Volume 16, Number 2
Almost every time I say something about the gold rush near Wake Forest, most people think I am joking. Well, it is true that the North Carolina gold rush began well to the west of this area around Charlotte – from 1804 to 1828 all domestic gold coined by the United States Mint came from North Carolina – but the gold rush moved to Franklin and Nash counties in 1838.
A man called Isaac Portis farmed near two roads up in the northeast corner of Franklin County in that year, and he offered beds and breakfast to travelers. One of those was outside early in the morning, contemplating either the freshly-plowed field or the mud chinking for the cabin, depending on the version, and saw gold. Portis, no fool, sent samples off to Richmond and Raleigh and got confirmation.
The area around the farm in the Ransome Bridge area (near the present-day village of Wood) soon became as wild and brawling as any frontier. There were gunfights and shoot-outs. The most famous, at least in legend, happened one Saturday night in a saloon, leaving 14 men dead. The story is probably remembered because each one came from a different state and they were buried in the shape of the Union.
Mining camps sprang up on the Portis property, and Isaac Portis charged each prospector a portion of his find. He also hired others to work his placer mines. He fiercely defended his property with a large pistol, and he was a wealthy man by the time the Civil War put an end to the mining.
With the Portis find, others began looking for gold and they found it in Nash, Halifax and Warren counties, where most of the mining was underground.
After the war, Union Colonel William Sturges purchased the Portis property and operated the mine successfully until his death in 1894. One of his sons, Phil, continued to operate the mine until he sold it in 1935 to the Norlina Company out of Lansing, Michigan. That company brought in a lot of heavy equipment but never was able to find the mother lode. The company abandoned the attempt in 1936.
According to Franklin County historian T.E. Pearce, there was a final attempt to mine the Portis gold. “In February of 1938 a gold extracting plant was set up in the J.S. Howell building on South Main Street in Louisburg. R.W. Stoddard, described as an expert mining engineer, in connection with the state geologist, Dr. Herman J. Bryson, who installed the plant, said that they were satisfied there was a lot of gold in the county and preliminary tests run on clay brought from the Portis mine property showed an assay value of $15 per ton. They did find gold but it was reported that it cost them $3 to extract $2 worth of gold so the gold extracting plant soon closed its doors.”
At one time Franklin County remembered its gold heritage with the name Gold Sand given to both a township and a school, but the school is closed and the township renamed. Now the only noise around Wood is the sigh of the wind through the pines.