Every community in South Carolina seems to have something to be proud of, whether it’s tobacco in Florence, textiles in Greenville or historic monuments in Charleston.
In McCormick, it’s gold.
The tiny town had one of the most significant gold strikes in South Carolina during the 1800s. Today, McCormick is full of reminders.
The main highway through town is called Gold Street. Another road is named Mine Street. The town has an annual gold festival. A mural of a miner adorns one building. The local hardware store still sells gold panning equipment.
And the town of McCormick has a park, replete with old mining shafts, dedicated to the legacy of gold mining.
While contamination in the 1990s from a modern – and large – open pit mine did little to help the town’s reputation, folks remain proud of McCormick’s rich mining heritage.
“Nobody has any gold any more, but in the history of the town, it’s a big deal,” local bookshop clerk Mariska Young said, recounting how area prospector Billy Dorn first discovered gold near McCormick.
The story goes that Dorn, a prospector who spent 15 years looking for gold in the area, finally found the precious metal on a neighbor’s land just a few days before creditors were to foreclose on his own property. The neighbor, a member of the Hearst family, had given him approval to buy the land if he found any gold.
Dorn’s 1852 gold strike was so significant that it generated up to $9,000 per day, making the once-struggling prospector a rich man, according to the book “Carolina Rocks.” During the Civil War, Dorn was a major contributor to the Confederate Army. His discovery also led others to open gold mines in the area.
“If the gold mine had not been here, you would not have a town,” said Dave Gray, who manages McCormick’s Heritage Gold Mine Park.
Dorn later sold the mine to Cyrus McCormick, who had invented the reaper. Dorn is said to have buried a fortune in gold in the area, although that is a point of debate.
Today, a network of old mining shafts run beneath McCormick, a town of about 2,800 people. The shafts are at the spot where Billy Dorn bought land from the Hearst family at the time of his strike.
“People are very proud” of the town’s gold mining past, local historian Bob Edmonds said. “Some of the old families relate to the mines. Some of them worked in the mines, like my ancestors.”
Gray and Edmonds said gold mining isn’t completely in McCormick’s past. Gold flecks are still found in creeks, and part-time miners still search for the precious metal.
“There’s a club from the Graniteville-North Augusta area that comes up here looking,” Edmonds said. “They’ve even come to my farm searching. I don’t know what they found, but the fellows do that.”