Nuggets of History at Reed Gold Mine
In 1799, a young boy named Conrad Reed was fishing in a North Carolina creek when he saw a shiny rock glimmering in the stream. He picked it up and carried it home to his father, John Reed.
“They didn’t know what it was, so they decided to hold onto it and used it as a doorstop for about three years,” says Aaron Kepley, historic interpreter at Reed Gold Mine in Midland.
Finally, the Reeds asked a Fayetteville jeweler about their doorstop and learned that it was actually a 17-pound gold nugget – the first documented discovery of gold in the U.S.
“John Reed sold it to the jeweler for $3.50,” Kepley says. “It was worth about $3,600 at the time.”
Although that first nugget didn’t pay off for the Reeds, the family soon joined forces with neighbors to begin a mining operation on their land. Over the next three decades, miners discovered about 150 pounds of gold, including a monstrous 28-pound nugget – “the biggest nugget found east of the Mississippi River to this day,” Kepley says.
Until the 1830s, miners stuck to placer mining (searching near the ground’s surface), panning for gold in the creek and scraping just beneath the grass in search of nuggets. Eventually, though, the supply near the earth’s surface dwindled, so the miners dug deeper. “The first shafts were sunk in 1831,” Kepley says.
Some of those shafts are still around today, as visitors to Reed Gold Mine discover. After the mine became a state historic site in the 1970s, plans were made to open some of the shafts to visitors.
“They went in and braced up a lot of places, enlarged the tunnels so people could walk through – because they were only big enough to crawl or shimmy through,” Kepley says. “We now have about 495 feet of accessible tunnels.”
Visitors enter the mine through a hillside, making the site wheelchair-accessible.
“You go right in and you’re 55 feet underground,” Kepley says.
The tunnels aren’t large – about 5 feet wide and 7 feet tall in most places.
“There’s one spot where it opens up to 35 feet high and you can see straight up, but in general, the tunnels are pretty small because they’re all hand dug, and the miners didn’t dig out more than they had to.”
Reed Gold Mine is one of about 600 gold mines that sprang up after Conrad Reed’s discovery of the first nugget in 1799.
“From about Greensboro all the way down to Rock Hill, there were a ton of gold mines,” Kepley says. “Mining brought steam engines and farming into North Carolina and helped establish Charlotte as a banking center.”
And all of this happened because a North Carolina boy found a shiny rock while fishing in a creek.
If You Go...
– Jessica Leigh Brown
Editor’s note: Our Spring 2015 issue mistakenly stated a 13-pound nugget was found in April 2014. This is incorrect, and we apologize for the error.