Christian Ciciarelli was golfing with an old friend one day when he heard about mysterious tunnels far below uptown Charlotte.
“He said there are gold mines,” Ciciarelli recalls.
It was the first time Ciciarelli, a Wells Fargo employee, had heard such a claim – and it seemed too interesting to not investigate.
A quick Internet search gave him a history lesson on the discovery of gold in Charlotte in the 1800s.
But, Ciciarelli couldn’t find a credible source to tell him what he really wanted to know: Are there gold tunnels under Charlotte and can you access them?
For help, he turned to Curious NC, a special reporting project by The Charlotte Observer and The (Raleigh) News & Observer.
Curious NC invites inquisitive readers to send in questions for journalists to find answers to. Sometimes, you’ll even be asked to tag along with a news reporter on a dig for the truth.
For this question, the answer is 500 feet underground.
Go to Bank of America Stadium and look south.
Under West Morehead Street and Interstate 277, and buried beneath the warehouse-style buildings on Mint Street, experts say there’s a network of old gold mining tunnels.
Starting in the 1830s, there were two prominent mines here – one called the Rudisill, the other called St. Catherine.
Every mine had at least one shaft, made by boring a large hole into the ground. Then, miners would use long ladders to reach the bottom of the shafts and begin their work in the tunnels.
As gold was extracted, the rock would be sent elsewhere for processing and eventually sold.
Chunks of quartz that had flecks of gold – but not enough to be valuable – were tossed in a “waste rock” pile. Later, that rock was crushed and donated to the city for road building. This, according to the Charlotte Observer’s newspaper archives, led locals to brag that their streets were “literally paved with gold.”
Giving a little bit of gold to the city was no big deal for the Rudisill Mine owners – in its heyday, the mine produced upwards of $2 million worth of gold, historical records show.
But, as Ciciarelli points out, it’s not so easy for a Charlotte resident to find all this out.
Maybe you’ve wondered why the city has a “Gold Rush” bus/trolley line?
Or, perhaps you’ve heard that gold has something to do with the name “49ers,” UNC Charlotte’s athletic mascot.
If you’re really observant, you may have noticed the sidewalk historical markers (almost all in South End) detailing the gold rush.
But, local historian Dan Morrill says, many people seem to be unaware the city was once the epicenter of gold mining in the United States. (Charlotte’s claim to fame was short-lived. The California Gold Rush of 1848 far-eclipsed the riches here.)
Still, gold in Charlotte is what led the U.S. Mint to open a branch here in 1837. (And that’s why we have the Mint Museum). Gold also ushered in Charlotte’s first big economic boom.
The gold lodes, or veins, put a rural, sparsely-populated Mecklenburg County and the surrounding Piedmont area on the map.
Back then, Morrill notes, Charlotte had no railroad. Its economy had revolved almost entirely around farming, with cotton the most lucrative crop.
“Charlotte was a very isolated place – it took five days to get to Raleigh,” explains Morrill, retired UNC Charlotte professor and current director of the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Historic Landmarks Commission.
Through the commission, Morrill has tried to document and preserve what he can of Charlotte’s gold history.
But, without a major tourist attraction, the history largely goes unnoticed.
These days, thousands of people walk or drive right past the remnants of Charlotte’s gold rush.
The left-over tunnels long ago filled up with groundwater and, one by one, the old mine shafts were capped off with dirt and concrete.
But, as we researched Ciciarelli’s question, we did find one above-ground gold artifact hiding in plain sight.
“You would never know it’s here,” Ciciarelli said, looking at two hunks of concrete almost completely covered by sticks and scattered rocks.
Before we tell you where the old mine shaft is, we need a couple of disclaimers:
It’s located on private property. Trespassing and parking are not allowed. We talked with the property owner who gave us and Ciciarelli permission to visit.
Finally, you should know the shaft is permanently plugged.
Morrill says he learned the mining shaft was filled in and covered with cement years ago, making it impossible to access the gold tunnels from here.
What’s left of the Rudisill Mine is found on an empty lot on West Summit Avenue, right outside of Uptown.
One part of the old mining site is documented in Morrill’s research as being a pump shaft head. When the mine was in use, this shaft contained a pipe and miners employed steam-engine power to pump water out of the tunnels.
Another remnant on site is believed to be part of a building foundation where a mine company had constructed what was known as a “hoist shack.”
This article provided by NewsEdge.