Pioneer Mill Gold Mine

Occasionally, I like to present samples of my writing in this blog. My blog post on May 23, 2017 was “No Place for a Preacher’s Son?” (No Place for Preacher’s Son?) The “no place for a preacher’s son” was the Pioneer Mill community in Township One of Cabarrus County, North Carolina in the 1870s.

Gold Fever!

The reason for Pioneer Mill being a “boom” place in the 1800s was due to the development of a gold mine there. Gold was first discovered in the United States in Cabarrus County in 1799.

“Gold fever” soon took hold of the region and numerous gold mines were developed in Cabarrus County in the early 1800s. In fact, so much gold was found in the area that in 1837 a branch of the United States Mint was opened in Charlotte in adjoining Mecklenburg County

I heard about the Pioneer Mill Gold Mine when I was a young child. I knew where it had been. I should have asked “the older generation” some questions about it, but now that generation is gone.

Finding myself in “the older generation,” I researched the gold mine in order to write a two-part series about it for the now defunct Harrisburg Horizons newspaper in 2012. Today’s blog hits the highlights of those newspaper articles.

After the 1799 discovery of gold on John Reed’s land in Township Ten, everyone in Cabarrus County probably started searching for gold on their property. The date that gold was first discovered at Pioneer Mill is unknown, but the 1869 Branson Business Directory described the mine as “among the earliest discovered mines in the State.

The land on which the Pioneer Mill Mine was worked in the 1800s was purchased in the 1760s by James Morrison, an immigrant from Campbeltown, Scotland. It passed down to his son, John. John and his wife, the former Mary McCurdy, had 11 children. Their youngest child, Robert Harvey Morrison, was born in 1817.

Robert Harvey Morrison remained on the family land and was quite prosperous. The stately two-story house at the entrance to the present-day Cedarvale subdivision on Morrison Road was the home he built for his family of eight children.

Mineral Rights

From a deed registered in Cabarrus County, we know that in 1853 Robert H. Morrison sold the mineral rights on his 640 acres of land to Collett Leventhorpe of Rutherford County, North Carolina and Richard H. Northrop of Albany, New York for $5,000.

In June of 1854, Messrs. Leventhorpe and Northrop, both identified as being of Rutherford County, sold the mineral rights and mining machinery to Francis Rider of New York City for $475,000.

Mr. Rider was identified as the president of the Pioneer Mill Mining Company, “an association incorporated in pursuance of the provisions of an act of the Legislature of the State of New York” that authorized the formation of “Corporations for Manufacturing, Mining, Mechanical or Chemical purposes Passed February 17th 1848.”

I requested a copy of the incorporation papers of the Pioneer Mill Mining Company from the State Archives of New York State, but the researchers there were unable to find a record of the company.

Geology

Ebenezer Emmons served as State Geologist in North Carolina from 1851 until 1863. Dr. Emmons described the veins of gold at the Pioneer Mill Mine in an undated report, “Geological Report of the Midland Counties of North Carolina” as a fine example of veins of gold coming off a foot-wall.

An electronic copy of the Emmons report can be found online through the University of North Carolina’s Documents of the South Collection at http://docsouth.unc.edu/nc/emmonsml/emmons.html. He wrote, “In some instances the segments are so distinct that on being removed the lode seems to have run out, but on working back to the foot-wall, another segment is encountered.”

“Foot-wall” is the rock underlying a mineral deposit. The report noted that the Pioneer Mill Mine was in syenite granite.

I have heard it said that in the days of dirt roads and horse-drawn wagons, when horses’ hooves clacked along the road at the intersection of Morrison Road and Pioneer Mill Road, there was a hollow sound that led to speculation that there was an old mine shaft under the roadway.

Dr. Ebenezer Emmons wrote that the Pioneer Mill Mine was in a cluster of interesting mines for which he held great expectations, although the Pioneer Mill Mine was the only one in the cluster in operation at the time of the report.

He described it as “twelve miles east of Concord, and situated upon the eastern border of the sienitic [also spelled syenite] granite, and in a belt upon which there are numerous veins carrying both gold and copper. The vein fissure in the granite is between sixteen and seventeen feet wide. Its direction is N.70°E. The true vein stone is quartz from eight to thirty inches thick, both sides of which is bounded by the killas.”

“Killas” is a Cornish mining term for metamorphic rock strata of sedimentary origin altered by heat from intruding granite.

The Emmons report indicated that there were four veins of gold on the Robert Harvey Morrison plantation. The first vein was a mile south of the Pioneer Mill Mine. Dr. Emmons found refuse ore rich in gold around an old shaft at that vein which was in quartz interspersed with “sulphurets.”

The second vein was a mile east and resembled the first. The third was a vein of gold in combination with copper pyrites. The fourth vein was of quartz and iron pyrites in the northeast part of the plantation. All four veins generally ran northeast.

Dr. Emmons reported that the Pioneer Mill Mine ground 30-40 bushels of ore daily, although he noted that at 11 revolutions per minute, the Chilean millstones in operation were not set at the proper speed for the ore being ground.

The report listed 14 totals of bushels ranging from 38 bushels to 154 bushels and the corresponding yield in gold in dollars. (It is not known if these were weekly totals over a period of time or exactly what time frame is covered by the list.) The list totaled 1,677 bushels of ore producing $5,674 in gold. That was in mid-19th century dollars, when gold was valued at $18.93 per troy ounce.

The Pioneer Mill Mine employed 15-20 men from 18 to 20 days-a-month. The cost of operating the mine was $400 per month. Dr. Emmons noted that the mine had nearly gone under after incurring too much debt, but under a new agent who was more attentive to the machinery and who had started using mercury in the Chilean mill the mine started turning the handsome profit detailed above.

In backyard of Robert Harvey Morrison House
Part of a gold ore grinding stone from the Pioneer Mill Gold Mine.

Dr. Emmons wrote that the Pioneer Mill Mine would have had truly impressive profits had it had machinery capable of grinding 100 bushels of ore per day.

The glory days of the Pioneer Mill Mine ended with the American Civil War in 1861. It took decades for our local economy to recover from the years of the War and Reconstruction. With the passage of time, it ceased to be cost effective to mine for gold in Cabarrus County.

According to the Carolina Watchman newspaper on September 17, 1891, the Pioneer Mill Mine was then owned by Mr. E.C. Black “and he is making some nice finds. He has found several large nuggets; one worth $50, another $12 and still another $37.”

Needless to say, I was thrilled to find Dr. Emmons’ report for without it we would know almost nothing about the Pioneer Mill Mine. Driving through the Pioneer Mill community today, one would never guess that 160 years ago it was a gold mining boom town.

Until my next blog post

I hope you have a good book to read. Just for fun, I’m reading Hardcore Twenty-Four, by Janet Evanovich. All the books I requested at the public library in November (or earlier) have become available to me at the same time. I have three that have come to my Kindle and one traditional book at the library. Time will tell if I’m able to get them read in the time I have allotted by the library system.

If you’re a writer, I hope you have quality writing time.

Janet

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