Minerals of North Carolina
We have spent the last 7 years (since 2013) learning, exploring, finding and acquiring specimens of the rocks and minerals that North Carolina is famous for. To appreciate the Western North Carolina mountains’ rich mineral history, one must become acquainted with North Carolina’s three geological zones—the Blue Ridge (the Western N.C. Appalachian Mountain region), the Piedmont (a plateau region in middle state that is between the coastal plain and the Appalachian Mountains) and the Atlantic Coastal Plain (which is the eastern part of the state). Our specimens have mostly come from the western Appalachian Mountains. We have procured specimens from several old time collectors and Mitchell County estate sales and rock shops.
The Blue Ridge zone is about 200 miles long and 15 to 55 miles wide. It covers about 10 percent of the state and is made up of rocks about one billion years old. The N.C. Geological Survey reported “this complex mixture of igneous, sedimentary and metamorphic rock has been repeatedly squeezed, fractured, faulted and folded”. The rock substrata far below Western North Carolina’s (WNC’s) rich soil has never stopped shifting. Locals have felt its mild earth tremors for many years…and of course we hope they continue to be… just mild tremors.
Spruce Pine Mining District
Within the Blue Ridge zone is the Blue Ridge Belt, the geological name for the rock underlying most of the mountainous area of Western North Carolina. Within the Blue Ridge Belt is the Spruce Pine Mining District, a broad swath of land in Avery, Mitchell and Yancey counties along the North Toe River near the North Carolina- Virginia line, which boasts some of the richest deposits of gems and minerals in the world. There are dozens of mines in this area and many times a specimen will be listed as coming from the Spruce Pine District. The actual mine that the specimen came from may have been closed for several decades, and many times the original collector did not even know the name of the person the specimen was received from. Excellent specimens of Opal var. Hyalite, Mica tabular crystals and Garnets in Muscivite sheet Mica are found in the Spruce Pine Mining district from the 1930's through the 1960's.
The Spruce Pine Mining District produces 90 percent of all the mined and processed quartz that the electronics industry uses, according to the Mountain Resources Commission. Spruce Pine’s unusually large and unusually pure quartz crystals are so valuable to the computer industry that its quartz mines are protected by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. Which points out one of the region’s biggest economic ironies: the Blue Ridge Mountains, among the oldest mountains in the world, are invaluable to the world’s most modern industries.
Ray Mica Mine, Burnsville, Yancey County, N.C.
The Ray Mica Mines are located on Hurricane Mountain, 4.0 km (2.5 miles) SSE of Burnsville, in the Bolen's Creek area, on National Forest land.The mine is actually a series of open cuts with 10 verticle shafts (which remain open) and stopes (an excavation in the form of steps) that extend in a muscovite, albite and quartz pegmatite that runs approximately 400 yards up the mountain. Garrett Ray (the mine’s namesake) first worked the mine digging for mica in the late 1860’s. The Ray mine was closed and reopened many times throughout the years until the Wray Mining Company abandoned it in 1944 after the U.S.G.S. included the mine as part of the Strategic Minerals Investigation Program. There are extensive tailings and cuts that extend from the top of a divide down a steep slope to a creek full of broken and jagged pegmatite rocks in this Yancey County forest. This site is famous for its specimens of Beryl in albite-muscovite pegmatite.
Little Pine Garnet Mine Madison County, N.C.
The Little Pine Garnet Mine has been worked since the early 1900’s. It was later purchased in 1913 by Logan Ball who found many gem quality specimens. Tiffany's of New York evaluated the mine at one time but found there was not enough gem quality material to be productive in a large scale mining operation. Many specimens for collectors were found. After a few years Logan opened the mine to local collectors/rockhounds for the fee of $1.00 per day. The mine has become famous over the years for its large well-formed crystals of almandine garnet. The mine was passed on to his son Jack Sr who continued to allow collecting at the site for $5.00 per day. As the years have passed, many excellent specimens have been found. The mine is currently operated by Jackie Ball, Jacks Son, and he too allows collecting for the fee of $25.00 per day.
There were three mountain building stages that formed the Appalachian Mountains. It is believed that the Little Pine matrix was formed during the first mountain building stages. That would make the garnet crystals, which are found in biotite mica schist, around 450 million years old. The majority of the garnet crystals in the mine are being replaced by the biotite and mica making them unsuitable for abrasives or gem material. The crystals have retained their excellent shape which makes them much sought after by local collectors. Some of the garnets have been distorted during their growth which gives rise to some unusual shapes making them some of the most unusual garnet crystals in the world.
