THE HISTORY 07 GOLD MINING AT GREAT FALLS, MARYLAND.
THESIS PRESENTED TO
MARYLAND BETA CHAPTER
TAU BETA PI
EDWARD M. McMANUS
JANUARY 15, 1932
HISTORY OF GOLD MINING AT GREAT FALLS, H4RYLAND
There Is doubt as to the date of the discovery of
gold at Great Falls, I.Iaryland. Numerous reports dispute the
date. However, it is known that the first mine was opened in
the year 1867. This was the Maryland Mine.
Numerous mines are mentioned in early records but,
considering that each time a mine changed hands it also changed
named, it is likely that many names refer to the same mine. At
the present time there are names for five of the mines, each
having a varying number of shafts. These are: The Maryland
Mine, The Montgomery Mine, The Ford Mine, The Huddleston Mine,
and The Sawyer Mine.
The history of every mine isj operation for a few
years, abandonment, and subsequent reopening when hopes were
raised by the coming of new machinery into the mining industry
and the wily schemes of promoters. Very few operators of the
mines were successful. All in all, it is a history of failures,
but failures that are interest In" to the extreme, perhaps,
because they are entwined with the magic word GOLD.
THE HISTORY OF GOLD MINING AT GREAT FALLS, MARYLAND.
Great Falls, Maryland, is approximately 16 miles
upstream from Washington along the Potomac River and is
situated on the fall line of the river. It takes its name
from the picturesque falls of the Potomac at this point.
No exact date can be given for the settlement but
it is known that Captain Fleet of Captain .Tohn Smith* s
forces sailed up the river to this point to trade with the
Indians and that the lands about were patented to early
settlers under such names as Brightwell's Hunting -Quarter,
Thompson's Hop Yard, Goose Pond, and Bear Den.
That gold in paying quantities should be found so
close to the national capital is a matter of surprise to
many but there is nothing in the geological nature of the
territory which renders it improbable. The whole Appalachian
Range is gold-bearing and the mines at Great Falls are but a
manifestation of this gold-bearing strip in the range. The
gold occurs in the rocks in this manner: found in the pure
white quartz free from pyrites; associated with the pyrites;
and in the pyrites.
Doubt exists as to the exact year of the discovery
of gold at Great Falls but early records show that gold was
discovered in Montgomery County, in which Great Falls is lo-
cated, in 1849 at Sandy Spring. Although there is a tradition
that gold at Great Falls was discovered in 1848, older residents
in the vioinity of the mines state that discovery was at the
time of the Civil 7/ar. The story is told that when the Cal-
ifornia Volunteers were encamped near the falls , and after a
swin in the river one of them noticed grains of gold in the
sand in a companion' s hair. They kept their secret and at
the close of the war returned and began operations.
The first operations were probably panning of all
the nearby streams and, though there is no definite record,
results must have been satisfying.
The history of the mines is a long succession of
beginning operations and subsequent abandonments and chang-
ing owners. To give all of these would require considerable
research through land records, and so the larger mines by
the names they are known at the present time will be consid-
ered and their more important owner's success or failure given.
The names of five distinctive operations in the
vicinity are the Montgomery Mine, the Sawyer Mine, the Huddle-
ston Mine , the Maryland Mine, and the Ford Mine.
The first mine opened at Great Falls was the Maryland
Mine in the year 1867. The operations were not extensive and
no machinery was used. The workings were abandoned. Periods
of operation and abandonment occurred at this mine regularly
thereafter and various interests from Scranton, Pittsburgh,
Colorado, Washington, and Illinois invested money and machinery
for the operation of this mine. Practically all lost money.
This mine enjoyed its most successful operation around 1890,
when the superintendent was a man named Lloyd. Under his super-
vision machinery was installed and large amounts of gold were
taken from the workings to be sent to the mint. This mine was
last operated around the years 1914-1915 when, ore was taken
out and shipped in sacks to another point to be worked. It
has been abandoned since then.
Each of the groups working this mine developed it a
little more and the result is that it has most extensive under-
ground workings. The shaft here is 350 feet deep with levels
running off at about every 50 feet or so. The bottom of the
shaft is below the river and an interesting fact is that when
this first reached such a depth, operations were abandoned
because the problem of the seepage water was too great. Sub-
sequent installments of pumps enabled others to work the mines
The Maryland Mine is easily found, being directly
on Conduit Road a mile from Great Falls and at the end of the
concrete road coming from Potomac Crossroads. Machinery,
boilers, tracks, ore dumps, etc., may be seen here. There are
two shafts here. One is an older shaft, tie hoist of which
was not operated by engine. A level running off from this
shaft has caved in and left a large depression near the gate
of the mine; approximately 50 feet from this older shaft is
the later shaft which has a tall superstructure and the hoist
of which was operated by a steam engine.
