50, which at the time was about a week’s worth of wages. The jeweler then turned around and sold the nugget for $3,600.

Though Reed seemed to have been cheated by the jeweler, he realized that there could be more gold on the property. So in 1803 he, with support from his neighbors and relatives who provided workers and equipment, began placer, or above ground, mining. Before the end of the first year, a slave named Peter unearthed a 28-pound nugget.

It wasn’t until after 1825 when Matthias Barringer discovered that gold could be found in veins of white quartz, and by following these veins of quartz into the ground, one could recover more gold.

Prior to this discovery, all of the mining conducted in North Carolina had been placer mining, but with Barringer’s discovery of “lode,” or underground, mining, the rush to North Carolina was on.

News of gold in Cabarrus County spread quickly. Soon gold was being found in neighboring counties — Montgomery, Stanly, Mecklenburg, Rowan, and Union — and people anxious to find gold of their own began moving into the area.

At the time, the mines were located in the northeastern portion of Stanly County, more or less on the line of the Southern Rail-road branch running from Salisbury to Norwood.

Among the more important properties were the Haithcock, Hearne, Craw-ford, Lowder, Parker and Crowell mines.

The Haithcock and Hearne mines were located about two miles northwest of Albemarle, while the Crawford mine was situated four miles northeast from Albemarle.

The Lowder Mine was situated four miles west of Albemarle and opened in 1835. The Parker Mine was situated near New London, about nine miles northwest of Albemarle and the property was comprised of about 1,200 acres.

The Crowell Mine was located near the Parker Mine, also near New London. The Crowell Gold Mine first opened in 1860 after a large vein of gold was discovered near a cotton patch off Gurley Road.

The mine was comprised of approximately 1,100 acres, according to Cotton Patch Gold Mine co-owner Jeff Pickett.

Historically, Cotton Patch Gold Mine was once part of the Crowell Gold Mine, which was divided among the Crowell heirs after stopping operation in the early 1900s.

During the pre-Civil War time, several thousands of ounces of gold were procured from this area.

Pickett said he had even heard stories of some locals being allowed to mine on the property during the Great Depression, some of which were able to survive through the Depression and purchase farms afterwards as a result of their findings.

The mine eventually closed, but was reopened in 1958 after a new vein was discovered.

Along with sporadic commercial operations, in 1961 the owners opened an area to the public to pan and to find gold for themselves from the remains of the mine shafts.

Throughout the past 50 years the property has changed hands several times, always providing mining opportunities to the community, but slowly slipping into a state of disrepair.

Then in 2007, Pickett and his wife, Tina, purchased the property and began immediately to repair and upgrade the facilities.

The Picketts still operate Cotton Patch Gold Mine as a public attraction with recreational mining available, as well as a campground with tent and RV sites and cabins.

“We wanted to keep the public aspect of the mine open for those interested in coming to visit,” Pickett said, adding that several thousands of visitors stop by throughout the year, some of which have come from as far away as South Africa.

The mine and campground is open daily from 9 a.m.-5 p.m. during the summer and from 9 a.m.-5 p.m. Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays during the school year.

Though little is known about Mountain Creek Gold Mine’s history, it is also believed to be a subdivided portion of the Crowell Mine.

Located a few hundred yards from Cotton Patch on Gurley Road, Mountain Creek Gold Mine has been in existence for at least 75 years after the Tucker family purchased it.

It has been passed through generations until stopping with current owner, Bill Tucker. The 16-1/2 acre property has been open to the public for 18 years and provides recreational mining, including panning, highbanking and sluicing.

Many of the visitors to the mine come from out-of-state, such as Jim Winters, who calls West Virginia home but has been coming to Mountain Creek for the last 20 years.

“This is such a family oriented place. Not only can you bring your children, but they treat you like family while you’re here. I’ve never seen anyone go away disappointed. People may not always find gold every time they come, but everybody comes back,” Winters said.

Rose and Eugene Absher of Oak Hill, W. Va., also tried their luck at what they could find. Their choice for prospecting was a little machine called a high banker, which consists of bins of dirt. The dirt is sprayed by jets of water and the Abshers sift through the muck, sending it down a mini-sluice, hoping to trap pieces of gold at the bottom.

While some visitors to the mine are not from so far away, such as Wayne Honbarger and his wife, who call Salisbury home, Tucker has had visitors from as far as Germany and Alaska. But Nadine Bowers said that not many of the visitors they’ve had call Stanly County home.

Bowers, Tucker’s daughter and a fourth generation gold prospector, explained that, though panning is available at the mine, “the more material you process the more likely you are to find gold,” which is the purpose of the high banker.

With it, prospectors are able to process more dirt at a time than with the traditional pan. But even better than the miniature high bankers, prospectors say, is “The Beast,” which are several larger, homemade high bankers that can each hold a ton of dirt.

Dredging, which is also available at Mountain Creek, is another way to run more dirt. It is the process of sucking silt off the creek bottom through a 4-inch vacuum hose and washing the dirt as it goes through the tube.

Gold seekers can also try their luck at Reed Gold Mine as recreational panning is also available there, though the old mine became a state historic site on April 23, 1977.

This mine was purchased by the state in 1972, but by that time it was comprised of 800 acres, as Reed had made additional land purchases before his death in 1845.

Only 70 of the 800 acres were mined for gold, while the remaining acreage was used for farming.

Today, visitors not only can be treated to a day of prospecting, but portions of the underground tunnels at the mine have been restored for guided tours,  and a visitor center, including a musuem, was opened.

Also, four to five miles of walking trails have been preserved, including a three-fourths of a mile trail called the talking rocks. This trail consists of stations with information about the history of the mine.

One such stop takes visitors to the 1895-style stamp mill. This mill is similar to one that was used at the mine to crush ore that had been combined with water into smaller pieces.

The plates, on which the crushed ore flowed, were coated with mercury because mercury was known to bond well with gold. As a result, the gold was “stuck” to the plates, while the ore was washed away to a concentraion table where it was “shook” to remove any remaining gold.

Though the current stamp mill at the mine is not used for finding gold today, it is well maintained and can be “turned on” for visitors.

For more information about the mines as well as recreational mining rates, visit www.reedmine.com; www.cottonpatchgoldmine.com; or www.mtcreekgold.com.



Contact Tiffany Thompson at (704) 982-2121 ext. 24 or  snaponline24@carolina.rr.com.