Stories of lost gold mines have always been popular among prospectors and treasure hunters. It is often believed that an undiscovered motherlode is just waiting for some treasure hunter to find it using modern technology. Lost mines often recall tales like that of Lost Dutchman’s Mine, coded maps and the wild west. New England is the last place anyone would expect find a gold mine. But surprisingly the northeastern states did have a short-lived boom in prospecting and gold mining. So far, over 20 lost and forgotten gold mines have been found in New England (excluding all the places known for placer gold).
With the stratospheric price of gold and popularity of the reality television show, Gold Rush, the interest in gold prospecting in New England has skyrocketed. Forgotten mines and minor gold rushes in the northeast are a terrific topic to explore. Since there are so many mines and location to discuss, they can’t all fit in one article. So, over the next year, look for a series of articles, each one spotlighting one of the six New England states, beginning with in Rhode Island. This southern New England state is known for its history, beaches, and food –not gold mines. Surprisingly the biggest little state still keeps a few secrets in the form of prospects and mines.
Part I – Gold Mines and Prospects in Rhode Island
Commercial gold mines in New England were and are rare due to the low grade of most of the ore. But in the 1700s, Rhode Island experienced a small gold mining boom that resulted in several deposits that have been mined on and off over the past three centuries. While the history behind the mines is vague at best, some information is certain.
In a deed dated April 1738, it was first documented that a man named Walton found a gold-bearing quartz vein in the woods along Durfee Hill in Foster. Walton worked a small mine for many years, but there is no record of the quantity of gold he removed from it. In the same location in the late 1890s, Albert Potter and Walter Read started a more professional mining operation that produced both silver and gold. It consisted of four shafts, each penetrating the hill over 100 feet and followed a vertical quartz vein more than 10 feet wide. Unfortunately, Potter and Read eventually found that the amount of gold the mine produced was not profitable and abandoned operations. There were several attempts to reopen the mine until 1970, when the shafts were filled in and permanently closed. While the exact location of the shafts has been lost, if an amateur prospector were to find the dumps, he or she might find a fair amount of gold.
The Durfee Hill Gold Mine might have been the trigger for a mini gold rush in Rhode Island. Shortly after the initial discovery, other gold mines and prospects began operation in the Ocean State. Homestake Gold Mine in Foster yielded gold, as did other small mines and prospects in Johnson, Lincoln, and Cumberland. There is no record of the amount of gold they produced.
The Copper Hill Gold Mine was the largest mine opened after the Durfee Hill Gold Mine. In the mid-1700s, there were over 50 gold, limestone, iron and copper mines and prospects in that location. Lead, silver, copper, nickel, magnetite and other heavy metals were found near the hill; not surprising since the area is a deposit from a hydrothermal vent. In the 1800s it was thought that, “that there is no town in New England that is richer in mineral productions than Cumberland. So well was this fact established, that the name bestowed upon the town was taken from Cumberland, Eng; a place which is said to contain more traces of the various valuable metals than any other in England.”
The largest mine on Copper Hill was opened by General Shepard Leach, a man well known for his work in iron making in Massachusetts. Though originally mining the area for iron and copper, General Leach believed he had found gold in the hill. Soon after, gold was the sole purpose of this mine, and he spent a fortune in a vain search for the precious metal. He bored a tunnel 250 feet and a shaft over 100 feet into the hillside, confident that the mother lode was hidden below. Sadly, his work was met with frustration. Instead of gold, what General Leach likely found was an iron pyrite, a mineral still found on Copper Hill today. Eventually the mine was closed, filled in, and became known as a monument of disappointed hopes.
The Copper Hill Gold Mine is one of the only Rhode Island gold mines that can still be found hidden in the forest. Though the conclusion was that General Leach only had discovered pyrite, pyrite is in fact considered a good way to find real gold because the two form together under similar conditions. Gold can even occur as inclusions inside pyrite, sometimes in mineable quantities depending on how effectively the gold can be recovered. Since we know this area was previously a geothermal vent, where gold often is found, this area would be an excellent place to search for gold.
The mine’s tunnel and shaft are now filled in, but its dumps can still be seen. These dumps are rich with minerals of all kinds for any ambitious collector to discover. With tons of already mined ore piled on the slopes of Copper Hill, this is a great place for a mineral collector or gold prospector to investigate. Though no one will ever make a fortune on the slopes of Copper Hill, with some hard work and a little luck, you can have a great time recovering a bit of valuable minerals hidden on its slopes. I know because I have, and often return to see what new finds will turn up in my little prospects.
We sent a Gopro into a small space into the tunnel. If you watch carefully, you can see some mining tools buried in the rubble.
In Part II, we’ll cover Gold mines and Prospects in Connecticut.
Posted in Geological, Historical, Subterranean by Michael with 2 comments.