A touch of gold, diamonds, and ruby….
Known for the original gold rush, North Carolina also has one of the largest varieties of mineral species in the United States.
From clays to gemstones to valuable ores, more than 300 mineral species exist within the state’s boundaries.
The Colburn Earth and Science Museum has an amazing collection of gem stones and minerals for everyone to enjoy: emerald, sapphire, ruby, topaz, hiddenite, kyanite and much more.
Admission is $6 adults, $5 seniors, students, and children over 5 years of age.
The museum is open Tuesday – Saturday 10AM – 5PM, and Sunday 1 – 5PM.
Hiddenite discovery and early mining
In 1879 Thomas Edison sends William Hidden, a New York engraver and rockhound enthusiast, to look for potential sources of platinum to be used in his new photograph invention.
Hidden meets businessmen and fellow rockhound John Stephenson from Statesville, NC which shows him some unusual rock specimens found on a farm in present day Alexander county.
Hidden hired a mining crew and soon discovered numerous specimens of emerald and other unidentifiable green stones. It was later determined that the mineral was a new variety of spodumene and was named “Hiddenite” in honor of the discoverer.
George Kuntz, a good friend of Hidden and a jeweler for Tiffany’s recognized the value and beauty of the newly discovered minerals. Kuntz created a domestic market not only for hiddenites but also for the emerald coming from the North Carolina mine.
Second phase of hiddenite mining
“I wanted something to keep me out of mischief and it occurred to me that the collecting of minerals will be just the right hobby to take up.” Burnham Standish Colburn, 1953
Burnham Colburn retired to Asheville because of its proximity to North Carolina’s mineral fields. One of the first residents of Biltmore Forest and he had a museum in his home to house his minerals collection.
Colburn sought out Col. Joseph Hyde Pratt, the State Geologist for North Carolina, who told him that hiddenite will be the most interesting mineral to collect. Colburn obtained the mining lease to the land and reopened the mine in 1926. He found quite a few good specimens, yet not enough to make a real profit.
After two years, Colburn released the lease and donated his best specimens to the Smithsonian Institution in D.C., the University of South Carolina and the British Museum in London. After his death the family donated the rest of his collection to the Southern Appalachian Mineral Society for public display, thus the precursor to the current museum was started.
Emerald – The State Gemstone
Emerald deposits are rare in the United States, and the best are in North Carolina. The largest single crystal emerald ever found in North America is from the Rist Mine in NC. Named the Stephenson Emerald, this crystal weighs 1,438 carats and is valued at over $50,000. Discovered in 2003 by Jamie Hill it is now displayed at the Natural Science Museum in Houston.
The Star of the Carolina
The ultimate value of a natural star sapphire depends on the quality of the cut, color, clarity and definition.
The Star of the Carolina displays a six ray asterism that enhances its value and exclusivity. The uncut stone weighted one and half pounds, or about 2,847 carats.
Discovered in 1987 at the Old Pressley Mine in Canton, NC, The Star of the Carolina achieved the final finish of 1,445 carats in the hands of master gem cutter John Robinson of Dallas, TX.
The star appeared in the Guinness Book of Records as the world’s largest star sapphire, but lost it to another stone from the same location.
Spodumene was first discovered in 1906 in Kings Mountain,NC yet it didn’t gain economic significance until 1942. Spodumene is the main source of lithium ore, a very light metal used in many industries from aeronatutics to cars to electronics. A small area in Cleveland and Gaston counties contain 80% of the known lithium reserves in the United States and is the country’s largest producer.
Granite - The 1 mile long Mt. Airy Quarry in Surry County is the largest granite quarry in the world. Mining operations began in 1889, and ever since granite from the mine has been shipped all over the world. This high quality granite can be cut in large blocks and used in many construction projects like the Wright Brothers Memorial at Kitty Hawk and the gold depostory at Fort Knox.
Discover the beautiful gemstones of North Carolina at the Colburn Earth and Science Museum in Asheville!
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