Gold in those hills of Warwick, Johnston and RI
Ralph Waldo Emerson once said, “The desire of gold is not for the gold – it is the means of freedom and benefit.” Approximately 300,000 people went searching for freedom and benefit in the hills of California in 1849. About fifty years later, another 100,000 hopefuls trudged toward the Yukon gold rush. Undoubtedly, those who stayed behind saw the insanity of going against all odds, and very few prospectors returned with more than what they’d left with. Just the idea of gold, however, was enough to make those desperate for freedom and benefit rich with blind hope – especially if one didn’t have to travel far.
One of the earliest gold mines known to exist in the state of Rhode Island was the Durfee Mine, deep inside a hill within a wooded area on the southeast side of Ponaganset Reservoir in Gloucester. According to legend, a man by the name of Walton first discovered gold at that location in the 1700s. During the next century, two mining companies carried out excavations there on the hill, which stood about 805 feet above sea level. Both gold and molybdenum were unearthed. According to a geological survey, the hilltop was the highest point in all of Rhode Island.
Several men had been employed to dig out a 70-foot shaft at the Durfee site, which was reached through a hole in the ground 10 to 12 feet wide. When the riches proved to be less than plentiful, the first company bowed out. The other, the Ponaganset Mining and Smelting Company, refused to believe that a major discovery wasn’t in its future. Employing six men, they extended the main shaft to reach 185 feet. Near the shaft’s bottom, they found a vein of solid quartz about 14 feet thick. Gold was clearly inside and the company was successful in removing what little there was along with some copper, lead, silver, iron, hornblende crystals and green orthoclase feldspar.
The belief that massive riches remained inside this hill was so strong that men from as far away as Canada caught wind of it and came to RI to be a part of it. Around 1900, the mission ended when it became obvious that the hill didn’t hold a promise of wealth. The old shaft was eventually filled in and the miners found other jobs.
Additional RI gold mines included the Grey Wolf Gold Mine, located on the farm of Gideon Brown and the Snake Den Gold Mine, both in Johnston; the Homestrike Gold Mine in Foster; an unnamed mine in Foster located a little over three miles from Homestrike; the Bald Hill Gold Mine at the foot of the hill in Warwick; Slocumville Gold Mine in North Kingstown; and an unnamed mine in the Riverpoint section of West Warwick which two police officers discovered in 1896.
The Slocumville Mine was discovered after someone found gold on the property of William A. Mott in 1882. Numerous people began traveling to the location which Mott supervised until he disposed of his farm two years later. Willard Durfee of Arctic was happy to take over what he hoped would be the beginnings of a big payout.
During this time, many prospecting companies used cyanide to leech the gold from the ore at their mines. The Snake Den Mine was one of those which employed this process in its endeavors. By 1897, the Ponaganset Mine was the only one being actively worked in Rhode Island until Homestrike was discovered and began bringing in heavy equipment in their quest for getting out the gold. The turn of the century and the years that followed found several local men still trying to earn money off the few mines that existed. Edward Freeman, an Irishman of Providence, owned one of the mines. Another was owned by 23-year-old William Pratt of Providence. Local miners included Charles E. Greene, 38, of Providence; Francis Hines, 39, of Cumberland; Charles Feeney, 38, of Providence; Henry Vieth, 62, of Barrington; Sam Turton, 70, of North Smithfield; and Alfred Dubois, 39, of Woonsocket. Daniel Keating, 69, of Providence was employed as a mine engineer and Shuyler S. Moore, 70, of Providence was employed as a gold mine secretary.
Around 1946, a local man attempted to locate the old mines and see what he could find. A scoop of mud he brought home from the old Snake Den Mine actually contained a few flakes of gold. The Homestrike and Durfee mines netted him nothing more than copper and iron pyrites. It’s likely that the gold of RI was claimed long ago. At the same time, it’s possible the mother lode hasn’t even been discovered…yet.
Kelly Sullivan is a Rhode Island columnist, lecturer and author.
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