Millions of tons of sand and gravel were deposited in the Midwest by the continental glaciers. Small amounts of placer gold from Canada are hidden in these deposits, especially in the terminal moraines and their outwash.
Gold in Ohio is not as rare as hens teeth or chicken lips. But for those willing to search, perhaps like a chicken looking for an elusive grain of corn, it can be found with determination and perseverance.
Native gold is not indigenous to Ohio. There are no gold bearing rock outcrops in the state, and no active gold mines, although a few non-commercial ventures have been attempted. The placer gold that can be found in Ohio today is glacial gold, carried southward by the continental glaciers thousands of years ago from what is now Canada.
Small gold flakes and grains can be panned and sluiced from glacial deposits in Ohio. These deposits have been searched in many of Ohios glaciated areas, and gold has been found in more than a dozen counties. However, one of the best, by Ohio standards, where small amounts of gold have been found is in Clermont County, just west of Cincinnati, where gold was discovered as early as 1868.
Moraines and Outwash
Perhaps as recently, geologically speaking, as only 12,000 years, great ice sheets up to one mile in thickness covered nearly half of the North American continent. As the ice moved southward, it dug up and eroded vast quantities of earth within its path. From the eastern half of North America, in what are today the Canadian provinces of Ontario and Quebec, the ice moved, eroding the igneous crystalline rocks of the Canadian Shield. This eroded material, varying in size from microscopic grains to giant 60-ton boulders or glacial erratics, crossed the non-existent American border on a long journey to some new location.
Eventually, near the end of the last Ice Age, the earths temperature began to warm and the ice began to melt. When this occurred, the rocky material that had been transported southward was left behind as glacial deposits called moraines, drumlins, eskers, till and other terms. Terminal moraines, those marking the southerly extent of the ice sheet, were scattered throughout the Great Lakes region and elsewhere as the ice melted. It is in these glacial deposits, especially the terminal moraines and the outwash from them, where glacial gold has been located. Most geologists think this glacial gold was carried southward from the Kirkland Lake-Porcupine gold producing region of southern Ontario. This region in Canada is still producing lode gold and other minerals from underground mines.
Two major terminal moraines occur in the state of Ohio. These represent two episodes of Pleistocene glaciation, the Wisconsinan and the Illinoian. These moraines arc slightly from the Tri-State region of Indiana, Kentucky and Ohio into north central Ohio, and then eastward into Pennsylvania. By definition, the continental glaciers did not proceed south of these moraines, so most of the counties in southern and southeastern Ohio remained unglaciated. In other words, treasure hunters with gold in their eyes in the state of Ohio should concentrate their efforts close to the terminal moraines, and in the streams that transport its sediments into the outwash.
At least that is what most have done during the past 130 years or so. Following the gold rush days in California in the last century and especially after the American Civil War, people began to search for gold in their own backyards. In Ohio, gold color was found in some streams, and a few sluicing operations were set up to process larger quantities of potential pay dirt. No profitable placer operations were established in Ohio, but the fact that some gold was found at all did create a mineralogical curiosity.
In 1873, Edward Orton, Sr., soon to be State Geologist of Ohio, was aware that the subject of gold in Ohio, including in Clermont County, should undergo additional study. The occurrence of gold in the bowlder clay (i.e. glacial till) and the gravels derived from it, is a matter of considerable theoretical interest, and seems never to have attracted the attention which it well deserves, he wrote.
According to the Spring 1985 edition of the Ohio Geology Newsletter, a quarterly publication of the Ohio Geological Survey, Clermont County experienced a series of gold panning, sluicing, and mining adventures up until 1933. Unfortunately, all of these undertakings failed economically. Two of the more notable sluicing operations occurred on the banks of the East Fork of the Little Miami River (located today at East Fork State Park), and along Brushy Fork, a tributary of Stonelick Creek about two miles north of Owensville, Ohio.
