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Home North Carolina Mitchell County City of Spruce Pine Historical Markers Spruce Pine Mining District

Spruce Pine Mining District

NC-226 at Blue Ridge Parkway, Spruce Pine, NC, USA
  North Carolina State Historical Marker
    North Carolina State
Historical Marker
    Marker Text:
"Mica, feldspar, quartz deposits found in region 25 mi. long, 10 mi. wide. Commercial production of mica emerged 1850s."
     Geological activity in and around Spruce Pine created pegmatite, made primarily of coarse granite created when lava cooled very slowly creating large crystals. Within the area can be found fifty-seven minerals first mined by Native American including mica, feldspar, quartz, emeralds, and aquamarine. The region known as the Spruce Pine Mining District is twenty-five miles long and ten miles wide and occupies portions of Mitchell, Avery and Yancey counties.

     The commercial potential of the mines in the Spruce Pine district began to emerge after the bloom was off the nineteenth century Piedmont gold rush. By far the most profitable and prolific of the early mining industries was that supported by the vast deposits of mica. Early uses of mica were few but, beginning in the 1850’s, investors researched uses for the mineral given its abundance and invested in efforts to dig mines, develop processing equipment, and market the mineral. During Reconstruction, General Benjamin F. Butler had an agent, John F. Alexander, working in western North Carolina to secure mica mines. A mica boom began in 1878 when it was used as an insulator in the production of Thomas Edison’s electric motor.

     By the 1890’s Spruce Pine was a national center of mica mining activity. Descendants of the early operations are still in business in Spruce Pine, generating mica products for the space industry and other uses. The high quality mica, used as an insulator for radio tubes, was one of the strategic minerals during World War II. Another of Spruce Pine’s primary products is feldspar, useful in the ceramics industry. By 1917, North Carolina was the leading producer of feldspar—a distinction it still claimed in 2004.

     Nearly 40% of the United States’ production of feldspar comes from the Spruce Pine district for use in bathroom fixtures, ceramic tile, paint, glass, dinnerware, fiberglass insulation and artworks. Another area commodity is quartz. Spruce Pine mines have provided the crystal for use in telescopes, including the Hale Telescope in California, and the computer industry, most particularly providing all of the quartz used in the creation of computer chips throughout the world. Gem-quality stones are also found in Spruce Pine vicinity, most notably aquamarine and emerald.

Lowell Presnell, Mines, Miners and Minerals of Western North Carolina’s Mountain Empire (1998)
James A. Padgett, “Reconstruction Letters from North Carolina, Part X, Letters to Benjamin F. Butler,” North Carolina Historical Review (April 1943): 157-180
Nathan Hall, “Mining Here Affects the World,” Mitchell News Journal, August 25, 2004
Mary K. Anglin, Women, Power, and Dissent in the Hills of Carolina (2002)
Alex Glover, “Spruce Pine Mining District”: