Tapping the Veins

Placer or creek gold mining gave way to underground excavation when it was learned in 1825 that the metal existed also in veins of white quartz rock. Spurred on by that discovery—made by Matthias Barringer on his Montgomery County farm—a successful search for more veins was initiated. Much of the mining activity was centered in Mecklenburg County, where many vein mines appeared. Almost daily discoveries of gold were reported, with the mining region expanding to include still other counties.

The search for "lode" or vein gold required a great deal more money, labor, and machinery. At first, underground mining was simply the digging of large pits at random in hopes of uncovering subterranean ore. Gradually, pits were deepened into shafts; from the shafts, tunnels were extended out following the veins of ore. By the 1830s, centuries-old European mining techniques were being employed in North Carolina. Digging deep shafts and branched networks of tunnels (called drifts) extruding at various levels to follow the veins, the professional miners sometimes carved out a room, or "stope," in their efforts to remove the vein material. Working by candlelight, the miners pried apart the rocks at their natural joints or fractures using chisels, picks, shovels, crowbars, and gunpowder. Low wheelbarrows were used to haul ore along the drifts to the main shaft. In major Carolina mines, iron Cornish buckets called "kibbles" were commonly used to hoist ore and miners to the surface. At the Reed mine, frames or timber collars were built to reinforce the tops of the shafts. By mid-century some mines in the state had shafts extending down several hundred feet into the earth.