The streak of gold mines and prospecting areas in Virginia begins in Fairfax County and heads southwest for about 140 miles. The Gold Belt in the James River Basin of Virginia, is an area about 60 miles above Richmond, consisting of Fluvana, Goochland, Buckingham, Cumberland, Powhattan and Amelia Counties stretching into Fairfax county and Yes, Great Falls!!
The first authentic reference to gold in Virginia was by Thomas Jefferson in 1782. He described a lump of ore found on the north side of the Rappahannock River about four miles below the falls. The ore was of about 4 pounds and yielded seven pennyweight of gold. Between the years of 1804 and 1828, there are mint records that show a production of $2500.00 received from Virginia. During the early period of gold mining in Virginia, most of the gold deposits were obtained by mining leases for part of the royalty, or about 10% of the gold recovered. Early records indicate that one-half interest in a 20-year lease on a 5-acre tract was purchased for approximately $28,000–$30,000 cash.
Production of gold averaged nearly 3,000 ounces annually in the decade of 1840-1849 before the California Gold Rush of 1849 had a negative effect on gold mining in Virginia. The downward trend in production continued through the Civil War and no production was reported for 1864. Production was low, but steady, from 1870 to 1910. From 1912 to 1934 only a few tens of ounces were mined annually and active mining almost ceased due to higher production costs and gradual depletion of known reserves.
In 1934, the fixed-price of gold was established at $35 per troy ounce (up from $20.67) which resulted in the reopening of several of the larger gold mines in Virginia, only to have them close shortly thereafter due to WWII. Gold was last produced in Virginia in 1947. The Division of Mineral Resources has documented about 100,000 troy ounces of gold were produced in Virginia from 1804 to 1947 in approximately 300 mines.
If you would like to add to your childhood “rock collection”, gems are also found in Virginia. In Amelia Virginia, located just 45 minutes west of Richmond, is the Morefield Mine. As unlikely a place as this would seem for gemstones, this county is thick with them. This mine yields nice crystal specimens of garnet, topaz and columbite, but the nicest stone by far is their Amazonite. This beautiful stone ranges in color from a soft blue to a deep, dark green. These stones are usually found in specimens suitable for cabochons, beads and carvings. The Amazonite from Amelia county sets the quality standard for this stone worldwide.
If you are interested in mining for gemstones yourself, the Morefield Mine is currently operated as both a commercial gemstone mine and as a fee-for-dig mine. It is great for children and older adults because there is a dumping ground for rough that is easy to get to and to dig through the soft dirt. The equipment is provided. If you would like to go on your own, be aware that the National Park Service does not allow panning or rock hunting on Park land so you may have to obtain permission from private land owners. Good Luck, treasures are out there!
Written by Wendy Adeler Hall
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