The Little Miami operation recovered only about $20 in gold from its sluice around 1870 before being destroyed by a flood. The Brushy Fork claim reportedly listed assayed gold gravel ranging from 10 cents to $3 per cubic yard in 1933 (at the pre-1934 price of about $20/troy ounce) but ultimately was non-commercial. Most of the small gold flakes found were sold as souvenirs. Several mine shafts were also put into the surrounding glacial till in Clermont County before and after the turn of the century, apparently as failed attempts to locate the mother lode of this glacial gold. Mistakenly, these wayward miners thought this gold was indigenous to the area.
But even in the 1860s and 1870s Ohio State geologists had realized the glacial origin of this gold. Most glacial gold occurs as small flakes, usually thin and flattened from its several hundred-mile-journey. These thin specimens show the malleable characteristic of gold, and perhaps also the weight of the ice which transported the southward.
One of the largest reported Ohio gold flakes found was about 1/2-inch in maximum diameter. However, most are much smaller, about one millimeter or less in diameter. Reportedly, a few small, rounded nuggets have also been collected but these seem to be the exception. The author has seen a couple of thin gold specimens from Clermont County at rock and mineral shows in Ohio, and the largest of these were just under a half-inch square.
Other Ohio counties with a proven track record of placer gold finds include Licking, Richland and Ross counties. The earliest recorded find in Ohio was made in Richland County in 1853 when some small gold flakes were found in the Clear Fork tributary of the Mohican River, north of Bellville, Ohio. This area has been worked on and off to the present day. In fact, it also produced the largest quantity of gold in Ohio to date. In June 1999 two men found a gold-quartz mass about the size of a football in the Clear Fork from Michigan. The mass, reportedly found with a metal detector, contained an estimated six troy oz. of gold, worth an estimated $8,000, from a collectors standpoint. The mass of quartz had a half-inch vein of gold running through it.
Admittedly Lady Luck plays the biggest part in finding glacial gold. Any gold present in the glacial sediments has probably been diluted and less concentrated after being mixed with millions of tons of glacial material. Sifting through large volumes of stream gravel or outwash would increase your chances as in any gold operation. Still, certain streams in Clermont County have yielded small recreational amount of gold and other minerals such as magnetite, garnet, pyrite, and native copper (probably from northern Michigan). More than 75 glacial diamonds, some which have been cut into gemstones larger than 10 carats, have also been located in midwestern streams. These glacial diamonds, however, would be even more difficult to locate than glacial gold.
Stonelick Creek is one of the best collecting locations in the county. Regional rock and mineral clubs, such as the Columbus Rock and Mineral Society, and a few other clubs in the Tri-State area of Ohio, Indiana and Kentucky, occasionally conduct field trips in the summer to the junction of Stonelick Creek and Brushy Fork and pan for gold in the public right-of-way of the stream. A couple of hours panning commonly is rewarded with a few specks of the magic mineral, gold.
Anyone can pan for gold in the streams around Cincinnati. To be sure, always check with local landowners to avoid trespassing charges! During past gold trips, people have used gold pans, small portable dredges and even metal detectors in an attempt to get a sample of elusive Ohio gold. Although Ohios streams will not yield the equivalent finds of gold realized in the gold streams of Alaska, California, or Colorado, those living in the Northeast and Midwest can prospect them for less mileage.
Sand & Gravel Gold
As stated earlier, millions of tons of glacial material were transported by the continental glaciers southward. Most of this material was sand and gravel, and it is this resource that is the true mineral treasure of the Pleistocene.
For example, in 1999, almost 60 million tons of sand and gravel were sold by Ohio operators, according to statistics from the Ohio Geological Survey. This had an estimated value of about $264 million, or an average price per ton of $4.42. About 60 of Ohios 88 counties have sand and gravel operations, and these are located in both the glaciated and unglaciated portions of the state. However, the largest operations are also located near the terminal moraine, where the most of the substantiated finds of placer gold have been reported. These big sand and gravel counties include Hamilton, Butler and Franklin counties.
