Finding a Gem in North Carolina
Friends have toured Colombia and not brought back an emerald for me. They’ve visited Myanmar and not brought me a ruby. I do have two pieces of amethyst I dug up in an abandoned amethyst mine in North Carolina. I guess the only way I’ll get an emerald or a ruby is to dig it up myself.
So on a recent quick trip to Asheville in the North Carolina mountains, my goal was to visit the Biltmore Estate and also to find a gemstone mine and dig. The North Carolina mountains have several mines open to the public. Their advertising is mostly directed at kids, so they probably offer a sluice seeded with small gemstones, and you’d stand by dozens of other people panning or digging for whatever the mine operators planted in your place at the trough. Not very exciting or interesting.
I didn’t want that or the mediocre bit of gem I might recover. I’d already panned for gold alongside my grandson in such a sluice in Alaska.
A google search turned up the Emerald Hollow Mine in Hiddenite, N.C., a short detour on our way home. The website was well-designed and impressive, describing a working mine with a lapidary. It seemed exactly what I was looking for. I emailed them for more information but didn’t receive a response before we left.
We decided to visit the mine anyway. We found the small town of Hiddenite, N.C., but where was the mine? My phone had no charge, so I couldn’t call them. We parked at the Hiddenite town museum and visitor center located in the James Paul Lucas Mansion. This huge house is on the National Registry of Historic Places because in 1914, the owners had the two-story house cut in half and inserted a new second floor between the two existing floors, making it a three-story mansion. It also has a bell system and a fire system installed in the 1900s well ahead of the times. As a museum, it features an antique doll and toy collection, art gallery, gem and mineral collection, and a guided tour of the mansion furnished in 1914-era style.
Three women were busy inside the small visitors’ center, but they stopped to talk to me. Since it was around 3 p.m. on the Tuesday before Thanksgiving, they probably didn’t expect anyone and seemed a little nonplussed by my appearance. However, they knew about the mine, told me how to find it, and they gave me a brief history of the town. Seems that Thomas Edison sent a man named Professor Hidden to the area to look for a harder metal to use in his phonograph needles. Instead, Hidden found gemstones and forgot all about working for Edison. One of the gems discovered there is in the Smithsonian.
But, they said, the mine had been sold to Martin Marietta just the month before. They didn’t know what was happening to it now. Nevertheless, we followed their directions and drove down the road to find it. After viewing the website, I expected a well-maintained gift shop, lapidary, and colorful sign on the side of the untraveled but paved country road.
We pulled over to stare dubiously at a wooden sign on weathered unpainted boards with “Emerald Hollow Mine” painted on it in faded white letters. Next to the sign was a rutted dirt road barely wide enough for our car. I remembered the lack of email response and the woman who told us the place had been sold.
Despite the negative vibes, we turned onto the dirt road and bounced down it about a quarter mile until we came to a fork. Turn left and we’d join the road we came in on to return to the country road and exit. Turn right, we’d go down a steep hill to a bare spot with machinery and a man messing with something. We saw no one else around. What to do?
I turned left, and the more I think about it, the more I think it was the right decision. In reading about the mine later, I found that most people arrive at 9 or 10 a.m. We were arriving at 3 p.m. The place had been sold. Who was at the bottom of the hill? Was he working? Would we land in the middle of a bunch of drug dealers taking advantage of an abandoned site? Would our murdered bodies ever be found? Or would it be the proprietor of the mine? If the man was the mine proprietor, would he turn us away as having come too late? Would our car even make it back up the hill?
Obviously, I should have done more research. There are gem and mineral societies in North Carolina. They offer tours, information, and guides. With more information and a guide, I’ll find an emerald yet.
Eileen Haavik McIntire will be participating in the following events:
Dec. 7, 2019 - Sisters in Crime Author Showcase, 1 p.m., Reston Library, Reston, VA.
Mar. 28-29, 2020 - Annual Conference, Maryland Writers' Association, College Park, MD.
Blog: Lost Treasure Trails
See BLOG Page for complete column.
“The heart and soul of good writing is research; you should write not what you know, but what you can find out about."
— Robert J. Sawyer
I love mysteries, secrets, strange people and weird places and hope to share what I find interesting with you on this website and in the mysteries I write.
For more about my mysteries, go to the 90s Club and the Shadow Series pages.
- Eileen Haavik McIntire
Comments from reviewers about my books:
The Two-Sided Set-Up - “McIntire’s latest novel is a fast-paced and multilayered thriller with well-developed characters and colorful settings...Most of the action is set in Virginia, and McIntire does a fine job of capturing the rhythm of its small-town life, from the friendliness of local business to the calm of quiet nights on the water. An engaging tale for aficionados of psychological suspense.” - Kirkus Reviews
Shadow of the Rock – “A riveting tale of time and humanity, highly recommended.” (Midwest Book Review) “A bold adventure....Chapters move quickly in a mixture of danger, excitement, and pure enjoyment...” (Foreword Reviews).
The 90s Club & the Hidden Staircase – “With plenty of humor and its own original tale . . .a must” for readers of cozy mysteries. (Midwest Book Review)
The 90s Club & the Whispering Statue - “A fun read....nostalgia and...social commentary, wrapped up in an engaging mystery novel.” (Foreword Reviews)
The 90s Club & the Secret of the Old Clock – “An impressively well crafted and thoroughly entertaining mystery that plays fair with the reader from beginning to end,” (Midwest Book Review)