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How Charlotte's Gold Rush Started

The discovery of a big rock by a curious 12-year-old launched a modern industry. This is how it happened:

Charlotte’s modern banking industry arguably owes its success to a curious 12-year-old. It was a Sunday in 1799, and Conrad Reed was walking along Little Meadow Creek, about 20 miles outside of Charlotte, when he came upon a huge yellow rock. As the story goes, the boy brought the 17-pound discovery back home to his father, former German soldier John Reed, who thought it would make a useful doorstop. Three years later, in 1802, Reed finally decided to consult a jeweler. Knowing it was gold, the jeweler immediately offered to purchase it, telling the farmer to name his price. It is said that Reed requested what seemed to him like a fortune—one week’s salary. The jeweler paid $3.50 for what was at the time worth about $3,600.

Reed eventually discovered his blunder, but he was soon so wealthy that it hardly mattered. He had formed a partnership with some neighbors and started Reed Gold Mine, turning a swift profit. With America’s first gold mine, Reed’s company was known for uncovering massive nuggets, the largest on record weighing 28 pounds. Miners came from all over to claim their first pieces of the U.S. gold rush. By 1830, gold mining trailed only agriculture in the number of North Carolinians the industry employed. In the 1850s, the area was dubbed the “Gold Region,” and gold fever continued for many years.

Soon the Charlotte area was brimming with wealth, so President Andrew Jackson established a branch of the U.S. Mint in the city, which would eventually spawn the development of a division of the Federal Reserve Bank. The Charlotte Mint would go on to manufacture more than $5 million in gold coins for 24 years. The building subsequently would become a military post, a federal assay office, a meeting place for the Charlotte Women’s Club and a World War I Red Cross station. But in 1936, it became what Charlotteans enjoy today as the Mint Museum of Art, the state’s oldest art museum.

Mint Museum
Mint Museum (©Sean Busher)

The Mint Museum’s Randolph location houses a collection of gold coins minted within its very walls, a 20,000-volume reference library, a theater and a museum shop. Admission is $12 for adults, $9 for college students and seniors, $6 for children ages 5-17 and free for children ages 4 and under.

Reed Gold Mine is now a State Historic Site that is open and free to the public, with tours and exhibits featuring gold and historical mining equipment. Optimistic visitors can pan for gold for $3—although the mine is virtually exhausted.