Survey of Historic Sites and Buildings
Ownership and Administration. State of North Carolina.
Significance. A gold nugget found at this site in 1799 led to the first significant gold rush in the United Statesa half century before the major Western rushes began. Miners gained valuable experience in the rush to North Carolina, Georgia, and the southern Appalachians that prepared them for the later and far more lucrative rushes in the West and supplied the national need for gold at a time of limited metal resources.
The Spaniards had vainly sought large gold deposits in the southern Appalachians, and the English colonists searched to no avail for reported Spanish and Indian mines. But not until 1799 were commercially significant deposits discovered. In 1799 Conrad Reed, 12-year-old son of John Reed, found a gold nugget while playing along the creek that ran through his father's farm. Reed at first ignored the discovery, but after finding a 28-pound nugget in 1803 he opened the Reed Mine. The first commercially successful gold mine in the United States, before 1853 the Reed Mine yielded an estimated $10 million worth of gold.
Interest in other gold discoveries spread throughout the State, and by the 1820's newspapers were publishing accounts of new ones in Cabarrus, Anson, Mecklenburg, and Montgomery Counties and in several counties of western North Carolina. Miners poured into the State, founded boom-towns, and then deserted them for richer placer fields. After a new discovery near Dahlonega, Ga., in 1829, prospectors invaded the entire Southeast.
Before 1829 all the gold mined in the United States and coined at the Philadelphia Mint came from the North Carolina mines, and until 1849 from the southern Appalachian States. In the 1830's the Federal Government created branch mints at Charlotte, N.C., and at Dahlonega, Ga., and sanctioned the private Bechtler mint, located near Rutherfordton, N.C., which minted about a third as much as the Federal mints. In the 1830's gold ranked second only to agriculture in North Carolina as a source of income, and mining continued on a broad scale until the Civil War. Total production in the State from 1799 to 1860 is estimated at about $60 million. At the height of operations in North Carolina, at least 56 mines were operating and employing 30,000 men.
The Reed Gold Mine is eligible for the Registry of National Historic Landmarks relating primarily to the development of commerce and industry.
Present Appearance. Numerous diggings of the Reed Mine are extant on the crest of a hill overlooking Meadow Creek, where the first discovery was made. Pitswhich seem to have resulted from later vein mining rather than early placer miningpockmark the hill and reveal an underlying stone strata. On the top of the hill, near a large stone chimney that may have been part of a smelting furnace, appears a deep open pit that may have a horizontal tunnel leading from it. Remnants of what seems to be a crushing machine lie near the narrow road winding up the hill. The creek today runs through a heavily overgrown bottom.
In 1971, the Reed Gold Mine became a state historic site. The heirs of the previous owner donated nearly seventy historic acres containing the mine to the people of North Carolina and sold the remainder of their 820-acre tract to the state at well below appraised value. The historic site opened to the public in April 1977 with a new visitor center and more than four hundred feet of restored underground tunnels. Today the free site is open year-round.
NHL Designation: 05/23/66
Last Updated: 29-Aug-2005