On a national scale, sand and gravel, used for a variety of construction and road-building purposes, is an important basic raw material, as well as a good indicator of the economic well being of the nation. It is the only mineral resource produced in all 50 states. In 1998, more than 1.08 billion tons of construction-grade sand and gravel was produced by almost 6,000 operators in the United States, according the U.S. Geological Survey. This material had an estimated value of $375 billion (thats BILLION!). California was the biggest producer of sand and gravel, followed (in descending order) by Texas, Michigan, Ohio, Arizona, Utah, Washington, Colorado, Minnesota and Wisconsin. So four of the top ten states are in the Midwest and are yielding glacial sand and gravel today.
In areas where sand and gravel operations overlap gold-producing streams, there is a chance gold can be collected as a by-product of sand and gravel operations. Reportedly, some placer gold has been mined in this manner, especially in California and Alaska.
A September 1932 article in Rock Products magazine, entitled Gold as Sand and Gravel By-Product, detailed this approach. In California, state officials are encouraging operators of sand and gravel plants to look for gold in their plant wastes, it stated. In Fresno County, there are several sand and gravel operators recovering gold either experimentally or in a commercial way. In other parts of the state, operators are sampling wastes and studying methods to see if they can add a few cents in gold to the value of each ton of salable aggregates.
The report said that a sluice, flume or some other type of gold collecting device can be installed at the sand and gravel plant to test for gold-bearing sand deposits. In most commercial placer gold operations, large quantities of sand and gravel have to be worked. An existing sand and gravel plant already has the equipment in place to excavate large quantities of sand, so it would be a logical place to establish a placer gold mine, if the gold occurred in economic amounts to justify such an expenditure of time and money.
The by-product gold possibilities of commercial sand and gravel operations are by no means confined to California, the article continued. Washington, Oregon, Colorado, Montana, Idaho, Utah, Nevada, Wyoming, South Dakota, Arizona and New Mexico all have had placer mining industries in the past. Within recent years, placers have been worked in Georgia and North and South Carolina. Even the Middle Western states and the New England states have records of glacial deposits that yielded enough gold to pay for small-scale workings. So it would seem wise for the sand and gravel operator in almost any part of the United States to take the little trouble that is required to sample his plant wastes and test them for gold.
This Rock Products article was written during the Depression, when gold was still selling for about $20 per troy oz. With gold selling closer to $300/oz., it still seems like a good idea to at least test your sand for gold if you are a sand and gravel operator.
During 1980, when gold was flirting with its highest prices ever, near $800/oz., at least one Ohio sand and gravel operator tested his plants product for placer gold. Reportedly, small amounts of gold will accumulate in dewatering equipment. But no efficient method of gold recovery could be used to exploit Ohios low-grade gold deposits, without disturbing the primary function of sand and gravel production, so the mining of gold was not pursued.
Most modern gold prospectors in the Midwest do so for only recreational purposes. However, the thrill of finding a small flake of gold even in Ohio can inflate the gold fever bug that has influenced so many people throughout history.
Gold in Clermont County, Ohio
The treasure: Placer gold in local stream deposits. Gold valued from about $1 to more than $50/cubic yard of sand have been worked, at gold rates of about $270/oz. Small gold nuggets up to one troy oz. or larger are also possible. In June 1999 a gold-quartz mass about the size of a football containing about 6 troy oz. of gold was found in Ohio.
How to find it: Two of the more notable gold panning sites in Ohio are in Clermont County. They are on the banks of the East Fork of the Little Miami River (located today at East Fork State Park), and along Brushy Fork, a tributary of Stonelick Creek about two miles north of Owensville, Ohio. Always get permission from landowners before trespassing on private property.
Ohio Geology Newsletter, Spring 1985. Gold in Ohio. Published by the Ohio Geological Survey. Editor: Michael C. Hansen.
Ohio Geological Survey, 1999 Report on Ohio Mineral Industries. Editor: Mark Wolfe.
Orton, Edward, Ohio Geological Survey, 1873. Geology of Clermont County. Vol. 1, Part 1. page 441.
Shaw, Edmund, Rock Products, September 10, 1932. Gold as Sand and Gravel By-Product.
U.S. Geological Survey. Mineral Resources Reports. Sand and Gravel, Construction, 1998.