Bechtler Mint Site Historic Park
Carolina Gold Rush
Mulberry Sellers and Matthew Stephenson were right. There really is “gold in them thar hills”. In 1799 the son of a farmer found a yellow rock in the Little Meadow Creek in Cabarrus County, North Carolina. He had no idea what his discovery would lead to. That gold nugget ignited the first gold rush in United States history.
Fortune seekers from all over the country converged on the sparsely populated communities in the Piedmont of North Carolina. Among them was William Thornton the designer of the United States Capitol building, who founded the North Carolina Gold Mine Company and recruited investors from among his wealthy and influential friends.
In the early days, these treasure hunters were only finding surface deposits, but in 1825 Matthias Barringer discovered that gold could be found underground in veins of white quartz. That discovery brought even more people and gold fever spread west towards the Appalachian Mountains. Boom towns rose up to support the 25,000 strong work force. Until 1829, North Carolina was the only state producing gold in the US.
Gold Rich but Cash Poor
The residents of Western North Carolina were becoming rich with gold, but actual US currency was hard to come by. Banks would issue their own currency backed up by gold or silver, but most people didn’t trust these “bank notes”. As these notes were just an IOU of sorts allowing the holder to trade them in on a certain weight of gold, if the bank reneged or worse yet went out of business, the paper currency would be worthless.
In this atmosphere, gold dust and nuggets became the currency of the area. Merchants used scales to weigh out the gold people used to pay for goods and services. Some miners would even resort to making the long and dangerous journey to the Philadelphia Mint to exchange their gold for currency. It was in this atmosphere that Christopher Bechtler stepped in and made his fortune.
Christopher Bechtler was born in Margraviate of Baden in present day Germany in 1782, and learned the art of watch and jewelry. In 1829 he and his family immigrated to the United States and opened a watchmaking business in Philadelphia. But the stories of gold soon brought him south to Rutherfordton, North Carolina.
Setting up shop as jeweler and watchmaker, Bechtler saw the need for standardized currency. Realizing that while the US Constitution prohibited states form minting their own coins, private individuals were not restricted. Bechtler harnessed all his skills as a jeweler and began minting gold coins.
Originally minting $2.50 and $5.00 coins, and in 1832, he minted the very first $1.00 coin in the US. It would take the US mint another 17 years to catch up.
Thanks to his commitment to quality and honest dealings he quickly became a wealthy man. His coins were widely regarded as having an honest weight and helped stabilize the areas economy. Between the years of 1831 and 1841 he minted over a million coins for a total worth of $2.24 million.
Bechtler Mint Today
Although the original mint is long gone, Rutherford County maintains a historic park on the site of what may have been Christopher Bechtler’s gold mine. The park is small, but has a picnic shelter and signage that gives you some history of the mint, the mine, and the NC Gold Rush.
If you travel back to Rutherfordton, you can visit the Bechtler Home Museum with even more information and artifacts from that era of North Carolina history. The museum is unfortunately only open on Saturdays.
This is a small park, but if you’re in area, it’s probably worth a stop. Especially if you’re planning on visiting the museum in town as well. I wouldn’t suggest making a special trip just for this, though.
Fast Facts About Bechtler Mint Site Historic Park
|Type:||Historical Site – County Park|
|Location:||342 Gilboa Church Rd, Rutherfordton, NC 28139|
Things to do: Picnicking, Learn about History