Finding Gold in New England

A version of this article was published at Helium on January 8, 2011.

Planning a summer vacation?  Prospecting for gold in New England is fun, and you might even come home with a little gold dust!

Gold in quartz.  (Mike Beauregard)
Gold in quartz. Mike Beauregard

The East Coast Gold Rush

Most people think of California and Alaska when it comes to US gold prospecting, but the east coast has also experienced geologic processes that produce hot fluids that collect and concentrate gold and other minerals.

The key difference is that in the Northeast these fluids left behind ore-bearing quartz veins rather than big concentrations of ore.

Gold fever inspired some of the first European colonists to seek their fortunes here. Captain John Smith complained about it, saying that among colonists “[t]here was no talke, no hope, nor worke, but dig gold, wash gold, refine gold, load gold.”

The first big strikes were in the southeast, but New England got into it when a 6.5-ounce nugget was found in Vermont’s West River in 1826.  Gold deposits were found elsewhere, too.  Lyman, Maine, had a minor rush in 1864, and several mines opened in the Bath area. Even Maine’s beach sands became known for their gold deposits. Some small mines operated profitably in the western White Mountains of New Hampshire, and a few finds happened in Massachusetts (Dedham, 1863) and Connecticut.

A few people got rich, but the Northeast’s gold boom was pretty much over by the end of the 19th century.  However, people have continued to find small amounts of gold here ever since.

Where to Find Gold

Former boom areas can be productive, including Coos Canyon, along the Swift River in Maine, and the Wild Ammonoosuc River near Bath, New Hampshire. You can rent panning equipment from local entrepreneurs and possibly even free lessons.

He did not check with the local pro.  (Library of Congress)
This man did not check with the local pro. Library of Congress

As with any vacation, things will work out best if you check with local experts before you start. State geologist offices and mineral collecting groups in the area you plan to visit can tell you about sites that are open to the public as well as give you advice on techniques and equipment.

Your local library may be of service, too, especially if they can get you a book like John Hiller’s New England Placer Gold (1992).   They may also carry local newspapers and area magazines that have articles on gold prospecting.

Of course, you can also search newspapers online.  In fact, if you want to take things up a notch, Mindat is an excellent online resource for those with some knowledge of geology.   For example, here is what a search for gold in Connecticut localities returned (click image to see full size):

Mindat search

What to Expect

Will you get rich?

In a word, no. Deposits are widely scattered and generally found in streams and alluvial deposits rather than profitable lodes.

Will you have fun?

Hmm:  Is driving up into the New England hills on a hot, sunny summer day to wade through streams and brooks, socialize with the locals and with other vacationers, and maybe even find a little golden flake in your panning bowl fun?

Oh, yes!

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