Their Descendants...Their Stories...Their Achievements

Lifting the Mists of History on Their Way of Life

By: Ethelene Dyer Jones

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Gold Mining in Union County

“There’s gold in them thar hills!” The cry is not too grammatically correct, but that early pronouncement of prospectors reverberated through the hills and hollows of Union County in the early years. Legend holds that gold was found in the area that became Union County in 1832 long before the gold rush at Duke’s Creek, Dahlonega, Auraria and Lumpkin County. Little actual recorded history of gold deposits and mining operations in Union County has survived the mists of time. However, some of the bits and pieces can be deciphered to authenticate that gold mining was once a promising business here.

The most famous of the gold mines and the one that operated with a business-like setup was known as the Coosa Mine at Coosa Creek. It is reported that more than $2 million dollars in gold was mined there. Another report deals with the pure quality of the gold ore. It is said that the assayers in Washington, D. C. could tell by looking that gold ore was from the Coosa Mines because it was “the yellowest gold” submitted and its brilliant color set it apart.

In addition to the Coosa Mining operations, placer mines were located at Wellborn Mountain, in the Gumlog District, at Bowers Cove and in Owltown. Stories abound about James Bly Nix and his brother John who found a rich vein of gold in the Choestoe District. This latter lode’s location still remains a mystery.

Two brothers, William Franklin (called Frank) and Zed Summerour, mining engineers, played an important role in Union County gold mining operations beginning in the early 1900’s. Some of the mines they plumbed can still be located on land lots 85-87, 93-95, 124, 129 and 130 at Coosa Creek about four miles south of Blairsville. Another operated by the Summerour brothers was at Gold Mine Knob south of Owltown Gap. The miners referred to this location as “Hooter Gap” because of the prevalence of owls whose loud hoots punctuated the nighttime stillness.

Frank Summerour (1876-1940) was proficient as a machinist and builder. He operated a grist mill and sawmill on Coosa Creek. In the early 1930’s he set up a generator system that supplied electricity from water power for his family’s residence. The sawmill provided the lumber needed for shoring up the mines and building the mining camps where men boarded.

The stamp mill Frank Summerour operated at Coosa Creek separated the gold from the ore. Loads of ore were hauled by mule teams from the various placer mines in Coosa, Wellborn Mountain and other outlying mines.

Mining settlements sprang up. A man named Herschel Summerlin built mining camps at Coosa Creek and at Owltown about 1912. The mining settlement had a saloon operated by a woman known as “Ma” Mulkey. She demanded that payment for the spirits purchased be made in gold.

Frank Summerour’s expertise as a machinist helped him to fashion the first steam engine in the county. The steam shovel operated by this engine was used in mining operations.

Mr. Summerour sold the stamp mill in November, 1926 to Mr. J. C. McGeehee. Following his tenure at the Union County gold mines, Mr. Summerour mined at Auraria in Lumpkin County. There in seven days at the Battle Branch Mine, his ore assayed at 22 pounds, 12 and 4/5 ounces.

A meticulous record-keeper and diarist, Mr. Summerour wrote copious notes of his work in gold mining, carpentry and engineering. The wealth of information from his pen was lost to posterity when rats found the papers stored in a shed, chewed them, and made beds of the scraps. Thus was lost some important primary source history of the fabulous era of Union County’s gold mining.

An afterword: In October, 1993, the area of Coosa Mines was opened to visitors. My husband Grover and I toured the site and saw one of the old mines and Coosa Creek where Mr. Summerour’s stamp mill operated. As with all important historical sites, I felt an affinity with the past and to the ingeniousness of an early Union County engineer whose daughter, Kathryn Summerour Batchelor, was a wonderful classmate of mine in the Class of 1947 at Union County High School. “More’s the pity” (to use an old mountain saying) that I did not know then how important her father was to the early industry of Union County.

[Sources: I am indebted to the following sources for information for this column: The Heritage of Union County, 1832-1994, pages 57 and 296; Mountain Relic, Spring, 1980, pages 38-40; and Sketches of Union County History, 1976, page 40.]

c2004 by Ethelene Dyer Jones; published May 27, 2004 in The Union Sentinel, Blairsville, GA. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.

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