The Reed Mine
By Tom Straka
Photographs by Pat Straka
| A frame over the Morgan Shaft can be
used for lifting and lowering
Where was the first documented gold strike in the
United States? Many people would think it was somewhere out West, but it was
in North Carolina, not far from Charlotte. (The occurrence of gold in the
U.S. was noted before this strike, but none were significant enough to lead
The story starts with a Hessian soldier slipping out of the
British army in Savannah near the end of the Revolutionary War and
settling in North Carolina in a German community about twenty miles
east of present day Charlotte. His Anglicized name was John Reed. In
1799 his son Conrad skipped church on a Sunday and played in Little
Meadow Creek that flowed through the family property. Conrad found a
shiny, yellowish rock in the creek, shaped like a flatiron. He showed
the unusually heavy rock to his father. John knew nothing about gold
or mining, plus was in the country illegally, so decided to make no
fuss over the rock. He did think it would make a dandy doorstop and it
served that purpose for three years.
Entering the tunnel. Credit:
Reed Gold Mine Historic Site.
Eventually John took the rock to a jeweler in
Fayetteville to have it evaluated. The jeweler identified it as gold and
offered to flux it for John. When John returned the gold was in a six inch
bar. The jeweler offered to buy the bar and told John to name his price.
John was illiterate and did not have a clue as to its value, but named a
price he considered steep. The jeweler immediately accepted John's offer to
sell it for $3.50. The true value was $36,000 or close to three quarters of
a million dollars in 2011 money. Eventually, John got the offer increased by
$1,000 when he figured out what had happened.
This is a sluice box. Since it is
over six feet long
it is referred to as a Long Tom.
More importantly, John became very interested in gold. He
spent considerable time prospecting Little Meadow Creek and
continued to find gold. By 1803 he was taking on partners who
agreed to supply equipment and two slaves each. One of the slaves
found a 28 pound nugget. Gold fever stuck North Carolina.� John
Reed died a wealthy man in 1845, three years before the great
gold discovery in California. After Reeds death the mine sold at
public auction and it changed hands many times over the years
until it ended production in 1912.
There are all kinds of interesting exhibits
within the tunnel.
By 1825 miners discovered gold in veins of white quartz
rock. Placer or creek mining had played out and underground
excavation began as the mining region increased as more and
more of this white quartz was discovered. Vein or lode mining
required significant capital, labor, and equipment. At first,
the process started with deep pits, leading to shafts, and then
to major tunnels. All attempted to follow the veins of gold. By
1830 European methods were employed: deep shafts and branched
tunnels at various levels to follow the veins. By 1830 the
state had 56 gold mines and only agriculture employed more men.
Over a million dollars of gold was produced annually in North
Carolina and it led the nation in gold production until the
California Gold Rush. An 1846 map of North Carolina included an
inset map of the �Gold Region� of North Carolina. North
Carolina was the first state to be referred as the �Golden
The Reed Mine Today
A Chilean Mill or a type of arrastra.
An arrastra is a sort of mortar used to grind the ore. In a
Chilean mill heavy stone wheels turn about a a central shaft
and crush the ore.
Today the mines are an historic site open to the public. A
visitor's center contains exhibits of gold and historical mining
equipment and an overview video presentation. Tours are offered of the
mine and of a restored ore-crushing stamp mill. The central attraction
is restored underground tunnels that date to the 1830's. The
reconstructed stamp mill represents technology of the late 1800's. The
stamp mill is operational and demonstrated from April through October.
Miners would shovel dirt into these log
rockers, pour in water,
and rock it like a cradle. Lighter dirt and gravel would
away, leaving the heavier gold.
Several trails cross lode and placer mining areas
and archaeological areas. The Lower Hill Trail features �Talking Rocks� that
describe mining activities and various rocks found in the southeastern
United States. Numerous locations feature historic mining machinery and an
area of the Upper Hill has the chimney and restored foundation of the 1854
mill house. There is an area for gold panning. A small fee is charged for
use of a pan, but some recoup more than the fee in gold. There is a large
picnic area along the trail and bring a lunch makes sense as the site has
more than a few hours of interesting learning opportunities.
For more info:
N.C. Historic Sites:
Reed Gold Mine:
UNC Libraries, Reed Gold Mine
A Guide to the Reed Gold Mine!:
Southern Spirit Guide: