Gem and Mineral Mining History in Western North Carolina
- 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.
- Many of these mines can be traced back as far as the 1800’s. Generally, the mines began as commercial mining for industrial minerals like feldspar, corundum, and mica. However, some were originally gem mines. Historically local people have made a living working in or around these mines.
- Some of these old mines are currently operated as gem mining attractions. In fact, many people in the Spruce Pine and Franklin areas make their living exclusively from small family-owned mines right now.
- North Carolina was also the main producer of gold in the US until 1848. Many immigrants moved to the state in search of the lucrative metal. Over thirty thousand people were employed in gold mining in our state at one time.
- Gold has historically been found in all of these Western North Carolina counties: Avery, Burke, Caldwell, Cherokee, Clay, Henderson, Jackson, Macon, McDowell, Polk, Rutherford, Swain, Transylvania, and Watauga.
- An old report even says that one farmer shot deer for his table with bullets made from gold found on his property. Lead was hard to come by in the area in the 1800’s. However, a miss would have been costly.