When 12-year-old Conrad Reed found a 17-pound nugget of gold in Cabarrus County in 1799, he and his family had no idea what they had found. It served as a doorstop for three years before they finally brought it to a jeweler who offered them $3.50 for it, when it was worth much more. This nugget was the first authenticated discovery of gold within the borders of the United States.
Reed Gold Mine’s archival papers credit the gold rush for the development of Charlotte’s banking industry. One key player, Robert M. Miller, co-owned Rudisill Mine, which was located in what is now the Wilmore neighborhood.
Over $2 million in gold was mined there. Miller became one of the original board members of Commercial Bank, which after several mergers eventually became First Union, known today as Wells Fargo.
Dr. David Goldfield, history professor at UNC Charlotte, doesn’t quite believe that the gold rush led to Charlotte becoming a banking center.
“Charlotte’s gold mining history gave rise to the myth that this at least pre-ordained the city to become one of America’s premier financial hubs,” he said. “The connection is tenuous. Charlotte did receive a federal reserve bank in the 1920s, but that was long after the gold had played out.”
Regardless of the gold rush’s influence on Charlotte’s present-day banking industry, Gold Fever left an impression on this city. The Commerce statue at Trade and Tryon represents a 19th century gold prospector. UNC Charlotte’s mascot is a miner named Norm who carries a pickax. Entrances to mines throughout the city have been blocked or closed off, sometimes causing problems in construction and development. According to the staff at Reed Gold Mine, there are hundreds of tunnels under the city.
Larry Neal, manager at Reed Gold Mine, believes that when the Bank of America Corporate Center was being built in the 1990s, they struck one of the gold mining tunnels and had to stabilize it. Neal believes that “some of the roads in Charlotte are literally paved with gold” because gold dust was discarded in piles around the city.
Before you get out your metal detector, here are a few things you should know about the history of gold mining in Mecklenburg County:
(1) Charlotte was the mining capital of the US.
People swarmed to the area when they heard about the gold being mined in the Charlotte area. But, even back then, the media exaggerated the news. Editors of newspapers and journals reported that nuggets too heavy to lift were being found, gold veins were 80 ft. wide and 1600 pounds of gold were being mined a week. Land prices soared from $1 an acre to $30 an acre.
(2) The US government built a mint in Charlotte in 1837.
Five million dollars was minted in Charlotte between 1838 and 1861, when it closed. “It was a coup for a small town such as Charlotte to receive a branch of the U.S. Mint in 1837,” wrote Goldfield in his essay about gold mines and the development of Charlotte.
Now a fine art museum, The Mint Museum on Randolph Road is the original U.S. Mint building. It was moved from West Trade Street when the main post office was being expanded.
(3) There were 16 gold mines in Mecklenburg County in 1869.
By 1891, there were 60 in operation. $2.6 million in gold was extracted from Charlotte area mines. Once gold was struck in California, Gold Fever moved out west.
Check out Reed Gold Mine for a free tour of the mine and museum. Visit Gold Hill Historical Park, but if gold fever sets in, don’t even think about bringing a metal detector, pick or shovel – those items are not allowed!
Photos: UNC Charlotte, Robinson-Spangler Carolina Room – Charlotte Mecklenburg Library