November 15, 2005

Virginia Taps into Real Gold Mine at Lake Anna

By Katherine Calos

Lake Anna has a golden distinction that sets it apart from other state parks. It once was a gold mine.

Park guests still can pan for gold during park ranger programs, when buckets of river sand are brought to the visitor center for demonstrations. The lucky ones will see a golden speck in the bottom of their pan.

Rich deposits

At the park's abandoned mine, exhibits tell a little about the gold-pyrite belt that runs from Maryland to North Carolina and the ways miners would try to extract it. Deposits were rich enough that from 1830 to 1850, Virginia ranked third in the nation in gold production.

The first recorded gold within park boundaries was found in 1829 along Pigeon Run, a stream that feeds into the North Anna River at Lake Anna. Little bits of gold could be found in the streambed where rain had washed them out of the hillside.

The first prospectors searched for gold by swishing water over a pan filled with river sand. Because gold is heavier than other minerals, it would settle to the bottom and catch on the ridges of the pan when the water and sand swirled out.

Hitting pay dirt

Once an area of pay dirt was located, the miners might bring in a rocker box to make quicker work of the swishing. Eventually they might set up a "long tom" -- a 12- to 15-foot-long trough manned by six to eight miners -- with the stream running through it to wash away the dirt and leave the gold behind.

By 1870, surface mining led to a gold vein in the rock, and the Goodwin mine had sunk a shaft to follow the gold vein underground.

In April 1870, the Fredericksburg Ledger reported some excitement. Two owners of the mine had found a rich vein of solid gold and left three men with loaded guns to protect it overnight. When two workmen sneaked back into the mine the next morning, the guards confronted them and fired three shots at them.

"The men, fortunately for themselves, escaped without injury. We hope this will be a lesson to them. A warrant for their apprehension has been issued," the newspaper reported.


In 1887, the mine was sold to investors in Baltimore. They expanded operations and built the structures whose foundations are visible today. But the mine never repaid their investment and was abandoned a few years later.

Instead of ore, there's only lore.