Residents invited to see June 30 filming
Many area residents don’t realize this area was once the site of the first American gold rush and is still teeming with the valuable ore. But filmmaker Mark Allen hopes to educate the public with a new documentary – and he’s using Mint Hill as backdrop.
Allen will visit the Carl J. McEwen Historic Village from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturday, June 30, to shoot footage for the documentary, which will air on public TV station WTVI. The filming will coincide with the Mint Hill Farmers Market, and will record footage of Whipple the horse pulling the Chilean mill that was used to crush ore in the 19th century.
Allen is the owner of Maverick Entertainment, Inc., and has produced a handful of documentaries for the Discovery networks on historical and contemporary issues. But the history of gold in this area has always fascinated him.
“We’re surrounded by gold history,” he said. “I don’t think many people even have a clue. There’s still quite a bit of gold under our feet.”
He’s already shot footage at Reed Gold Mine, Mountain Creek Gold Mine and uptown Charlotte and recently visited the Mint Hill Historical Society to shoot an interview with George McDonald, who serves on the historical society’s board of trustees.
But this time, Allen wants some vintage-style historical re-enactment shots.
“There are basically no historical images available, period, from this era of gold mining in North Carolina,” Allen said. “There are some newspaper clippings but absolutely no visuals of this period. You just have to think of different ways to be creative, with accuracy, and a visual medium helps people” understand the history.
According to McDonald, the discovery of gold in the U.S. began in Cabarrus County in 1799.
“Until the Gold Rush in California, they were hunting for gold here,” he said. “They hunted for 50 years. There were quite a few gold mines established then that continued up until the (Civil) War, and they never opened back up.”
But historians believe the majority of the gold is still underground. And now digging is much more advanced with the invention of new tools and machines.
“When they were mining here, they were mining with just candlelight, so it was by minimal equipment that they did the gold mining, so they’ve missed quite a bit,” McDonald said. “Miners were looking for large pieces of ore and missed a lot (of the smaller pieces). There’s probably 90 percent of that gold still in the ground.”
During the N.C. gold-mining boom, the Chilean mill was the tool used to crush the ore and harvest the gold, separating it from other minerals, such as quartz and various types of rock. The mill – a 6,000-pound wheel with a 6-foot diameter – rolls around in a groove, smoothly and efficiently crushing the ore. Historically, the mill was pulled by horses and other livestock, such as donkeys, mules and oxen.
The Mint Hill Historical Society acquired its Chilean mill about five years ago. The mill is believed to have been carved from granite that was shipped from England to Charleston during the colonial days. The stone was found in a stream bed near Blair Road in Mint Hill in 2007 and now sits operational outside the Surface Mill Mine Assay Office on the village grounds. The assay office dates to 1914 and was originally near what is locally called the 1844 Surface Mill Mine in Mint Hill. It was moved to the historic village from Surface Hill Road in 2006, and restoration began in the spring of 2009.
McDonald said the mill, perfected by cadets from the Virginia Military Institute, is the only working Chilean mill in the country.
Preserving the area’s gold history is important to both McDonald and Allen, who have a desire to foster education among those unaware of this rich heritage.
“The historical society is trying to pass on the history of North Carolina, and Mint Hill is our specialty,” McDonald said. “One of our main things is education; that’s the reason you have the museum. You can read it in a book, or you can visit a museum and see it in person.”
Allen said the documentary is geared toward everyone, not just history buffs.
“We like to encourage people to learn about their history because history is almost always more interesting than fiction,” he said. “North Carolina and South Carolina gold history is pretty interesting stuff. You don’t have to be a mining geek to enjoy it.”
Want to go?
Watch filmmaker Mark Allen work as he records scenes at the Carl J. McEwen Historic Village, 7601 Matthews-Mint Hill Road, in Mint Hill, from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturday, June 30.