Carolina Query: What are the odds of finding significant gold deposits in Catawba county?

Carolina Query is a series we've launched based on your questions. Tom Hassell asked "What are the odds of finding significant gold deposits in Catawba county?" Scroll down to ask a question about the science around North Carolina.

What are the chances of finding gold in Catawba county?
April 12, 2018

Gold in These Hills

Tom Hassell asked, “What are the odds of finding significant gold deposits in Catawba County? I know gold was mined there in the past.” 

Thanks for asking, Tom! As part of our series that answers YOUR questions about science in North Carolina, we're tackling good questions like this one. You’re not alone in wondering if there might still be gold in North Carolina. Since the early 1800’s treasure seekers have been scouring the state for gold, hoping for a lucky strike.   We got in touch with some local gold prospectors to see what they knew about gold in Catawba County. 

Greg Fisher, a member pf the Gold Prospectors Association of America, says that finding some gold is always a possibility. “If they have found gold in the past, that would be the places I would look. No, they didn’t get it all,” he said, “But you’re not gonna get rich quick. TV shows make expectations too high.”

North Carolina's Gold Rush Happened 50 years before California's

There’s plenty of precedence for finding gold in NC, which was home to America’s first gold rush, and helped lead to the gold rush which swept the nation.

Reed Mine, which is located in Midland, NC, was the site of the first documented gold discovery in the United States. As Larry Neal, site manager at the Reed Gold Mine Historic Site said, “We beat California by 50 years!” Neal said he thinks there’s a good chance that there’s still gold in the region today.

The Reed Mine has its origins in 1799 when a 12-year-old boy named Conrad Reed pulled a 17-pound yellow rock out of a creek. The rock sat as a doorstop at the Reed home for three years before Conrad’s father John Reed realized it might be gold. The rock, which he sold for $3.50, ended up being worth around $3,600.

; When Reed realized he’d been had, he began panning in the nearby land. In 1803, Reed organized a small mining operation. Before long, mining operations were popping up across the state, and workers began moving to the North Carolina to look for gold.

By 1832, more than fifty mines were operating in NC, employing more than 25,000 people. Next to farming, more people were employed in gold mining than in any other occupation.

There’s a reason University of North Carolina Charlotte’s mascot is a gold prospector. UNC Charlotte, located only a half hour from the Reed Gold mine, celebrates the can-do history of the gold rush. Come to a game and you might see Norm the Niner toting his pick axe and wearing a miner's hat.

What Today's Mining Looks Like

Most of the gold-exploration companies in North Carolina are looking for gold associated with volcanic rock.  Today, amateur prospectors look for the coarser gold found in streams and quartz veins.  The GPAA, or Gold Prospecting Association of America has many members who look for gold in creeks.

Former gold-producing regions, such as Catawba and Cabarrus county, should offer the best opportunities for panning. It’s possible to find small amounts of gold in the stream sediments, or placers. Although North Carolina has many quartz veins, it is rare to find one that contains gold.

Where You Might Be Able to Find Gold Today

According to the North Carolina Geological Survey, the best place to find gold in rivers is where they begin to widen or change their velocity, including the insides of bends or in slow-water areas below rapids. Gold also tends to work its way to the bedrock and often accumulates in crevices, depressions, and potholes in rocks underlying the streams.

Phil Bradley, the Senior Piedmont Geologist with the North Carolina Geological Survey also said there’s a precedence for finding gold in the region. There are sites around Catawba county where gold has been found in the past.

According to Bradley, there are no active gold mines in North Carolina today. However, placer mining may yield interesting finds.

Catawba county, which was part of the largest gold producing area in the country, does not have any active mines today.Since there are no active mining companies in the area today, there is a good chance that easy-to-find large mining deposits have been found.

John Schwab, the president of the Catawba Prospectors Club said he’s gotten lucky with some mid-sized nuggets. The gold he’s found has financed his mining and allowed him to purchase new equipment. “I heard it estimated that only 2% of gold in the area has been found,” he said. “There’s gotta be some gold somewhere.”

If you don’t want to look for gold on your own, there are still plenty of historic mines that you can visit to sluice for gold, like the Thermal City Gold Mine in Union Mills, the Emerald Village Mine in Little Switzerland, and Reed Gold mine in Midland, NC.

Felicia Mareno, with the GPAA noted, “There’s always a chance you could find gold. You just have to know where to look.”

—Nathan Katzin 

Nathan Katzin is a writer on the UNC-TV Science Team

This article is part of a series called Carolina Query, in which the UNC-TV science teams answers your questions about science in North Carolina. Ask a question below!