CHARLOTTE — 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.
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.
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.)