Mining For A 'mother Lode' Of Gold In Montgomery County (Transcript) | WAMU 88.5 - American University Radio

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Mining For A 'Mother Lode' Of Gold In Montgomery County

MS. REBECCA SHEIR

00:00:10
I'm Rebecca Sheir. Welcome back to "Metro Connection." As the year draws to a close, we're bringing you our annual "Hall of Fame: show, a look back at some of our favorite stories from the past year. This next piece aired back in May on our Motherhood show. But it wasn't so much about motherhood as it was about a mother lode.

MR. TIM ROSE

00:00:26
Of course there's a lot from California. As we know, California has produced a lot of gold.

SHEIR

00:00:31
We're at the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History in front of the gold exhibit in the Hall of Geology, Gems and Minerals.

SHEIR

00:00:37
Where else do we see this gold coming from?

ROSE

00:00:39
There's Colorado, Alaska, Australia of course produces some fabulous gold to this day.

SHEIR

00:00:46
And as museum geologist Tim Rose will tell you, back in the day, a place much closer to home produced some pretty fabulous gold too.

ROSE

00:00:53
See that white quartz that's the matrix for the Montgomery County specimen.

SHEIR

00:00:58
Right, right.

SHEIR

00:00:58
Yep, that's right. Montgomery County, Md. from whence Rose originally hails.

ROSE

00:01:03
Yeah, I grew up in the Gaithersburg area and as a kid, as a rock-hound, you know, we knew about the gold. So, yes, I've been having my eyes to the ground looking for it ever since.

SHEIR

00:01:14
See, Montgomery County is on the Piedmont Plateau. That's this belt of metamorphic rocks extending from New York to South Carolina. And the Piedmont has all these veins of quartz running through it.

ROSE

00:01:25
And within some of them there are little pockets of gold and fool's gold, too.

SHEIR

00:01:30
But it was gold-gold that had people in Montgomery County all keyed up back in the 1800s when it was first reported in the area. And as word spread, Tim Rose says people started panning for gold.

ROSE

00:01:41
They found it in streams in upper Montgomery County.

SHEIR

00:01:44
And then they started full-blown mining operations, you know, digging trenches and sinking shafts.

ROSE

00:01:48
And everywhere you go in our area here, you look in stream beds, you look in farm fields, you'll find white quartz like that. And someday I'll be looking down, because I am still looking, and I'm going to see the glint and I'm going to pick it up, and I'll go, okay, I can stop looking now.

MR. JEFF NAGY

00:02:14
I actually know a guy that was walking along the trail and saw a piece of quartz and he stopped and picked it up and turned it over and there was a streak of gold through it. So you never know what you're going to turn up.

SHEIR

00:02:23
Amateur geologist Jeff Nagy is another Montgomery County native who spent a ton time with his eyes peeled to the ground.

NAGY

00:02:30
When I was a kid I'd come home and my mother would be dumping the rocks out of my pockets and complaining about all the rocks that I'd be picking up.

SHEIR

00:02:37
Now, Nagy's a proud member of the Gem, Lapidary and Mineral Society of Montgomery County.

NAGY

00:02:42
I'm also a member of the Baltimore Mineral Society.

SHEIR

00:02:45
And today we're continuing his lifelong gold hunt right near Great Falls as we wander the former site of the Maryland Mine. The gold mine used to be one of the state's largest, longest-lived and most productive.

SHEIR

00:02:56
Is it possible to even estimate or guesstimate the number of mines that once operated in this region?

NAGY

00:03:01
There were probably 20 or 30.

SHEIR

00:03:04
Just Montgomery County or also like up near Baltimore and stuff?

NAGY

00:03:06
Montgomery.

SHEIR

00:03:07
Nowadays, the site has a lot of ruined buildings.

NAGY

00:03:10
Water tank, the old water tank.

SHEIR

00:03:12
Overgrown dump piles.

NAGY

00:03:13
We're walking on part of the dumps right here. You can feel the rocks underneath your feet.

SHEIR

00:03:18
And scores...

NAGY

00:03:19
There's trenches here.

SHEIR

00:03:20
...and scores...

NAGY

00:03:21
There's a collapsed shaft.

SHEIR

00:03:22
...of abandoned prospect trenches and shafts.

NAGY

00:03:25
This would have been a vertical shaft. It was probably 200 feet deep. Look at the big tree growing out of it. So you know that thing is completely caved in.

SHEIR

00:03:32
But from 1867 to 1940, Nagy says the Maryland Mine was a fairly thriving operation.

SHEIR

00:03:38
How big was this mine?

NAGY

00:03:40
It covered 2,200 acres. Part of it's down here and the Park Service owns it. The rest of it's up in River Falls right over this way in those housing developments.

SHEIR

00:03:49
And that's the thing about so many of Montgomery County's gold mines. They've long been built over with roads or houses. One spot Jeff Nagy and I visited, not too far from the Maryland Mine, is now a tree-filled park with benches, tables, even a playground.

NAGY

00:04:04
Just think, the little kids on the playground playing on top of an old mine area. Unless you knew it was here you would have no idea that anything had taken place here.

SHEIR

00:04:11
Nagy is currently updating the Maryland Geological Survey's book, "Minerals of the Washington, D.C. Area." He's eager to spread the word about the region's rich history of gold and other minerals too. Take Patapsco State Park, for instance.

NAGY

00:04:24
West of Baltimore.

SHEIR

00:04:26
Between the 1830s and 1940s, Nagy says hundreds of mines in the area were pumping out a bunch of different minerals like quartz, flint, soapstone.

NAGY

00:04:34
Feldspar, beryl, mica.

SHEIR

00:04:36
Garnet, chromium, copper.

NAGY

00:04:38
A small amount of serpentine, the limestone, iron.

SHEIR

00:04:41
But back at the Smithsonian's Hall of Geology, Gem and Minerals Tim Rose's eyes are on a different prize, gold. But again, not just any gold.

ROSE

00:04:51
Gold's found all around the world.

SHEIR

00:04:54
And it's also been found in Montgomery County, Md.

ROSE

00:04:57
It has, it has, but not by me. Yet.

SHEIR

00:05:00
Yet.

SHEIR

00:05:10
To learn more about gold mining in Montgomery County, Md. and to see examples of specimens found in the area, visit our website, metroconnection.org.
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