The History of Gem Mining in Western North Carolina

Gem Mining in Franklin, NC, Fun things to do in the Smoky MountainsWhile visiting the North Carolina side of the Great Smoky Mountains, there are many great ways to enjoy nature while getting a little dose of local history. One fun and exciting way is to try your hand at gem mining!

Western North Carolina has a complex geologic history, resulting in rich deposits of beautiful gems and minerals that attract gem hunters, rock collectors, mineralogists and geologists alike. Thousands of people visit gem mines in Western North Carolina each year in the hopes of discovering their own unique treasures. Some truly incredible finds have been made over the years, including the 1070-carat Cherokee Chief Ruby and the world’s largest blue star sapphire. While there are mines throughout the area, the nearby town of Franklin, NC is known as the Gem Mining Capital of the World!

Sapphires and rubies are both variations of corundum. Second only to diamonds in hardness, corundum is used as an industrial abrasive. Commercial mining of corundum began in and around Franklin in 1870 and was an important industry for many years. Tiffany’s showed an interest in the area in the 1890’s but because a steady, consistent source of corundum could not be found, they did not set up operation. Commercial mining continued until synthetic corundum became a cheaper solution for industrial needs. The mines were abandoned and forgotten until locals and tourists became interested in them for mining their own rubies and sapphires!

We tend to think of sapphires as blue, but they can be green, pink, yellow and other colors. All colors of corundum are called sapphire except one: red corundum is always a ruby. Other precious stones commonly found in our area include garnet, amethyst, amazonite, beryl, jasper, moonstone, peridot, quartz, topaz, tourmaline, aquamarine and emerald. To learn more, visit the Franklin Gem & Mineral Museum, which offers free admission.

Your Bryson City or Cherokee vacation cabin rental from Yellow Rose Realty is only a short drive away from one of many gem mines in the area. Why not take some time to try your luck? Who knows, you may just have the next big find! Stay tuned for our next installment about how gem mining works. Happy hunting!

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