The Montgomery Mine began in the year 1871 on the
farm of Robert Davidson. Legend has it that as Davidson's
son was driving home the cows one evening he discovered a
nugget along the bank of a stream known as Rock Run. This
nugget was worth $175. Davidson immediately started mining
operations of the manual type. He continued until 1876 when
he became dissatisfied and sold 65 acres of his land to a
firm for $7,000. This firm continued operations for a time
but sold out to a Baltimore concern called the Montgomery
Mining Company. This Company employed about 30 hands, used
machinery in its operations, and sunk 5 shafts from 20 to
80 feet in depth.
An H. C. Harrison was the superintendent for til is
group and under his regime gold was produced in plentiful
quantities. Philadelphia Mint was the recipient of the gold
from this mine and mint receipts are available. Harrison was
forced to quit operations because of trouble with his help.
A few years later a new company began operations
at this mine but its time of operations was short and it soon
sold out to still another group, whose superintendent was
named Hocater, He was also successful in the production of
gold in considerable quantities. His equipment consisted of a
10-stamp mill, copper plates, concentrator, forge and crucibles.
The use of this equipment and the general method used
at nearly all the mines for obtaining the gold was nearly the
From the levels of the mine came the ore to be hoisted
up the shaft, loaded in cars and taken to the crusher. This
machine reduced the ore to small fragments ready for the next
The crushers emptied into a stamp mill which was
mechanically fed. The stamps were power-driven pistons vahich
alternately rose and fell on the fragments lying on plates
beneath the stamps, reducing the ore to "pulp**. This pulp
was then flushed over copper plates previously treated with
mercury. This mercury-gold amalgam was gathered and placed
in a distilling apparatus and the mercury distilled off,
condensed and used again.
This process took care of the "dust" or "flour"
gold, but the concentrator, a form of inclined table crossed
by many narrow strips, was used to collect the black sand
and the smaller, heavier ore particles containing gold, which
had escaped the action of the plates. This concentrate was
removed to be mortared and smelted.
The pulp was further treated by placing in a clay
crucible, supplied with a flux and reduced by heat. Upon
breaking the crucible a "button" of gold was found. These
buttons were remelted and poured into conical molds called
"plumb-bobs", which weighed from two to five pounds. This
was the gold that was shipped.
After Hocater, a certain gold-seeker from Chicago,
Parsons by name, leased the abandoned workings of the Mont-
gomery ? r ine. He made several open cuts and then began oper-
ations in Rocky Run, the nearby stream. He built a dam across
the stream and constructed "toms" , a form of concentrator, and
worked the stream bed.
various sources one learns that,
Parsons returned to Chicago
en residents of
the county v
Russ was the
last group to be active in quest of the elusive metal at the
Montgomery Mine. During his superintendency the mine suffered
many bad falls of rock and considerable propping had to be
done. He was hopeful of success, but his company, the Potomac
Mining Company, abandoned work and the mine has never been
This particular mine, the Montgomery, is difficult
to locate at the present time because there are no buildings
now standing and the mine is in the woods off Persimmon Tree
Road, near Potomac. The only evidence of operations are the
The Ford Mine was prospected by Colonel Kirk, a
Georgia miner, who also prospected many other properties in
the region. He did not attempt workings but prospected and
sold out to companies interested in operating. Kirk sold out
the Ford Mine to the Allerton-Ream Company.
The Allerton-Ream Company mined gold in various
quantities but eventually gave up their lease and two young
men, Guilotte and Gibbs, carried on, getting on the average
of an ounce of gold per day. At that time they were well
paid for their labors, but a misunderstanding severed their
relations and the enterprise ceased its activities.
The Hud dies ton and Sawyer Mines have somewhat
similar histories. Kirk is said to have prospected both
of them and considerable gold was removed from each.
Among the various superintendents at the Sawyer
Mine were Townsend and Arehy. Archy was from the Whitehall
mines of Virginia and employed a number of men and worked
with considerable energy. He sank 3 shafts, one of them of
a depth of 150 feet. It was the opinion that he knew his
business and rumor has it that after three or four years of
operation he retired, successful.
The Sawyer Mine got its name from the fact that
Senator Sawyer was at one time interested in it. The mine,
however, did not prove successful and he gave it up.
After Sawyer came fill Kirk, a son of the same
Colonel Kirk, the prospector. Kirk obtained gold from the
mine, but never paid his help and was eventually forced to
Kirk sold out to Craven, a butcher, of whom it
was said that !1 he could cut meat but he couldn't mine gold."
He was unsuccessful.
The Sawyer I'ine has not been worked for consider-
able time and only shafts and surface cuts are now visible,
and these are almost hidden by growth. This mine is situated
on the old Killrurn property, off the Persimmon Tree Road.
After Kirk had prospected the Huddleston I'ine he
sold out to Rhinesdale and Purcell. The shaft Kirk had sunk
was just off of a vein and after a thaw a huge mass of dirt
fell, exposing the vein. Examination showed free gold and
a large quantity of it was removed. This mine was never
worked "by machinery; pan washing and a bucket for raising
out the muck being the method employed.
