by Karen R. Kuff, 1987
The Maryland Journal reported in May, 1901 that "Many persons will be surprised to know that within easy walking distance of the National Capital there are no less than a half-dozen gold mines in actual operation. Prospecting is now a rather extensive industry along the banks of the Potomac, from a point near Georgetown up the river, past Great Falls, a distance of perhaps ten miles." Although no mining is currently underway in Maryland, individuals still seek their fortunes in gold.
Gold is found in rocks of the Piedmont Plateau, a belt of metamorphic rocks extending from New York to South Carolina. The metal occurs as grains, wires or sheets in quartz veins and along mineralized fault zones in the surrounding metamorphic rocks. The distribution of gold in the quartz veins is sporadic and the concentration ranges from 0.1 to 5 ppm (Reed and Reed, 1969). Sulfides sometimes found with the gold are pyrite, sphalerite, and galena. In the copper districts of Maryland, gold has often been noted as a minor accessory mineral.
The accompanying maps show old gold mines, prospects and reported gold occurrences in Maryland. The passage of time has changed the face of many of the old mines and prospects to the point where many are now overgrown or have been built on. Therefore, some locations are approximate. Names of mines or properties may also have changed. Included on both this map and the inset map are sites where gold has only been reported, not necessarily produced.
Although gold was first reported in 1849 on Samuel Ellicott's farm near Brookville, Montgomery County, no production was recorded. There are numerous versions of the first discovery of gold in the Potomac area. In 1861 during the Civil War, a Private McCleary (or McCarey) of the 71st Pennsylvania Regiment (or "1st California Volunteers") was stationed outside of Washington, D.C. While encamped in the vicinity of Great Falls, he discovered gold. It is reported that the gold was found while washing skillets in a stream near McCleary's hilltop camp overlooking the old Anglers Club. By 1867 the first shaft was sunk near the site of the Maryland Mine.
|Map of Maryland Gold Mines, Placers or Reported Gold Occurrences|
|1||Ellicott mine||24||Black Hills mine or prospect|
|2||Maryland mine||25||Dawsonville placer|
|3||Allerton-Ream property (Ford mine) and open cuts||26||Olney, possible prospect pit|
|4||Anderson property (Potomac and Watson mines)||27||Tridelphia Reservoir, reported occurrence|
|5||Montgomery mine (near Alton), shaft and prospect pits||28||Mt. Ephraim mine, approx. loc.|
|6||Eagle mine||29||Minor gold found in Liberty copper mine|
|7||Harrison mine (Sawyer) and property, eight veins prospected||30||Minor gold found in Repp copper mine|
|8||Rock Run gold placers||31||Minor gold found in Pittinger (Hammond) copper prospect|
|9||Irma and Lynch mines||32||Minor gold found in New London copper deposit|
|10||Bogley mine||33||Clifton (Frederick) mine|
|11||Haddlestone mine||34||Gold discovered along ridge running through Manchester to Cranberry Valley|
|12||Bethesda mine||35||Streaker Road mine|
|13||Miller mine, several abandoned shafts and prospect holes||36||Minor gold found in Mineral Hill copper mine|
|14||Several unnamed prospects||37||Minor gold found in Sykesville copper mine|
|15||Gold reported at Glen Echo||38||Costley mine|
|16||East fork of Cabin John Run||39||Windsor Mill mine|
|17||Rockville gold locale||40||Gold found in quartz near Catonsville|
|18||Fawsett mine||41||Gold has been reported near Ellicott City|
|19||Gillotts mine||42||Reported gold mine near Prettyboy Reservoir|
|20||Grady mine||43||Hayes mine|
|21||Stevens-Roudebush mine||44||Macon gold placer|
|22||Allen shaft||45||Gold bearing quartz reported near Havre de Grace|
|23||Possible gold prospect|
Gold has been mined, panned or prospected intermittently since that date. Active mining ended prior to World War II in 1940 and the last recorded production from prospecting was 21 ounces found between 1950-51. The accompanying graph shows gold production in Maryland from 1868 to 1940. Prospecting continues even today. There is a surge of gold panning interest every few years, especially following an increase in the price of gold.
No great fortunes were made by Maryland gold miners. In 1890, Emmons stated that there was little likelihood of any new ventures that would result in sure riches for the operator.
"On all of this belt ...there is no record of any great mine the product of which can compare with the few enormously productive mines...in the west, and there seems to have been a very large proportion of disastrous failures among the many gold mining enterprises that have been undertaken here. There is some reason to assume that many of these failures have been due to ignorance and bad methods of working...the depth to which the rocks have been rotted and decomposed...has tended to make the surface showing underly rich; and has been an important factor in preventing systematic and successful mining in depth."
