Go strike it rich in McCormick, South Carolina - kinda
MCCORMICK, S.C. (AP) — Tucked away off Highway 28 in McCormick is Heritage Gold Mine Park that on first glance from the outside looks like a simple park with trees, maybe a few trails here and there, nothing too special.
If you’re familiar with the history of McCormick at all, then you probably know the park has something to do with gold. Yeah, maybe just a little.
But once you’re inside, all bets are off, especially if you’re under the guide of park manager Dave Gray, who knows all things Heritage Gold Mine Park related and then some.
On a recent hot Wednesday afternoon, Gray gave a tour of the park but not before relating some of the history of the Dorn Gold Mine, which sprang into existence in 1852.
Gray, who has been a prospector himself since about 1987, talks with ease about Billy Dorn, the man for whom the mine is named. Billy Dorn was a planter but he was obsessed with the idea of gold, so much so that he moved to McCormick with the idea that there was gold there. It simply had not been found.
“Part of the justification for that idea is that Charlotte, North Carolina, had four or five dozen gold mines around the city. Dahlonega, Georgia, was heavily into gold mining. Thomson, Georgia, about 20 or 25 miles from here, was heavily into gold mining,” Gray said. “All of those sites are now under water, under Lake Thurmond.”
Gray said there was a geological fault line that split Little River to the point that the northern shore had gold mines and the southern shore had none. The belief is that the land had shifted south at some point from the north and pulled the gold with it.
But back to Billy Dorn and gold in McCormick.
“He had family living here, but he bought land with the idea of both farming it and prospecting it,” Gray said. “He had permission from a neighboring land owner that he could prospect on 1,500 acres of his land.”
The agreement was that if he found anything worthwhile, he could buy the land for $1 an acre.
“Spoiler alert: The find was on the 1,500 acres,” Gray said. “Overall, he prospected and hunted for gold for over 25 years unsuccessfully, so when he bought the land he had his slaves out in the woods checking the streams for gold and was not successful.”
The story goes that he was within days of foreclosure on his farmland when he was out with his dogs fox hunting. The dogs were scratching at the dirt when they uncovered the side of a quartz vein and he was able to see the gold embedded in the quartz from where he sat on his horse.
In fact, there is still a vertical vein of quartz visible at the entrance to the tunnel called The Billy Dorn Legacy.
Within one year, Dorn had extracted $200,000 worth of gold at $20 an ounce at that one site alone. Because the vein of quartz is still in place, Gray said, it’s obvious they got as much from it as they could using the processes that were available to them at the time.
These days, the mine has long been inactive but visitors can still get a feel for what it’s like to find gold, thanks to Gray and his wealth of panning experience. Twice a month — the first and third Saturday and Sunday from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. — he teaches gold panning, leads tours of the property and more.
“I’ve got campers who come in from the state parks, I’ve got people who drive over from Columbia because they found me on the internet, a lot of people come from Greenville, a lot of people from Greenwood, Aiken,” he said.
Perhaps the biggest surprise, he said, is what people discover behind the gates, just as he did when a welder friend brought him to see it before it was a park.
“People are surprised because from the road there is absolutely no indication of all that. Before the park was here, that welder brought me here and he took me to the entrance of the tunnel and it was all gated and locked,” he said. “But I was 15 feet away from excavations and holes that I had no idea were there. There was that much underbrush. I think that is why it was so well preserved because it was so overgrown.”
But don’t worry if you’ve never panned before.
“I’ve done it a couple of times,” he said with a twinkle in his eye. “There is an art. Fifteen minutes to learn and a lifetime to perfect it. But probably 95 percent of the visitors I get here have never panned before in their life.”
The activities do cost, so be sure to check the website — heritagegoldmine.com — for details. You can also find some neat history about McCormick there, as well as some more history about Billy Dorn and his gold mine.
Information from: The Index-Journal, http://www.indexjournal.com