North Carolina Gemstone Mining
Author: Hobart M. King, Ph.D., GIA Graduate Gemologist
Ruby, Sapphire, Emerald and More!
Most people are surprised to hear that rubies, sapphires, and emeralds have been found in North Carolina. They are even more surprised when they learn that there are about a dozen locations in North Carolina where anyone can look for gemstones and keep anything that they find.
Recent reports on the Huffington Post and ABC News websites describe how some visitors have found emeralds worth over $10,000 in-the-rough. If you want to read a great summary of North Carolina gemstones, see Joseph Hyde Pratt's classic article titled: Gems and Gem Minerals of North Carolina in the 1933 edition of American Mineralogist. That article was written when some mines were in their peak of production.
Some of the mines and other gem-producing localities are still open, but instead of being mined by a company, they are now mined by people like you. If you want to look for gems yourself, here is a directory of pay-to-dig mines in North Carolina and other states. The mines are very popular and attract thousands of visitors during the summer months. There are more pay-to-dig mines in North Carolina than in any other state in the nation.
Gem materials found in North Carolina include aquamarine, beryl, citrine, emerald, garnet, moonstone, rose quartz, ruby, sapphire, smoky quartz, staurolite, topaz, tourmaline, and many others. Members of the North Carolina Legislature declared emerald the state's official gemstone.
Some local businesses have skilled gem cutters and bench jewelers who can turn a nice piece of rough that you find into a beautiful piece of jewelry. Imagine what it would be like to own a great ring or other piece of jewelry and be able to say that you found the beautiful stone? Being totally honest, the odds are against you finding something like that on your first visit, but many people have made spectacular finds.
The Crabtree Emerald Mine
The Crabtree Emerald Mine in western North Carolina was the first commercial source of emeralds in the United States. There, a pegmatite dike about five to six feet in width cuts the country rock. Bright green emerald crystals are found on the edges of the dike where it encounters the country rock. In the center of the dike, the beryl crystals are yellow heliodor.
Mining began there in 1895 and continued until the early 1990s. The mine was operated by Tiffany and Company and a succession of other owners. Numerous clear emerald crystals were produced, but most of the production was called "emerald matrix." That was a white pegmatite that could be slabbed and cut into cabochons that display green and black prism cross-sections of emerald and schorl tourmaline. Mining followed the dike along the surface and then followed the dike underground to a depth of a few hundred feet. Eventually, depth and groundwater intrusion made mining difficult.
Today, the deep mine is closed and flooded, but you can still visit the Crabtree Emerald Mine, and for a small fee you can prospect the rock rubble that was brought up out of the mine. Lots of people do it, and two of the photos on this page show a piece of black and white pegmatite, with prismatic emerald and tourmaline crystals, which was picked from the Crabtree dump. The dump still produces occasional nice specimens of emerald, black tourmaline, garnet, aquamarine, and yellow beryl. The people who find them are willing to do hard work, risking a few blisters and brush burns.
North American Emerald Mines
North American Emerald Mines operates a mine near Hiddenite, North Carolina. Since 1995 they have produced thousands of carats of gem quality emerald, including a 1,869-carat crystal that is now in the Houston Museum of Natural History and valued at about $3.5 million. The emeralds have been found in hydrothermal veins and pockets within a limestone. A crushed stone quarry on the same property is operated carefully, with an eye open for signs of the veins and pockets. The company boasts that they are one of the only mines in the world that sells their country rock.
North Carolina Garnet
Garnet has been found at many locations in North Carolina. It occurs in many garnetiferous schists, from which it is liberated by weathering. It is then found in the soils above the weathered rock unit or in nearby streams.
Almandite and rhodolite garnets have been found in the state. They are often so dark that faceted stones of one carat or more appear nearly black without strong illumination. Today there are several fee mining sites where anyone can pay a small fee, look for garnets and keep any that are found.
The first gold discovery in the United States was made in North Carolina in 1799 by Conrad Reed. He found an interesting yellow rock in Little Meadow Creek, which flowed across the farm owned by his parents in Cabarrus County. The rock weighed seventeen pounds, but young Reed didn't know that its extreme weight was caused by its gold content. He took the rock home, where his family thought that it was an interesting rock and used it as a door stop for the next few years.
They speculated that the rock might contain gold but did not know how to confirm that. In 1802 John Reed, who was the property owner and Conrad's father, showed it to a Fayetteville jeweler who purchased it from him for $3.50 - a very tiny fraction of what the rock was worth at that time!
The following year John Reed determined that Meadow Creek on his property contained an abundance of gold nuggets. They could be produced by digging the creek's sediments, washing them, and separating the nuggets out by hand. He formed a partnership with a few of his neighbors, who agreed to provide slave labor to mine the gold during times of the year when the slaves were not needed to tend crops. Thus the first gold mine in the United States opened with slave labor in 1803. By 1924 they had recovered over $100,000 worth of gold.
Word spread that Reed's Gold Mine was producing a lot of gold, and people all over the state began searching their streams for gold. Many of them found gold and began panning streams and washing sediments with crude equipment. A few of them found gold veins along the streams, and underground mining began on several properties. Gold-bearing quartz veins were found on Reed's property, and underground mining began in 1831.
North Carolina was the leading gold-producing state until 1848 when the California Gold Rush began. Production in North Carolina gradually decreased until the early 1900s, when almost all of the mines had closed. Today lots of people still look for gold and find some in North Carolina. They mostly work with metal detectors and gold pans.
Most of the land in North Carolina is owned by individuals, companies, or governments and is closed to gold prospecting. However, several property owners have opened their land for pay-to-dig mining. There you can pay a small fee, look for gold, abiding by their rules, and keep anything that you find.
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