(Originally aired 6/22/13) Our summer travel series takes us to a local treasure: a state historic site in Midland that marks the first documented discovery of gold in the United States.
Drive just 20 miles east of Charlotte and you'll find yourself surrounded by vegetable stands and old farm houses and the small town of Midland. Midland prides itself on its rural character and something else: The Reed Gold Mine.
It's one of the coolest places to be on a hot summer day. Aaron Kepley is my tour guide for the day.
"One of my favorite things is on a really hot day, standing in front of the door doing the talk before I go in the mine and feeling the cold air come up my shorts," Kepley says. "Phew … feels good!"
The mine gets its name from John Reed. That's Aaron Kepley's great-great-great-great grandfather. Kepley takes me to the general spot where gold was first discovered in the U.S. more than 200 years ago.
"Right here on top of Little Meadow Creek," Kepley says. "Because it was near here in 1799, a 12-year-old boy named Conrad Reed was fishing with his brother and sister. They had actually skipped church, the story goes. And they were fishing, bow and arrow fishing in the water. He supposedly shot an arrow into the water, reached down to pick it up and there was a shiny metal rock in there."
It weighed seventeen pounds. Conrad took it home and it was used as a door stop. A few years later, his father, John Reed, took the rock to a jeweler in Fayetteville. John sold the rock for $3.50. It was actually worth $3,600 -- about $377,000 by today's standards.
As you're getting ready to go underground, you see lots of holes.
"All of these are from plaster mining, where you look for gold on top of the surface of the ground, maybe dig a hole about three or four feet," Kepley explains. "At first, being that John Reed and his neighbors were just farmers, they really didn't know what they were doing, so they would just come out here, they would dig this dirt up and go pan it in the creek."
One of John Reed's neighbors, Mathias figured out there was more gold near quartz rock. So they dug straight down, 20 to 30 feet on the quartz rock, creating the first shaft gold mine in the United States in the 1820s. This was a working mine until 1912 and by then the process had became industrialized.
At the mine, you can see and hear the steam engines that power the stamp mills to separate the gold from the rock, as it would have more than 100 years ago. You can also pay three dollars and pan for gold yourself.
Jim Strauss of Mint Hill is a regular visitor, panning for gold at the panning station.
"I've been bringing my grandchildren to do this for a long time, so this is one of the favorite things we do," Strauss says.
In case you're wondering, you can take home any gold you find. If you're lucky, you might find a few flakes of gold worth a little more than the fee you paid to pan.
For Aaron Kepley, it's about more than gold.
"It's history, science, technology, all different kinds of things, and seeing how people react to it, how we can engage them and really see the light kick on in their face, that's one of the most interesting things," Kepley says.
Last summer we profiled attractions that you can visit as a day trip from the Charlotte region. The series was called “There and Back.” We are going to revisit that series each Wednesday for the remainder of this summer.