Twilley’s Garnet Mine near Morganton, Burke County, N.C.
This is a garnet mine which is located about 6 miles South of Interstate 40 on North Carolina state highway 18. This is a pay to collect operation. Limonite encrusted trapezohedral Almandine garnets are found at this locale.
The Davis Mine, Minpro, Mitchell County, N.C.
This was a Feldspar and Mica Mine just north of Spruce Pine in a town called Minpro (The name comes from the words MINeral PROducts). This hamlet is located outside of Spruce Pine along the Toe River. It has been a functioning mine since the early 1900’s. The specimens found here are dark red almandine garnets in white albite with dark muscovite matrix. Most of the specimens from this mine were collected from the 1930’s through the 1950’s .
Bear Creek District, Mitchell County, NC
Black Almandine trapezohedral Garnets in a muscovite, albite and quartz pegmatite were found here. Most of the collector specimens from this area are from the 1930’s through the 1950’s.
Propst Farm, Startown Road, Conover, Lincoln County, N.C.
Approximately forty years ago, Helen Propst found a, flat "hex outline" rock in her garden. It was identified as a corundum var. sapphire. Soon after, she found another. Word of her find got out and after the family stopped farming the land the "Propst Farm" became a favorite rockhound dig site for corundums, both sapphire and ruby varieties. Some specimens have both varieties in the same piece.
The sapphires first found occurred in a thin layer about a foot below the surface. The main corundum layer seems to be buried more deeply and it normally has a grey to yellow clay layer above it. The corundums are found about 4 to 5 feet down in the ground. Although some specimens are still found, specimens currently recovered seem to be a lesser quality than earlier finds. It may be that the best of this deposit has already been found. Regardless, it is an important American corundum locality.
The Reel Amethyst Mine, Iron Station, Lincoln County, N.C.
Reel Mine (aka Reel Amethyst Mine) is near Iron Station, Lincoln County, North Carolina. The Reel Mine was mined years ago for amethyst for abrasives. This world class mine located in the Western North Carolina Mountains was once mined by Tiffany and Company for gem grade amethyst. Some of the finest North American amethyst was recovered from this location over many years. Rockhounds have made this a favorite dig site. The M.A.G.M.A. club used to hold digs at this site 3or 4 weekends a year.
The mine was sold in March of 2016 to James Hall who closed the mine to collectors and was seen at the 2018 Tucson show now selling specimens from a “new mine” called the Reel Mine in Iron Station, N.C. https://news. minerals.net/2018/02/11/default We suppose he has that right after buying the 60 acre mine property. It is just sad to see collecting stopped after decades of public access so it could be turned into a for profit business venture. This has caused a very big specimen price increase in privately held as well as new owner's sales prices, but they are selling fast anyway, as seen at the Tucson show.
Minerals of North Carolina
Amethyst is a quartz gemstone colored by inclusions of hematite or other minerals. It is found in Stokes, Burke, Lincoln, Iredell, Moore, Warren, and Franklin Counties.
Asbestos is a silky, fibrous form of silicate minerals first discovered in 1871. It is found in Wilkes, Polk and Yancey Counties.
Beryl is a beryllium aluminum silicate mineral that is formed in granitic rocks and pegmatites. It was discovered in Macon County in 1871, aquamarine (blue beryl) and golden beryl were mined in Mitchell County in the early 1900s; by the end of the century, Macon County’s Littlefield Mine and Yancey County’s Ray Mine continued to produce modest amounts for amateur collectors.
Copper. Element found as sulfides such as chalcocite, chalcopyrite, and bornite in the mountain belt (Ashe, Jackson, Swain, and Haywood Counties), Guilford, Granville, and Person Counties, and other areas throughout the state. Exploited as early as 1585, when Roanoke Island explorers reported its use by Indians, copper was first mined commercially in Granville County in 1852 (one of the first such mines in the nation). The industry, though never flourishing, continued until 1962.
Corundum. A form of aluminum oxide, second only to the diamond in hardness, found in Madison County in 1846. Mining began in 1871 in Macon County, where corundum soon found greater application as an abrasive than a gemstone. By 1895 nearly all of the corundum produced and used in the United States came from the counties west of the Blue Ridge, though the use of artificial abrasives after 1900 brought an end to the industry.
