Gems, Rocks and Minerals - Mining in Western North Carolina
In terms of minerals, North Carolina is one of the most diverse areas and contains some of the richest deposits of gems and minerals in the world. Home to outstanding gemstones, a half-billion dollar mining industry, and the highest elevation on the eastern sea board (Mt Mitchell 6,684’), North Carolina is an exciting state for rock hounds, mineralogists, and geologists alike. Furthermore, North Carolina leads the nation in the production of high grade silicates that are used in everything from tile, paint and insulation to cosmetics and computers. There is a strong possibility that the very computer you are using to read this sentence contains Spruce Pine Silicon.
North Carolina has a lengthy and interesting history of gem mining and production. Because of North Carolina’s complex geologic history, beautiful and fascinating gemstones occur in many places in the western part of our state. Thousands of people visit these mines each year and enjoy discovering their own unique treasures. Some incredible finds have been made over the years, including some of the largest sapphires ever found in the United States and the largest emerald ever found in North American.
An interesting story was the find of a 1,000 carat-plus aquamarine at a local mine in the Spruce Pine area. The finder literally stumbled over the stone, revealing a flash of bright icy blue. Needless to say, the person kept the gem with glee. Other rich finds have been made at the gold mines nearby as well. One person of the author’s acquaintance found a 2 ounce gold nugget near Marion, NC while panning. In fact, miners in the Burke county area found several diamonds while gold panning in the early 1800’s at Brindletown Creek. Rumor has it that the persons involved did not recognize the stones for what they were, and smashed them with a hammer to test their hardness. This proved to be a poor idea, and the stones shattered. Later, the fragments were identified by a jeweler. The original largest stone may have been well over 17 carats. To date, 14 documented diamond finds have been reported in NC, with most in the 1800’s.
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- North Carolina is divided into three physiographic provinces: Mountains, Piedmont and Coastal Plains.
- WNC Mountains are home to Mount Mitchell, the highest point east of the Mississippi River. Its elevation is 6,684 feet above sea level.
- Western North Carolina Mountains are some of the oldest in the world. Among the minerals that make up Roan Mountain, the oldest are a specimen of metamorphic rock known as Cranberry Gneiss. Formed over a billion years ago from ancient ocean sediments, they represents more than a billion years of constant change.
- In the 1970’s the General Assembly designated North Carolina's official state precious stone the Emerald and North Carolina's official state rock Granite. NC Emeralds are found near Hiddenite, NC. The largest open face granite quarry in the world is located at Mount Airy, NC.
- The largest emerald crystal ever found in North America came from NC.
- Spruce Pine, NC leads the nation in the production of Silicates: (feldspar, mica and pyrophyllite).
- Today, mining is a half-billion dollar industry in the state of North Carolina.
- North Carolina became the first state to fund a geological and mineralogical survey in the year of 1823.
Rock Hunting Locations of Western North Carolina
- Local streams and mountains occasionally carry gem garnet and other interesting minerals in much of Western North Carolina.
- A concentration of gold bearing areas also exists between Rutherfordton and Marion, and many WNC counties have produced gold in the past.
- The most famous gem mining areas in Western North Carolina center around the Spruce Pine area and the Cowee Valley near Franklin. The Valley got the name "Cowee" from the Cherokee word "Ani Kawi", meaning "The Place of the Deer".
There are many great gem mines in Western North Carolina. This page breaks them down be county and lists some of the most common gem stones and minerals found at each mine. Counties covered include: Cherokee County, Haywood County, Mitchell County, McDowell County, Watauga County, Yancey County.
Native Americans were the first people to work some of the mine sites. Artifacts and digging tools have been found at several places, including the now closed Sinkhole mine near Spruce Pine. They extracted mica, and may have used it for ceremonial purposes. Mica from the Spruce Pine area has been found at archaeological sites as far away as Ohio...
Precious stones, or gems, such as ruby, sapphire, aquamarine, and emerald can be found in North Carolina. North Carolina also has the great honor of producing the largest and highest quality emeralds in North America. In Western NC people find the follwoing: agate, amazonite, amethyst, aquamarine, beryl, diamond (rare), garnet, jasper, moonstone, opal, peridot, ruby, sapphire, smoky quartz, topaz, tourmaline, and quartz. In fact, the largest star sapphire in the world was also found right here in Western NC at ...
1. Be sure to obtain permission from the landowner, or pay the fee at the mine. 2. Back fill any holes you dig to prevent injuries to people or livestock. 3. Use the proper safety gear. When splitting rocks, gloves and safety goggles...
Helpful Educational Resources for WNC Area Rock Hounds
- A variety of information exists on the minerals and mines of this area. One great place to check is the Colburn Earth Science Museum in downtown Asheville. The museum has many fine examples of local gems and minerals on display.
2 South Pack Square, Asheville, NC, 28802
- The Franklin Gem and Mineral Museum in downtown Franklin has an exhibit of local gems, and shops as well.
25 Phillips Street Franklin, NC 28734
- The Museum of North Carolina Minerals on the Blue Ridge Parkway south of Spruce pine, NC has an exhibit of local gems. This museum is located close to Emerald Village and the Crabtree Emerald Mine.
79 Parkway Rd., (Blue Ridge Parkway Milepost 331), Spruce Pine, NC 28777.
Hours: Sun-Sat 9-5.
About the Author - C.W. Allen
C.W. Allen is a long-time resident of the mountains. He enjoys writing, rockhounding, music, and horror films and novels. A published author, he is now currently exploring the world of web-writing. A passionate love of nature and the mountains moves throughout his written works.