Mountain Gateway Exhibit Showcases North Carolina’s Awakening

OLD FORT

During the early 1800s, North Carolina was considered a sleepy, backward state with a sluggish economy and little interest in change. It became known as the “Rip Van Winkle State.” Mountain Gateway Museum & Heritage Center (MGM) will open a new exhibit Saturday, March 27 about the state’s transformation and the culture of mining in western North Carolina.

“Waking Rip Van Winkle: Gold, Mineral, and Gem Mining in Western North Carolina” examines various types of mining in the mountain region—from gold used for currency to precious stones set into jewelry—and considers how this industry helped awaken the state from its 19th-century economic slumber.

Rumbles of change began in 1799, when gold was discovered in Cabarrus County. Two decades later, the Carolina Gold Rush was in full swing, generating interest in other mineral resources.

The mining boom spurred improvements in Tar Heel industry, commerce and infrastructure during the mid-1800s. It also stimulated progress in mining technology and prompted population movements.

By the 1850s, mining in its various forms had helped North Carolina shake off its negative nickname.

“Waking Rip Van Winkle” will look at the North Carolina Gold Rush and feature mineral samples, such as spodumene, olivine, and mica. It will examine the methods of gem and mineral mining in the state between 1799 and 1900 and consider mining’s legacy in Western North Carolina, as well as its impact on both the environment and the economy.

To learn more about western North Carolina’s mining history, be sure to visit “Waking Rip Van Winkle.” The exhibit will run through Jan. 3, 2022. MGM is located at 24 Water St. in Old Fort. Admission is free and COVID-19 protocols on masks and social distance apply.

Mountain Gateway Museum is open year-round but is now operating on reduced hours because of restrictions to help prevent the spread of COVID-19. Current hours are from 10 a.m.-3 p.m. Tuesday-Saturday, closed Sunday and Monday.

For more information about the exhibit, please contact Jesse Bricker at 828-668-9259 or jesse.bricker@ncdcr.gov.

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