Diamond. The hardest known mineral, found only rarely in western North Carolina. Thirteen diamonds have been reported from the region, beginning in 1843 with a 1.33 carat octahedral crystal from Brindletown Creek Ford in Burke County. The largest, discovered in 1886, was a 4.33 carat green-gray crystal from Dysartville in McDowell County (now in the American Museum of Natural History in New York). The last North Carolina diamond was found in 1893 at King’s Mountain.
Emerald. Green gem variety of beryl, first found in Alexander County in 1874 and later in Mitchell County in 1894–95. The 1880s saw the largest emerald at that time, an eight-and-one-half-inch crystal. In 1969 the Rist Mine yielded the largest crystal seen in North America, a 1,438 carat piece; a 13.14 carat “Carolina Emerald” also was acquired by Tiffany and Company of New York. In 1973 the emerald was adopted as the state’s official gemstone.
Feldspar. Abundant group of aluminum silicates found commercially in pegmatites and feldspar-rich granitic rocks called “alaskite.” Important in the glass and ceramics industries, the first feldspar was mined as early as 1744 in present-day Macon County; systematic exploitation began late in the nineteenth century. The Spruce Pine area mines of Deer Park and Chalk Mountain helped North Carolina become the nation’s leading feldspar producer, a position held since 1917.
Gold. Precious metal found as grains and nuggets in the middle and western counties. With the first authenticated discovery in 1799 in Cabarrus County (followed by finds in Stanly, Union, Davidson, Guilford, and Randolph Counties), North Carolina produced the nation’s gold supply from 1803 to 1848. Mining continued up to 1971, although little gold was found after 1900.
Hiddenite. Grass-green gemstone and variety of spodumene unique to Alexander County, where it was discovered in 1880. A novel gem that sold well above its real value, hidden (later hiddenite) was exhibited at the Charleston Exposition in 1901–2. The community of Salem Church changed its name to Hiddenite in its honor and is now home to the Hiddenite Center, an important folk and cultural arts center.
Kyanite. Aluminum silicate, often in flattened blue crystals, found in metamorphic rock and some pegmatites. It was commercially produced in the Spruce Pine district southeast of Burnsville from 1934 to 1944 for use as a refractory. Kyanite has continued to interest mineral collectors, and occasionally gem- grade material is found.
Lithium. Element used in aluminum making, glass, ceramics, greases, and other products, mined from pegmatites as spodumene in Cleveland, Gaston, and Lincoln Counties. Major production began in 1942 near King’s Mountain in Cleveland County. Together, Gaston and Cleveland Counties contain more than 80 percent of the known reserves in the nation, and in 1980 North Carolina produced over 50 percent of the world’s estimated output.
Marble. Crystalline form of limestone, found in a narrow belt centered on Murphy in Cherokee County. Much of it is too broken by jointing to be good as a dimension stone, but in 1902 the National Marble Company was in operation at Regal, shipping blocks to Canton, Ga., for finishing work. In 1980 three active companies were reported in Cherokee County.
Mica. Group of aluminum silicates occurring in the Blue Ridge Mountains and western piedmont, notable for its perfect cleavage into thin, elastic sheets. Used early on as a form of window glass (called isinglass), mica was first mined in Mitchell County in 1858 and in Jackson County in 1867. North Carolina produces two-thirds of the nation’s scrap mica, which found numerous industrial uses in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.
Olivine. Pale green igneous rock with a sandy texture. Found in the mountains, deposits of olivine rock were known as early as 1875 as “crysolytic sandstone” and later as “olivine” or “dunite.” Beginning in the 1930s olivine has been used as a basic refractory in the steel industry and as a molding sand in foundry work. North Carolina is the nation’s major olivine producer, with mines in Jackson, Mitchell, and Yancey Counties.
Pyrophyllite. Soft white silicate associated with the metavolcanic sedimentary rock of the Carolina slate belt. Used in ceramics, insecticides, and other products, pyrophyllite was first identified in 1856 in Moore County. In 1921 a processing plant was built near Robbins on what proved to be the largest deposit in the state and the only underground workings. North Carolina is the nation’s largest domestic producer, with mines in Moore and Orange Counties.
