Spirit of Rowan 2022: Gold Hill boasts a rich mining heritage

Published 12:00 am Sunday, March 27, 2022

California might be the state most Americans associate with gold mining, but North Carolina experienced its own golden age before prospectors flooded west.

Gold Hill was in the thick of it all.

In 1799, 12-year-old Conrad Reed discovered a 17-pound gold nugget in Little Meadow Creek in Cabarrus County. His finding was the first documented discovery of gold in the United States and kicked off the exploration of other potential gold mining sites nearby.

In 1823, the federal government conducted a geological survey to identify other gold deposits in the region. The survey determined the highest probability of discovering rich gold deposits was in the vicinity of eastern Rowan County, according to Vivian Hopkins, vice president and director of education for the Historic Gold Hill and Mines Foundation.

Studying that survey, farmer Andrew Troutman made the first discovery of gold in Gold Hill in 1824. The first vertical underground mine, called Barringer Mine, was constructed a year later. Neither the Troutman discovery or the Barringer Mine drew significant attention to the town, Hopkins said. It wasn’t until 1842 when London-based Gold Hill Mining Co. dug the Barnhardt mine that Gold Hill became a boomtown.

The Gold Hill Mining Co. constructed 24 mines in southeastern Rowan County, according to a map drawn in 1884 by Joseph J. Newman for the company. The Barnhardt and Randolph mines were the two most productive. The Randolph Mine was one the deepest in the Southeast, stretching 850 feet into the ground. The two mines produced an estimated $6-9 million in gold. Historians estimate that $12-15 million in gold was extracted from the Gold Hill mines altogether. Millions more was likely lost due to inefficient recovery methods.

Gold mining operations largely ceased in Gold Hill in 1915, but the town’s rich mining heritage is still alive today. Gold Hill has harnessed its history to become a tourism destination. A walking trail through the 70-acre Gold Hill Mines Historic Park takes visitors to several of the former mining sites. At the Randolph Mine site, an enclosed bridge provides a peak at what was once one of the most productive gold mines in the region.

The Historic Gold Hill and Mines Foundation has produced a self-guided tour booklet and trail brochure, which is available at the Montgomery General Store. The store, built in 1840, offers customers a chance to enjoy old fashioned candies, long-neck sodas and Hershey’s ice cream, all in a historic setting. Live bluegrass music is played at the store on Friday nights.

“(Gold Hill) is a rare authentic gem unknown to many in Rowan County or across North Carolina,” Hopkins said. “It doesn’t take much ‘digging’ to find the influence of our gold mining industry at Gold Hill in every aspect of North Carolina’s economic development.”

About Ben Stansell

Ben Stansell covers business, county government and more for the Salisbury Post. He joined the staff in August 2020 after graduating from the University of Alabama. Email him at ben.stansell@salisburypost.com.

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