Since I have promised my near neighbors to include their stories in this blog, we must depart Nanneytown. However, we cannot cross the county line of McDowell and Rutherford without mentioning again the historical impact of gold mining in this area. Indeed, Thermal City Gold Mine owned by Wade’s nephew Lloyd Nanney, straddles the line, and the only way to get to Dysartsville from there is down a road named Vein Mountain. At the other end is Wade’s sister Ruby.
I have already mentioned Vein Mountain Road because it runs under the railroad where the Sprouse ancestor rescued a young man along Baker Creek. See Part 7 of the Brackett Town series where this neighborhood tour began.)
After the stories from Brice Sprouse and his family, we listened to stories from Wade Nanney and his family which was so large that the tales started in Brackett Town in McDowell County, crossed the county line south into Rutherford, and came up Cove Road back into McDowell at Montford Cove. In 1839 some of the Nanneys helped to build Montford Cove Baptist Church and in 1840 some of them helped to build Round Hill Baptist Church on the eastern side of the mountain. Perhaps religious help was needed after gold was discovered. By 1832, according to http://goldfever.unctv.org/film, more than 50 mines were operating in NC, employing more than 25,000 people, an industry exceeded only by farming. Not everyone was sad when the hordes scuttled to the gold rush in California in 1849. The churches still stand strong.
Unifying the area in 1847, Pastor Perminter Morgan’s daughter Tempie of Montford Cove married Col. Amous Nanney of Round Hill in Dobbsville (later Crab Apple Gap, now Union Mills. See Chapter 10: Nanneytown) This strong religious vine continued over the centuries to weave its way through several family trees. (Chapter 22: The Bible Belt Tightens)
In Chapter 26 of the Nanney Saga, I wrote that Amous “purchased a tract of land along the main dirt road between Rutherfordton and Marion, the county seat of McDowell Co. It is now called NC Highway 221. Amous mined gold in the river bottom there near Vein Mountain in the years before the Civil War.” A handwritten deed of trust dated 1847, for 400 acres of worked-out mines sold on the courthouse steps for $20, is in the possession of Lloyd Nanney, the current owner of Thermal City Gold Mine. Very few families hang on to their property for such a long time. As I have mentioned before, the Nanneys can trace their roots back to an ancestral home in Wales.
A brief recap of my gold mining stories in the Brackett Town and Nanney Sagas: In the 1830’s and 1840’s, the rocky pastures northwest of Charlotte, NC, captivated the fantasy of the entire US. Gold was discovered. Newspapers told the world.
Jeweler Christopher Bechtler emigrated here from Germany with his son and nephew. They recognized the lucrative potential of helping miners transform their awkward pocketsful of gold nuggets into a uniform item for standard trade. A private Bechtler mint went into business and produced the first $1 gold coin in the U.S. Between 1831 and 1840, Bechtler minted $2 1/4 million dollars in currency. Unfortunately for them, the US government opened a mint in Charlotte in 1837, closer to the deep mines. And of course, the big dogs could afford the newer steam-powered machines. The Bechtler mine closed in 1849.
Also unfortunately for them, it is suspected Christopher and his son Augustus died because of their successful business. I talked with Lloyd Nanney, a local historian like his Uncle Wade. “The Bechtlers did not die rich. He had a mine, and he had some patents on some mining machines, but his business was minting gold. It amazes me that they were working for 2%. You brought him gold, and he turned it into coins, or he would melt it and make an ingot and stamp it as to its weight and its fineness, so you had a bar of gold. You knew what you had. (Minting coins) was a long drawn out process and the uncle was the main one. His son took over from him, and very probably (both) died from mercury poisoning. They also made jewelry and all kinds of stuff. We got here locally a pistol that they made, and we’ve just acquired a long gun, very ornate on top of the barrel, inlaid in gold.”
Lloyd was reminded by this conversation about a piano owned by the Weavers, his neighbors to the southwest. This family could trace their roots back to the early 1850’s, when they purchased fields where they mined gold for two generations and then leveled it off and farmed. “Pete Weaver just died here about maybe five years ago. When Pete was a hundred, he disappeared one day. Couldn’t find him, didn’t know where he was at, and they were getting kind of worried about him. He come driving in the driveway. He’d been to town and got his driver license! I think he was 104 when he died.”
One of these days I will have to do more research on this Weaver family and the Thermal City Hotel in their front yard. But I have to finish my Bechtler piano story. Lloyd said that he had always heard the Weavers had a Bechtler piano . “Of course, how could you tell? They didn’t carve any initials in it! But I went down and talked to him about it. It had been in the same room for maybe 70 years. An upright grand, a square thing, odd looking. He was very receptive to donating it to the Bechtler museum.” Lloyd talked with the museum people. “Would you have an interest in owning the original Bechtler piano?” But they didn’t really believe him. “So I brought one of the ladies up here, and she got serial numbers off it and researched it. It was made in 1840, and the Weavers had a story about who had it after the Bechtlers and who had it after them, and the Weavers had it ever since.” The piano now sits in probably the same room it occupied when new. One happy ending for the Bechtlers.
And for Thermal City Gold Mine?
We walk outside, and Lloyd points to the surrounding hills hovering over us, the Second Broad River murmuring to our left. “From the base of that hill over there (right) to the base of that hill on the other side of the river (left) is all stream bed material, all washed in here. Today, the floor of the valley is in a very slow process of building up but it’s been a whole lot higher than it is now. It’s been as high as the top of these hills.”
Ever doubtful, I say, “Really, when?”
“Eons. And it has eroded down to form this valley. Those hills are left because they are basically rock. Granite. This material is from upriver, and there are 33 gold veins that cross the valley up here just a little ways, and this material makes its way down during flood time, the only time it moves. The river’s been there, it’s been here, it’s been over there, it’s been all over the place in different channels.”
Lloyd points to a deep depression. “This is probably one of the 1880 pits. I spent a whole summer digging ditches and connecting all these pits and put live water in them. That one over there goes at right angle to the valley, and I’m pretty sure it’s a very early digging, 1830? And I think what they did was dig a ditch and located the places where the old river beds crossed that ditch and then they trenched those out and processed the material. Where the river beds flowed for a good while, that’s your richer material. See, nobody knows…photographs didn’t come in ’til the Civil War. There’s probably not a photograph made here before 1900. It was not a picturesque place.
“There are seven of these pits down here. I think Perminter did them, or possibly even Amous did some of them. I know Perminter in 1885 was using his drag pan and dragging out these pits and mining gold.” When Lloyd started a prospecting business here, “there was nothing here but billions of mosquitos.”
So why did he come?
I asked him.
“Because it just seemed like the thing to do.”
(Our next post will update you on the rest of the story.) Homework: http://thermalcitygoldmine.com
Copyright July 2016 Georgia Wilson