In June, Belle and I found ourselves in Cabarrus County. It was our first trip to the area – and y’all know me, I can’t go anywhere without doing a little exploring! So, while we were there on the outskirts of Charlotte, we made our way over to the Reed Gold Mine.
Have you ever heard of the gold mine? If not, you’re not alone. When people discuss American gold rushes, North Carolina is often forgotten. I’m not sure why that happens. The Old North State is home to the first American gold rush, often called the “Carolina Gold Rush.” And it all started at Reed.
The History of the Reed Gold Mine
In 1799, 12-year-old Conrad Reed was playing in the section of Little Meadow Creek that ran through his family’s land when he spotted a shimmering stone in the stream. Captivated by its shimmer, he picked it up and carried it home to his father, former Hessian soldier John Reed.
John used the rock as a doorstop for the next three years.
In 1802, John sought the advice of a Fayetteville jeweler about the large rock he used to prop open the door. The jeweler revealed the rock was no ordinary stone. It was a 17-pound gold nugget – the first documented discovery of gold in the U.S.
Not understanding the value of Conrad’s find, John sold the nugget to the jeweler for $3.50. It was worth about $3,600 at the time.
The Reeds kept their find a secret as long as they could and began quietly extracting gold from their property. But word of the discovery eventually spread, sparking a mini gold rush. Prospectors flocked to North Carolina in search of their fortune.
The gold rush inspired John and his neighbors to start their own mining operation. They searched the ground’s surface, panned, and scraped just beneath the grass for nuggets. Over the next thirty years, the miners produced 150 pounds of gold, including a 28-pound nugget – the largest ever discovered east of the Mississippi.
Eventually, the gold supply near the surface dwindled, forcing the miners to dig deeper. In 1831, the first shafts were dug at the Reed Mine, and their gold mining venture transitioned from small-scale prospecting to commercial operations.
John Reed died as a wealthy man on May 28, 1845. Soon after, the Reed mine was sold at a public auction. It continued to prosper for the next 60 years.
The mine contributed to North Carolina becoming the leading gold-producing state in the country. Around 600 other gold mines, including the nearby Phifer Mine, were established from 1830 through the 1850s, and the state experienced a significant economic boom.
Unfortunately, the boom was not destined to last. Mining came to a screeching halt at the onset of the Civil War. The Confederate government seized mines to fund the war effort, and miners left to join the Confederate army.
After the Civil War ended, the Reed Gold Mine faced depleted resources and lower gold prices. Mining operations at Reed gradually declined until it closed in 1912.
Visiting the Historic Site
Reed Gold Mine remains a symbol of the Carolina gold rush and the adventurous spirit of those who sought their fortunes in the untamed lands of North Carolina. It’s a testament to the enduring legacy of the Reed family and the accidental discovery that forever changed the state’s history.
North Carolina recognized the historical significance of the Reed Gold Mine and established it as a state historic site. It opened to the public in the 1970s.
The site features underground shafts, a visitors center with a museum, and hiking trails. Activities include hiking, birding, picnicking, and panning for gold.
Located at 9621 Reed Mine Rd. in Midland, the mine is open Tuesday through Saturday from 9 a.m. until 5 p.m. Admission is free. However, there are fees for panning and private tours.