In 1799, twelve-year-old Conrad Reed, skipping Sunday School to go fishing, found a large gold nugget in Little Meadow Creek, Cabarrus County, North Carolina. His discovery triggered America’s first gold rush.
While standing by the creek, Conrad saw “a yellow substance shining in the water.” He retrieved it and found it to be some type of metal. The huge wedge-shaped nugget was the size of a small flatiron and weighed 17 pounds! He showed the rock to his father, John Reed, who, unable to identify it, immediately employed it as a doorstop. There it sat for three years unnoticed, while the Reeds tended their farm.
In 1802, John showed the “doorstop” to a jeweler in Fayetteville, who recognized the metal immediately and asked Reed to leave the nugget with him so that it could be fluxed. When he returned, the jeweler showed him a bar of gold 8 inches long. Reed had no conception of its worth and accepted $3.50 in payment for it; estimates by researchers have placed the value of the nugget at approximately $3,600 at that time!
Before long, he discovered his error and the Reeds began prospecting Little Meadow Creek for more of the precious metal. In 1803 they expanded their operation and, before the end of the season, a 28 pound nugget had been unearthed. For the next 20 years, operations at the Reed Mine continued on a crude basis, though it was the principal gold mine in the nation.
When the obvious larger nuggets had been gathered, workers panned for smaller particles using rockers. By 1824, the Reed Mine had yielded over $100,000 in gold through haphazard mining methods. It was the source of enormous excitement in North Carolina, producing the first mining boom in the nation. Through the years, the Reeds continued to run up gold nuggets of incredible size. During the 1830s, placer mining gave way to underground methods as shafts were sunk throughout the property.
The Reed Gold Mine, where gold was discovered and mining begun in the United States, is now a state-run historic site which attracts 75,000 visitors a year. Mine tours are available.