Barringer Gold Mine

Written By Paul Messino

A few miles from the Reed Gold mine—believed to be the site of the first documented gold find in the United States (circa 1799)—and four miles from Gold Hill is the Barringer Gold Mine in Stanly County.  Formerly one of the most important gold mines in 1800s North Carolina, the Barringer Gold Mine is remembered now mostly for being the first gold mine in the Southern Piedmont to use lode mining (pure mining from mineral deposits).

Historians Richard F. Knapp and Brent D. Glass claim the opening of Barringer Gold Mine as a “watershed event in U.S. gold mining, moving the industry into the age of vein mining.”  They also writes that, prior to the operation of the Barringer Mine, gold mining “involved a large element of chance as to precisely where and when gold would be found, but veins offered the tempting hope of a predictable supply of gold from a given layer of ore.”

The mine is named after Matthias Tobias Barringer, a German immigrant who owned eighty acres under which the soon-to-be-discovered mine was located.  He purchased the land in 1824, yet it was not until 1839 that the German-American discovered the true value of his investment. According to contemporary reports, Barringer found gold while hunting squirrels near Long Creek, a stream running through his property. Initially, Barringer was content with collecting gold dust in his stream, but eventually, he searched diligently for the whereabouts of the gold’s source.  He soon found a sliver of a gold and quartz vein in the creek bank.

With this discovery, Barringer abandoned his placer mining (also known as surface or pan mining) and began digging deeper into the creek bank. Unknown to miners at the time, some veins of gold form in quartz veins nestled in igneous rock mass that, beginning as molten rock, later with time and pressure solidifies differentiating minerals and in some cases deposits of once-liquid gold. Barringer knew just that gold came from below, guessed its whereabouts, and started digging mineshafts to extract the mineral.  In his mine, the quartz vein carried much gold, though layered between various rocks. By the 1820s, Barringer had successfully dropped shafts to track the veins.

The exact value of the gold mined during Barringer’s lifetime is unknown. Varying records of gold purchases taken from Concord, N.C., a regional market for the mineral, note that Barringer’s gold was often one-half pure. Estimates place the total value of his gold between $40,000 and $100,000. This substantial amount (whatever it was) allowed Barringer to employ fifty men.

In 1887, an aging Barringer sold his mine to three venture capitalists eager to resell the mine for profit. To evaluate their investment’s value, these three used their company, Haggen, Counter, and Trusket, to drop a shaft to find the main quartz vein—which they never did.

Uncertainty over the mine’s solvency led to its sale in 1903 to Whitney Mining Company.  Almost immediately, the company began sinking shafts into the vein: first at 100, then 200, and finally 300 feet.  As depth increased, the company impressively ran horizontal shafts intersecting the vertical drops.  The rapidity of the work encouraged carelessness, however.  With a main, vertical airshaft approaching 497 feet, a smaller, horizontal shaft at 200 feet broke through the main shaft on August 11, 1904.  After a deluge had swelled Long Creek, it preceded to flood the shaft.  The water broke through the dams, flooding the mine and drowning eight men: Will Canup (white) and Will Stonewall, Charles Endy, John Mangum, Will Harris, James Miller, Caleb Moose, and Henry Deberry (all black); Jim Reed, also black, was the lone survivor.  Subsequent lawsuits stalled the company’s efforts to reopen the mine.  Although ownership changed hands, the mine remained dormant for almost a century.

On March 25, 1998, Stanly County developer and entrepreneur Joe Carter bought Barringer Mine and nearly 240 acres of surrounding land.  While clearing the land for development, Carter, much like Barringer did approximately 150 years before, discovered gold and started exploring his land to find its source and value.  Carter hired mining, blasting, and environmental professionals to assess the viability of creating a mining operation and establishing a new, tourist destination in the county. The experts concluded that only ten-percent of the gold in the quartz vein had been removed, placing the net worth of the mineral contents (not just gold) beneath the Barringer mine at more than $1 billion.

Consequently, Carter gained zoning permits for his company Barringer Mining, LLC, at the federal and state level, yet has failed to gain permits at the local level. To this day, zoning laws have prevented Carter from opening the mine.