Historic Sites in Halifax County, Virginia
Gold & Copper Mines
of Red Bank District
Written by Jordan Sizemore
Most of the following information is from the book "Along the Border" by the Rev. Harry R. Mathis, published in 1964.
Just prior to the Civil War, in 1852 or 1853, copper was discovered in the area. The Gillis mine was opened and was one of the earliest worked copper deposits in the United States. The pioneer mines began to come. The aspect of the community changed from that of farming to mining, and rocky pastures brought fabulous prices as mineral rights. Little mining was done during the Civil War period; however, after the war, development of the mines was well underway.
On May 13, 1901, W. H. Pannebaker wrote to the Editor Manufactures Record of Baltimore, Maryland: "The copper industry in this section has taken on new life with the opening of the season and all the operators are busy. Some of as fine ore as can be found anywhere has been taken out lately and active work in all directions is being pushed with vigor. As yet, however, this district is hardly out of the prospecting stage and it is generally believed that as good or better mines will be discovered than the ones now being worked."
The development of High Hill mine began in 1899. It is located nine miles north of Virgilina. The development was brought about largely through the efforts of Judge A. W. Graham of Oxford and W. T. Harris of Virgilina who interested Boston, Mass. capitalists in the property. In 1917 this mine was owned by the Virginia Copper Co., Ltd. This company was organized under the laws of Great Britain, but maintained during the operation of the mine, an office in New York City. The mine closed about 1907, due to failure to find a profitable way to treat and concentrate the ores. It has not been reopened. The High Hill vein is one of the strongest in the Virgilina district. The ore removed amounted to 10,114 tons with an average of 3 percent copper with corresponding silver values.
Red Bank Mine is located four and one-half miles northeast of Virgilina. It was the only gold mine in operation at the time of the survey in 1912. It is also the only gold mine developed to any extent, in this region. The veins were discovered and active development was begun in 1903 by H. C. Crowell. W. T. Harris became associated with Crowell. In 1905 this mine was sold to the Virgilina Mining Company, with headquarters in Buffalo, New York. Up to 1912 it was reported that the mine had produced a total of $22,000 worth of gold. In the early 1940's gold was produced in commercial quantity from the Red Bank mine, along with a small quantity of copper.
In 1955 a Canadian mining company, one of the largest in the world, came into the area with geologists and engineers. They had acquired mineral rights to some 7,000 acres of land. They mapped the area, probed into the long abandoned mine shafts, poked into the rocks and rubble and drilled for the ore deposits. After some time they left.
Edwin L. Daniel, in his "Story of Virgilina," makes this statement: The fate of these mines is a mystery which it is in the power to some to clear up - for some reason people are reluctant do so. The government reports that there is still plenty of ore available. Some say the operation costs are prohibitive, but since a good road is a fairly inexpensive proposition in these days, and the railroad is convenient, it is hard to see why the Virgilina mines should go out of business for this reason while other mines (California, 1849, the Yukon in the 1890's) should prosper under far worse conditions. Some say that a monopoly wants the whole group of mines - some say there's no more ore left. Whatever the reason for the shutdown, it left Virgilina a small village, after the promise of a large and bustling mine town.
Jack Rollins, a native of the Eastern Tennessee mountain region, came to Virgilina with the copper and gold boom of the early 1900's and when the mines closed up "Captain" Jack stayed on because he liked the country and somehow never gave up hope of another strike. His High Hill farm is pockmarked with mine pits. It is said that he probably has more non-professional knowledge of the rock strata and geological make-up of the mining district south of the Dan than any other man alive. He is a close friend, neighbor and confidante of Congressman William M. Tuck and the two men enjoy each other's company immensely. Mr. Rollins has a hobby of making banjoes, canes and other things of beauty and utility out of wood.
He has been called the "self-styled hermit of High Hill."
My father's store at Midway was only two miles from The High Hill Mine. I well remember taking my three young sons to visit Captain Jack Rollins. On one of the visits he was not at home so we ventured on our own to view the open shafts. I became very tense and nervous when they kept getting closer to the edge throwing rocks down into the mine pit.
It's hard to believe there were twenty-two mines in Red Bank District. I recall renting a home to a mining engineer in 1940. He reported to the federal government that ore was available and that productivity should be profitable. World War II intervened and mining ceased.
I remember a visit I made to Bill Tuck's Bucksboal Cabin with my son, Macon. We shot mistletoe from the trees and divided our treasure with Bill and Captain Jack. We told them a few ladies would certainly be coming during the Christmas holidays!
One night Bill and Jack had quite a party. The next morning when Bill saw Jack, he asked how he felt. Jack replied, "Terrible. There must be lots of people in the cemetery who feel better than I do."
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The transcription and the updated photos are the work of Dan Shaw. In some cases modifications to the original text have been made to improve the flow of the story, correct typos, and insert new or clarifying information. Additional facts or further corrections are welcome. This author takes no credit for the original publications and its research. These local historians should be honored for the their endless hours of efforts to document this county's history for posterity.