Not all gold was obtained as ore from mine shafts; much was found by prospecting with trenches, or panning in local streams. The area around Great Falls has yielded most of the gold found in Maryland. Individuals hoping to find gold in Maryland are still looking in this area. Gold recovered by panning is mostly very fine grained but can range up to coarse sand size. Rarely, nuggets were found, some weighing as much as 4 ounces.
The ideal spot for panning is downslope from a vein quartz outcrop along the first curve in the stream. The gold, freed from the rock by weathering, washes downhill from the outcrop and settles to the bottom of the stream. Since gold is heavier than sand, it will remain on the bottom of a pan full of swirling water and sediment and can thus be easily separated. There are still reports of gold being found in Maryland's streams.
Another source of gold is old mine dumps. Former methods used to separate metals from the host rock were not as advanced as today's extraction techniques, and some gold probably remains in the old dumps. MacArthur Boulevard, built near the Potomac River just before the Civil War, was later repaved with gold-bearing quartz rock from the mining areas (Shosteck, 1953).
Maryland has strict property right laws. Mining, panning and prospecting must be done with permission from the property owner; otherwise, you are trespassing. Collecting of rocks is prohibited on State owned lands unless permission is obtained from the Maryland Forest and Park Service. On Federal Park property, site of many of the old gold mines, permission must be obtained from the Superintendent of the Parks prior to any panning operations. One other caution is that it is extremely dangerous to enter any of the old mine shafts or openings.
We have several geologic maps available online of the Great Falls gold district. From the 1968 Geologic Maps of Maryland:
Be sure to view our guide to online Maryland Gold Resources.
For more information on minerals and gems check out our Earth Science Books Online page.
ANON., 1830, The discovery of gold in Maryland : Amer. Jour. Sci., V. 17, p. 202.
BERNSTEIN, L.R., 1980, Minerals in the Washington, D.C. area : Md. Geol. Survey, E.S. 5, with maps.
CLEAVES, E.T., 1964, Mineral resources of Montgomery and Howard Counties : Md. Geol. Survey, 6 pp.
DUCATEL, J.T., 1838, Annual report of the geologist of Maryland.
EMMONS, E., 1849, On gold in Montgomery County, Maryland : Amer. Phil. Soc., Proc. 5, p. 85-86.
EMMONS, S.F., 1893, Progress of the precious metal industry of the United States since 1880; U.S. Geol. Survey, Mineral Res. U.S., 1892, p. 46-94.
EMMONS, S.F., 1890, Notes on the gold deposits of Montgomery County, Maryland, Maryland : Amer. Inst. Mining Eng. Trans. 18, p. 391-411.
FROELICH, A.J., 1975, Mineral resources of Montgomery County, Maryland : U.S. Geol. Survey, Misc. Inv. Series, Map I-920-E, scale 1:62,500.
HEYL, A.V. and PEARRE, N.C., 1965, Copper, zinc, lead, iron, cobalt and barite deposits in the Piedmont Upland of Maryland : Md. Geol. Survey, Bull. 28, 65 pp.
INGALLS, E.T., 1960, The discovery of gold at Great Falls, Maryland : privately printed, 17 pp.
JUSTICE, G.M., 1849, Gold from Montgomery County, Maryland : Amer. Phil. Soc., Proc 5, p. 84-85.
OSTRANDER, C.W. and PRICE, W.E., 1940, Minerals of Maryland : Md. Nat. History Soc., Baltimore, Md., 88 pp.
REED, J.C., Jr., and REED, J.C., 1969, Gold veins near Great Falls, Maryland : U.S. Geol. Survey, Bull. 1286, 21 pp.
REED, J.C., Jr., and REED, J.C., 1967, Gold deposits near Great Falls, Maryland : Washington Acad. Sci. Jour., V. 56, p. 213-224.
SHOSTECK, R., 1953, There's gold in them hills near Great Falls, Maryland : Silver Spring, Md., privately printed, 7 pp.
SINGEWALD, J.T., 1946, Mineral resources of Carroll and Frederick Counties : in : The physical features of Carroll County and Frederick County, Md. Geol. Survey, p. 132-162.
ULKE, T., 1939, Gold mining past and present near Washington, D.C. : Rocks and Minerals, V. 14, N. 10, p. 299-305.
WEED, W.H., 1905, Notes on the gold veins near Great Falls, Maryland : U.S. Geol. Survey Bull. 260, p. 128-131.