Huddleston, the man from whom the mine took its
present name, was a farmer of the vicinity. ?Te was never
successful in the operation of the mine and later sold out
to another concern, whose success was not marked, either.
The mine was finally abandoned.
Around the period of 1912 all the mines were
bought up by large interests, thought to be the Dupont
Corporation, and consolidated within a farm of 2200 acres.
Over this area a man named Hassan operated a diamond drill,
sometimes boring to depths of 1700 feet, seeking, it is said,
to discover the mother vein. Numerous concrete bases where
the drill was set up may be found today, mute evidence to
this costly and intense search for gold. Hasson also dug
many open trenches across fields. In this manner he would
encounter veins on both sides of the trench which could be
worked out. Hasson' s corporation, however, did nothing beyond
these prospecting operations, which are estimated to have
The last operations of mines in the Great Falls
area was around 1915, when the Ford and Maryland LTines were
worked. These mines are the most accessible of the lot and
some of the buildings are in a fair state of preservation.
Various assays of ore have shown values as high
as $522 per ton, but the average value was from $7 to $10
Difficulties occurred in mining at Great Falls
were of various kinds. One was that the gold was found in
pockets and these pockets occurred from 15 to 20 feet apart
and so much time and money was spent in unprofitable digging
between pockets. Another is that area is old geologically
and, unlike the west, the ore is covered with dirt. This
same dirt gave the idea of false values, since assays were
taken near the surface, and gold being practically indestruct-
ible, the dirt has the gold concentrated in it, giving an im-
pression of richness beneath. This dirt also prevented com-
plete study of underlying geological formations.
Llining engineers and geologists who have surveyed
the area agree that the only possible profitable way of work-
ing the ground on a large scale is to assemble very large
quantities of surface ore that has been uncovered by digging
open cuts across the fields. A high assay value does not
necessarily mean profit, because the ore may cost more to
work than it pays. Indeed, there is on record a mine operat-
ing in the Black Hills region whose ore only assayed $2.62
per ton, but still operated at a profit since the working
cost was only $1.68.
In con eluding it may be said the gold mines of
Great Falls produced no large quantities of gold compared
to other states, since mint records show no listing of
gold received from Maryland from the year 1869 to 1891,
merely including gold received from there under the head-
ing of "Other States Combined."
It is unlikely that the mines at Great Falls
will ever he reopened, but hope is ever present in some
breasts and the numerous prospect holes that were dug in
the area during various periods of the "gold fever" show
the hopes of the past and one resident' s of the neighbor-
hood statement that if he could get the six inches of
water off the Maryland Mine he could obtain enough gold
to satisfy him shows the hopes of the present. Another
colored resident of the area told of a young man v/ho vis-
ited him in the spring of 1331. This man claimed he had
a machine to save 90 fa or more of the gold mined. The
principle of the machine was not chemical. He hired the
colored resident to dig him 15 sacks of ore, for which he
paid him the sum of $2. per sack. This ore was shipped to
Philadelphia, but no word has yet been received as to the
success or failure, although the latter seems to be probable.
In all, a considerable sum of gold was removed,
but a larger sum was Invested in the mines of Great Falls.
A few operators were successful, but these were the exception,
for most were sadly disappointed.
Mr. Sterling W. Edwards, Teacher at
aKinley High School, 7/ashington
Mr. Henderson, Geologist
Bridgekeeper at Great Falls, Maryland
"Uncle Bob", old colored resident who
worked in the mines
Trans. Arner. Inst, of Mining Engineers,
Vol, XVIII, 1890, p. 396
American Journal of ^cience, Vol. 11, p. 126, 1850
American Journal of Science, Vol. XVII, p. 202, 1030
Proc. Aiaer. Phil. Society, Vol. V., p. 85, 1854
Metallic Wealth of U. 3. - J. D. Whitney, p. 124
American Journal of Mining, Vol. II, 1866, p. 21
land Records of Montgomery County,
Rockville Courthouse, Maryland
Engineering and Mining Journal
Vol. IX, p. 37, 1870
■ XXIX, p. 48, 1800
" XLVIII.pp. 56, 235; 1889
LI, p. 175, 1891
Mineral Resources of U. S. , 1089-90- p. 49
Articles in the Washington Sunday Star, year 1915
History of Maryland - Scharf
The old shaft at the Maryland Mine showing
eave-in of a level directly behind shaft.
The hoist engine with drum
at Maryland Mine.
View of shaft and topjled supers true tare at
Rord Mine with sheds containing machinery
*^ ~*j . *
h^ m..-^ ;
View of shaft looking down-
ward at ?ord Min-.
I'he old assay office of
the Ford Mine.
Stamp mill standing near
Allerton-Ream property or
Open ants near the
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