Quartz. One of the most widespread minerals, found in all classes of rock. Quartz (silicon dioxide) comes in many varieties, such as milky quartz. Rock crystal, a glass-clear variety, is sought by collectors in the western counties; one Ashe County piece (now in New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art) was displayed at the 1900 Paris Exposition. Avery, Mitchell, Yancey, and Cleveland Counties produce quartz sand for industrial use.
Rhodolite. Pink variety of garnet unique in North America to North Carolina. Pale pink rhodolite was reported in Asheville in 1893 and discovered in 1895 during mining for ruby corundum in the Cowee Valley. A mixture of 2/3 pyrope garnet to 1/3 almandine garnet, it was named for its color’s resemblance to the blooms of rhododendron. Between 1900 and 1926 rhodolite was mined on Sugarloaf Mountain in Jackson County for use as an abrasive.
Ruby. Blood-red gem variety of corundum. The Cowee Valley in Macon County, site of the first efforts to recover the gemstone from gravel in 1895, yielded only flawed rubies. Though the ruby industry never enjoyed the success of corundum, tourists can still purchase buckets of gravel with sluices and sieves to search the contents for rubies.
Sapphire. Gem corundum of any color except blood-red (reserved for the ruby). Sapphires were first mined regularly at the Corundum Hill Mine in Macon County in 1871, then in Jackson County in 1892 (400 tons yielded 25 percent nearly pure crystals). Notable sapphires, such as a 1,025 carat blue star sapphire found near Canton in 1888, have been found on occasion, and tourists still enjoy searching through buckets from old sapphire mines with screens and sluices.
Silver. Precious metal mined in North Carolina as a secondary product to gold and copper. The modern- day Silver Hill Mine opened as the Kings Mine in 1838 in Davidson County near Lexington and later operated as the Washington Silver Mine between 1840 and 1855. During the Civil War it produced lead for bullets and was worked intermittently for silver, lead, and zinc until 1898. Some silver production was reported from 1954 to 1963, but the metal is of minor importance to the state.
Soapstone. Soft, slippery rock containing talc (a hydrous magnesium silicate). The Indians used soapstone, or talc, to carve utensils; early settlers shaped it into sills and wainscoting. The stone was also used to line the fireplaces in the State Capitol and many private homes because of its ability to hold heat for a considerable time. Soapstone has been found in about a third of the counties, but deposits have generally been too small and erratic for commercialization.
Tin. Mined as cassiterite (tin oxide), occurring in pegmatites and as alluvial deposits. Discovered in 1883 near King’s Mountain, cassiterite remains a widespread but uneconomical reserve throughout the Cleveland-Gaston-Lincoln Counties area. In 1982 three companies—Texasgulf, Billiton (Royal Dutch/Shell subsidiary), and asarco Inc.—were all engaged in explorations for cassiterite in southern Rutherford County.
Tungsten. Hard, malleable metal (found as tungstates) with great tensile strength. It was recognized in gold mines as early as 1875 in Cabarrus County and reevaluated there in 1956 by the Carolina Tungsten Company. A large deposit in Vance County (first reported in 1890) prompted the building of the Tungsten Queen Mine in 1942. Considerable reserves remain.
Unakite. Igneous rock found in Madison and Mitchell Counties as narrow veins of green epidote with red feldspar and quartz in schistose granite. It is chiefly of interest to collectors, since it makes a colorful polished stone.
Uranium. Element essential to the production of nuclear energy, existing in potential reserves of 5–10 million pounds in the Wilson Creek gneiss and Grandfather Mountain Formation in the western counties of Avery and Caldwell. Rare minerals containing uranium (torbernite, gummite, autunite, and uraninite) can be found in Mitchell County.
Vermiculite. Alteration product of hydrothermal activity on magnesium and iron mica. Closely associated with olivine, it can be found in the western counties, particularly Macon and the Swannanoa area of Buncombe. Used for its insulating properties and as a packing material, vermiculite was of little interest before 1933, when a small industry developed in the state.
Zircon. Mineral found as a silicate of the rare element zirconium. First discovered in 1869, zircon was rediscovered in the 1880s as a component in gas mantles and electric lighting, but deposits are of no commercial importance. Zircon is often flawed by the radioactivity of trace elements, but some crystals are heat-treated to gain bright, desirable colors. Cubic zirconia, from zirconium dioxide, has a brilliance that challenges natural diamonds.