Saturday, February 25, 2017

Gold Mining in Montgomery County Maryland

Random quartz rocks along trail

I follow the littering of quarts pieces up the hillside.

More chunks and flakes of quartz litter the ground as I continue further up the hill

Suddenly there appears several rusted pieces of equipment and manmade trenches and pits now filled and covered with leaves.

Quartz and earthen pits and mounds

I think this could be the spot of the collapsed mine shaft now filled with leaves.

The invasive lesser celandine already popping up on the forest floor after an incredibly warm week where temperatures were in the upper 70's here in Maryland for several days.
I've been doing a lot of exploring around Great Falls and along the Potomac River this winter, mostly measuring trees. One of the surprises during my wanderings was learning that gold mining used to take place in Maryland. Gold Mining took place near Great Falls pretty much right after the Civil War until around 1950 or so. Supposedly, only about 5,000 ounces of gold have been recorded by the U. S. Mint as having come from Maryland (Montgomery County) in that time. Near Great Falls,  miners went as far as 300 feet down and blasted, picked and chiseled away at rock to get the gold out. Tons of stone was sent to the surface to be crushed in mills. The crushed ore was mixed with mercury to draw the gold from the powdered stone.

I was reminded of a hike I took several months ago in my neighborhood woods where I grew up, several miles away from Great Falls and the Potomac River: Many times during past hikes over the years, the trail in my neighborhood woods passes a certain spot where there are quartz fragments littered about. I always noticed them, but never thought much about it. Several months ago, I passed the same spot again and decided to investigate. I followed the quartz fragments up the hillside and eventually discovered several earthen mounds and trenches that were clearly man made, but had been reclaimed by the forest. Pieces of quartz littered the ground. There were rusted pieces of metal in the mounds as well. At the time, I assumed maybe it was somebody's old landfill or something.

It wasn't until a few weeks ago when I read a sign near one of the abandoned gold mines near Great Falls, when the pieces of the puzzle came together. The old miners extracted the gold from pieces of quartz. The round, sunken earth pits were mine shafts, and the trenches were dug for optimum water flow off the hillside. If I had to guess, the gold mine in my neighborhood woods was probably one of the later mines from the 1940's or 50's.

Here are a few links on the subject

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