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Gold Trails:

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 to mining).

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 State.

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 wash
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:





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