The Phoenix Gold Mine:
A Brief History
By Sam E. Phifer, P.G.
The Phoenix Gold Mine is located approximately seven miles south of Concord, North Carolina, and was discovered around 1836. This was about 37 years after the first discovery of gold in the United States and 11 years after the discovery of gold in quartz veins by Matthias Barringer. The Main, or Phoenix vein, was apparently rich enough to be mineable at various places over a strike length of some 2,100 feet. It reportedly varies in width between one and three feet and is open to depth.
Mining eventually reached a depth of 600 feet vertically. The mine was developed by four or five working shafts of which the Phoenix, or Main,shaft and the Engine, or Pump, shafts were the deepest. Levels were turned at 50- and 100-foot intervals. Three, or possibly four, ore shoots were exploited from these levels; and one, the Phoenix shoot, was successfully mined to a depth of 500 feet below the surface. Old records indicate that the vein on the lowest level of the mine, the 520-foot level, averages two feet in thickness and a half of an ounce of gold per ton.
Both the Phoenix and the Furniss veins are typical quartz veins that developed along a shearing zone in the volcanic tuff country rock. Underground, the veins pinch and swell and at times split into two or more segments, only to come together again, a short distance away, along both strike and dip. Shoots of mineable ore occur spasmodically along the vein¹s strike lengths. The ore minerals in both veins were gold, chalcopyrite, and scheelite. Gangue minerals included barite, pyrite, and calcite. Mineralization was primarily confined to the quartz veins. The andesitic tuff wall rock contained pyrite and calcite as alteration products. Gold values occurred as both native gold and auriferous pyrite and chalcopyrite. The tenor of the veins in gold varied from over an ounce of gold per ton above the water level to 0.7
ounce per ton on the 520-foot level in the Phoenix Mine. The ore from the Phoenix Mine is also reported to average from one to three percent copper.
Not only was the Phoenix Mine noted for the size and richness of its vein, but it was also due to the fact that a German mining engineer named Adolph Thies developed the chlorination process here in about 1889. This process enabled the early miners to successfully treat sulfide gold ore and to recover a substantial amount of the values that would have otherwise been lost. Thies eventually took his process to the Haile Gold Mine near Kershaw, South Carolina, where it again proved extremely valuable in recovering gold from sulfidic ore.
Mining continued at the Phoenix mine until about 1906 when it was closed for reasons unknown. Quite possibly the owners failed to keep sufficient ore developed ahead of mining or a fire destroyed the surface structures, the mine flooded, and there was no money to rebuild. Such events were not uncommon during the early mining period in North Carolina. In any case, the mine was abandoned and allowed to fill with water.
The Phoenix Mine lay dormant until about 1948-1950 when a geology student from the University of North Carolina wrote a Master¹s thesis on the tungsten deposits of Cabarrus County, North Carolina and mentioned finding abundant amounts of the mineral scheelite on the waste dumps at the Phoenix Mine. The United States was in the midst of the Korean War at the time and tungsten was a critical industrial mineral. Based upon the information in this thesis the mine¹s owner, Mr. A.L. Nash, contacted the Defense Minerals Branch of the United States Bureau of Mines and obtained funds to re-open the mine and examine its potential as a commercially viable deposit of tungsten. The Bureau of Mines eventually drilled eight diamond drill holes at the property and explored the underground workings for several years.
The mine re-opening began in 1954, and by 1955 the main workings had been dewatered and stabilized. The main shaft could not be re-entered due to the fact that the old timers had stoped the vein right up to the shaft causing its total collapse from the surface to the 100-foot level.
Entrance into the mine was finally obtained through the Pump Shaft. This shaft consisted of two compartments, each compartment measuring five-by five-feet inside the timber. One compartment served as a ladder way and space for the electrical wiring, compressed air lines, and water discharge piping. The other compartment was used to lower men and supplies. As the elder miners were sometimes want to do, they sunk this shaft along the dip of the vein; hence it was vertical for the first 100 feet in depth and then sloped downward at a 45-degree angle for the remainder of its depth. In order to accommodate the differences in the slope of this shaft a set of wooden skids was constructed from readily available pine trees on the property and the mine bucket (a wooden whiskey barrel with an iron bail) slid up and down on these skids when it was in the sloped portion of the shaft. The vertical portion of the shaft was lined with rough-sawed boards that were nailed to the shaft timbers. This ³boxed² effect prevented the mine/ore bucket from hanging up on the timber sets as it was hoisted or lowered.
After a period of several months, during which time the old workings were mapped and sampled and the surface exposures of the vein was prospected with dozer trenches, the mine was abandoned once more and allowed to refill with water. Apparently the vein was considered too small to be mined for its tungsten values at a profit.
The second phase of exploration for tungsten on the property then turned towards the Furniss Shaft that was located approximately 1,000 feet northeast of the main Phoenix workings.
The Furniss Shaft was approximately 180 feet deep and had working levels at 80 and 100 feet below the collar. This shaft was vertical with two compartments that were four-by five-feet in the clear. The hoisting compartment was also lined with rough-sawed boards like the vertical portion of the Pump Shaft at the Phoenix Mine. Ore and development rock were hoisted to the surface by a steel mine bucket of 1/4-ton capacity. For exploration purposes, a diesel-powered hoist was used. The head frame was constructed of 8-by 8-inch white oak lumber that was plentiful and cheap locally, in those days. Once the ore/waste bucket entered the head frame, it was tipped over into a waste/ore bin constructed of three-inch rough-sawed oak lumber. Depending on whether the ore bucket contained waste rock or ore, a trip gate directed its discharge to waste cars or ore cars. Waste went to the mine¹s dump and ³ore² was directed to the coarse stockpile.
Underground exploration and development was confined primarily to the 180-foot level. Development consisted of advancing this level several hundred feet along the trend of the vein to examine its continuity and size. A small amount of core drilling was also performed to test the hanging and footwalls for possible parallel structures, but alas, none were encountered. When it was discovered that the Furniss vein would only average about two to three feet in width and that the ore chutes were relatively short in strike length, it was concluded that this prospect could not supply sufficient ore for modern mining operations. After several months of exploration at the Furniss shaft, work was suspended, the pumps and equipment were removed, and these workings were also allowed to refill with water.
The writer understands that this shaft has since been backfilled with rock and soil. This shaft is also located within a new housing development on the site. The underground equipment is now on display at the Reed Gold Mine State Historic Site located a few miles away.
Sam E. Phifer is a Practicing Geologist with his own Environmental and Mining Consultant business out of Landrum, South Carolina. Sam has been the Reed Gold Mine State Historic Site mining inspector for the past twelve years. He also participates as a judge for the annual NC Open Gold Panning Competition at Reed every year.