Are Charlotte’s Streets Paved with Gold? Part II
Although gold was being dug and refined in and around Charlotte, there were no local facilities to mint coins. The only such facility in North Carolina was the Bechtler Mint, which had been operating in Rutherfordton since 1831. This was to change, however, when the U.S. Mint opened a new facility in Charlotte in December 1837. Local leaders hoped that this would curtail the business of private assayers and minters who were making the counterfeit coins circulating around the region. The new mint was designed by Philadelphia architect William Strickland at a cost of $29,700.
Soon after the mint opened, the pace of gold mining in North Carolina began to slow, and mines were listed for sale in local newspapers. Part of the problem was that as the mines were dug deeper, they began to fill with water. The necessity to pump them out resulted in increased costs. In January 1839, the Charlotte Journal advertised the sale of several gold mines, including the Washington mine, the Claremont place, the Alexander Mine, the Rogers’ Hill Mine, and their associated machinery. Two years later, interests in a number of gold mining tracts were up for sale. These included the Clark, Sample, Alexander, Dunn, Williams, Elms, Jameson, Blake, and Zenas Alexander tracts.
In August 1842, William Harris gave notice that he would hold a lottery to dispose of several of his mining tracts, including the “Jamesville, or Harris, Gold Mining lands on the waters of Clear Creek.” In November of that year, William J. Alexander, as trustee for Dan Alexander, advertised a credit sale in the Mecklenburg Jeffersonian of over 450 acres, including the McGinn and Rudisill mines. Sales included one recently opened mine three miles south of Charlotte, that of the late Charles E. Moss, from which “a large quantity of ore, of the richest character, has been taken.” In February 1847, William Harris once again listed “the Jamesville Place or Harris Gold Mining Lands for sale,” announcing that they would go to public auction if not sold.
In a final blow, the California gold rush was to have a huge impact on mining in Mecklenburg County. In December 1848, newspapers began to proclaim that the discoveries in California were no hoax, but rather “singularly rich gold,” and predicted that the immigration of gold miners from North Carolina would soon begin. However, there were still some new discoveries in Mecklenburg County after 1848. In April 1849. the Mecklenburg Jeffersonian announced that the Dunn Mine had been producing “some very rich ore,” and that William L. Davidson had opened new veins nearby “which bid to rival the former in richness.”
In June 1850, the Hornet’s Nest reported that the Dunn mine was still producing good results. Owners, however, continued to sell their gold lands. In June 1850, James Porter placed an ad in the Hornet’s Nest desiring to sell or lease “several valuable Gold Mines” located ten miles east of Charlotte on the eastern side of the Catawba River. And in December of that year, an ad in the Hornet’s Nest announced that the McGinn mine tract would be put up for public auction.
News of gold mining eventually disappeared almost entirely from local newspapers. And North Carolina’s prominence in the industry, which had led the nation in gold production, began to decline. It produced $60 million worth of ore between 1799 and 1860. Before the mines lost their luster, half of the counties in North Carolina had at least one mine, with Mecklenburg County having the most. On December 29, 1848, the Charlotte Journal commented on the state’s gold-mining business, “with its numerous hair-breadth escapes and disappointed hopes…a curious and instructive serio-tragico comico tale.”
The report noted that despite all this, the industry gave employment to many who were unable to find work in any other field. The Charlotte Mint continued to operate until it was taken over by the Confederacy in 1861. During the late 19th century, attempts were made to re-open some of Charlotte’s mines. The St. Catherine Mine was reopened but then closed in 1887, and the Capps Mine was reopened in 1882, but closed soon thereafter. Still later, in 1934, the Rudisill Mine was drained and examined. Three new veins produced ore, but it was eventually closed in 1938.
There are still remnants of the gold rush in Charlotte today. The most obvious one is the Mint Museum, housed in the old U.S. Mint building, which was used as a hospital and headquarters during the Civil War. Fallen into disuse, it was later rebuilt and moved to its current location on Tryon Street, where it opened as North Carolina’s first art museum in 1936. Other more destructive remnants are the large holes and tunnels that sometimes appear in the basements of Charlotte homes.
Southern Charlotte neighborhoods like Seversville, Wilmore, and the South End sit on land that was once honeycombed with mine tunnels, which were left behind when the mines closed. And to answer the question about the streets in Charlotte being paved with gold, many of them overlie what were once valuable veins of gold. And the pavement itself rests on low value gold, which was used to temper the dirt and mud used long ago to build Charlotte’s streets.
Nancy Griffith lived in Davidson from 1979 until 1989. She is the author of numerous books and articles on Arkansas and South Carolina history. She is the author of "Ada Jenkins: The Heart of the Matter," a history of the Ada Jenkins school and center.