Although the western U.S. is known in history and folklore for its gold strikes, gold panning in the east and south could net you a bit of the valuable metal as well.
We'd always dreamed of owning a small place in the country, but with a family of seven to feed my wife and I could never quite save enough money to finance our move.
A couple of years ago, however—during an extended vacation in Colorado—we decided to try our hands at gold panning. The children were delighted and pursued the project with great enthusiasm. But after the youngsters found their first specks of aurum, the "game" suddenly became more serious. As it turned out, our finds for that summer were limited by our inexperience and crude methods.
Once we got home, I began to read up on the subject and was surprised to learn about the existence of gold fields on the "Atlantic side" of the country. When my business took me to Vermont for a couple of weeks I decided to check out the stories about eastern gold in my spare time. I did some research, chose the most likely spot, and tried my luck as soon as I arrived. The result was a little over two ounces of almost pure gold!
Last year, encouraged by my success in New England, the family decided we'd try our luck in Arkansas with a homemade sluice. That trip was such a success that we were able to purchase a three-acre farm, build barns, pay for 130 fruit trees, and make a sizable down payment on a trailer house!
We've planned another gold-hunting expedition into the southern gold fields for this year. In fact, I've already bought a special metal detector that's equipped to find small pockets of gold under water. (Our next purchase will be a lightweight aluminum sluice suitable for backpacking.)
How do you go about finding out if gold may be waitin' to be discovered in your locale? First of all, write to your state's bureau of mines and/or geology for information on placer gold. Then go to the largest library near you and request the area's oldest Geological Survey Mineral Reports.
The following is a general "hotspot" listing that I've compiled for states that aren't well-known as gold producers.
ALABAMA: The Cotton State's 1929 Mineral Report tells of an unusual type of gold found in Tallapoosa County. It turned up in graphite deposits, which made the metal look like coal! Gold has been mined in quantity in Chilton, Clay, Cleburne, Elmore, Randolph, Talladega, and Tallapoosa Counties,. and the reporting geologist noted that there was still lots of available gold dust that had been missed by the early miners. Some assay samples were recorded at an unbelievable $500 per ton at $20 an ounce. That figures out to approximately $6,250 per ton at today's high prices!
ARKANSAS: The 1888 assay reports show gold samples taken in Hot Spring, Logan, Montgomery, Pike, Polk, Pulaski, Saline, Scott, and Yell Counties. These samples averaged from $6.02 to $12.00 worth of gold a ton, with the best ore (rated at over $60 a ton) coming from Montgomery County. And silver, too, was discovered in samples from Montgomery, Pulaski, Saline, and Sevier Counties—ores averaging 80 ounces of silver, with some samples as high as 788 ounces per ton.
CONNECTICUT: Placer gold has been found in a number of locations, including Ansonia, Bristol, Cheshire, East Hampton, Litchfield, Middletown, Montville, New Haven, Newtown, North Stonington, Sandy Hook, West Haven, and Woodbury.
GEORGIA: Millions of dollars' worth of gold was both panned and mined from the mineral beds of Georgia. In fact, up until the discovery of the precious metal in California, Georgia and North Carolina were the infant United States' principal sources of gold. A U.S. mint office was established at Dahlonega to coin the yields of this early-day rush. The main areas of Georgian gold production were in Carroll, Cobb, Cherokee, Hall, Dawson, Forsyth, Habersham, Lumpkin, Oconee, Rabun, and White Counties.
INDIANA: The 1879 Geological Survey report states that good samples of placer gold were taken from streams in Indiana's Brown and Morgan Counties (the best being Bean Blossom Creek in Brown County). Other creeks throughout the state have also produced gold, but none has yielded commercial quantities of the metal.
KENTUCKY: Nuggets have frequently been found in Cat and Cow Creeks in Powell County. Over the years, the streams around Furnace Mountain in Estill County have interested local prospectors, and both nuggets and placer have been found in these waterways from time to time. Menifee, and Wolfe Counties have also produced gold in quantity.
MARYLAND: Maryland's first gold was discovered in Montgomery County near Sandy Spring in 1849. The Piedmont Plateau area has also yielded very good samples that contained gold, silver, and lead. Some mines in this area were in operation from 1867 until about 1900.
MISSISSIPPI: The State Geologist reported in 1857 that both gold and silver had been found in assay samples taken along Big Bear and Cedar Creeks. Native copper nuggets and gold dust were sometimes found together in this part of the state.
NEW JERSEY: Surprisingly, almost every New Jersey assay sample that I could find showed from .5% to 8% silver content in the iron ore. Some ores from the Cranberry Lake area in Sussex County contained 54% iron, 34.4% silver, and a trace of gold.
NORTH CAROLINA: From the time gold was first commercially mined in 1800 until the economy outran the low price of gold in about 1900, North Carolina's mines and placer sites produced precious metals worth over $22 million. The discoveries were almost statewide, with the principal counties being Cabarrus, Davidson, Mecklenburg, Montgomery, Nash, Rowan, and Stanly.
PENNSYLVANIA: Gold has been discovered in streams and rock formations in Adams, Bucks, Chester, Lancaster, Montgomery, and York Counties. Samples taken in Bucks show assays of up to 3 1/2 ounces of gold per ton.
TENNESSEE: In 1831, Monroe County was the scene of a local gold rush when the elusive yellow metal was found in Coca Creek. An area of several square miles produced almost $50,000 in gold dust in a very short time. The source of the placer deposits was never found.
VERMONT: Placer gold has been located almost statewide, and has been commercially mined in the Bethel section of the White River. Also, several mines were worked around the Bridgewater and Plymouth areas.
VIRGINIA: Many nuggets of almost pure gold have been discovered in the Dan River near Clarksville. There were also several producing mines in Virginia's northeastern hills till at least 1917.
Wherever you seek your fortune, and no matter how much you find, there's nothing on earth to match the thrill you'll feel when you look in your pan and suddenly see that golden gleam. No doubt you'll echo the cry of many grizzled forty-niners: "Eureka! It's gold!"