New Private Collection: The Leopold Graf Family Gold Mining and Land Business Papers, 1880-1909

[This blog post was written by Fran Tracy-Walls, Private Manuscripts Archivist in the Special Collections Section.]

Announcing a new Private Collection available for research: The Leopold Graf Family Gold Mining and Land Business Papers, 1880-1909. PC.2115. Gift of descendant, Germaine Beard Whitaker, Salisbury, N.C., 2015

Map of the Great Atlas Mines, part of PC.2115

Map of the Great Atlas Mines, part of PC.2115.

Periodically throughout the 19th century, gold fever hit native North Carolinians along with immigrants who chose not to strike out for California. The excitement also attracted investors from the American northeast and from Europe. This phenomenon is evident in the papers of the Graf family, natives of Baden, a state in southwestern Germany. They had found initial success in Newark, N.J. as shoe and boot makers, and leather-work proved profitable for them before and after the Civil War. Yet Leopold Graf (ca. 1839-1907) probably dreamed of much grander profits when he gained title in 1881 to 1,300 acres in the Gold Mining District of Rowan County!

The Graf collection does not hold any clues as to the genesis of Leopold Graf’s interest in North Carolina gold, still one can surmise a possible source of such interest. A bicentennial history published in 1999 by the N.C. Division of Archives and History, Gold Mining in North Carolina (Richard Knapp and Brent Glass), describes visits to the state by northern capitalists and the influence of widely circulated reports in journals and advertisements. These proclaimed the ongoing availability of gold in the region, particularly the Gold Hill District, and the existence of several minerals that could be mined inexpensively in one’s spare time. Additionally, they often cited the advantages of cheap labor, now that slavery had been abolished, and touted the value of the state’s abundant timber and water resources.

Even though the Great Atlas Mines did not fulfill the promise the name suggests (and did not receive a mention in the Gold Mining history), at least part of the family established a permanent home in North Carolina. Noteworthy for North Carolina genealogy and family history, younger son, Albert Herman Graf, settled permanently in nearby Salisbury. By the time of the 1910 U.S. Federal Census, Albert was head of a lumber manufacturing business, and his descendants have been in the area and state for well over one hundred years to date.

Of particular interest in the collection is a letter written by renowned German mechanical engineer, Carl Adolf Thies, written August 25, 1891, (at that time he was Supt. Gen. Manager, Haile Goldmining Co., Lancaster Co. [Kershaw], S.C.) to Charles Taylor, U.S. Assay Office, New York. Thies (1832-1917) had perfected a relatively inexpensive chlorination process of extracting gold from less valuable ores/minerals, and was invited to demonstrate the procedure at the World’s Columbian Exposition, 1893. He refers to a visit of Stuart W. Cramer (in charge of the U.S. Assayer Office, Charlotte) to the Gold Hill District. The letter ends with Thies saying that he has “often wondered why Charlotte has not been selected as a place to erect [?] Chlorination [works]…a work of this kind would stimulate mining & would pay much.” (Thies and his family settled in Charlotte by the late 1890s, and their home is on the National Register of Historic Places.).

A full finding aid is available in the Search Room, and an online finding aid is planned at a future date. An abstract is as follows:

Leopold Graf (ca. 1839-1909) was born in Baden (a southwestern German state) to Wendelin and Brigada Grief (Graf) and immigrated to the United States with his family probably during the 1850s. He and his father were shoemakers in business in Newark, Essex, New Jersey. Before or by the early 1880s Graf had developed a business interest in silver and gold and he began acquiring land in a noted gold mining region of North Carolina, Rowan County.

Papers include maps and surveys, such as the Great Atlas Mines, 1,300 acres, 1881; certified copy of certificate of organization and business prospectus of the Beam Gold Mining Lumber and Manufacturing Company, 1893; deeds, bullion receipts, company prospectus; letter of 1891 by renowned German mechanical engineer, Carl Adolf Thies; and miscellaneous papers related to land and to gold mines and mining.

Extent: 1 box; two oversize map folders.

Other gold mining related collections in Private Collections, and the Account Books subset, State Archives of North Carolina:

  • Argo Mining Co. Account Book, AB.538.
  • Gold Hill Copper Company. AB.442; MfP. 104
  • Gold Hill Mining Company Papers.MfP.104.
  • Mann-Arrington Gold Mining Company Account Books, AB.537.1-4
  • Mecklenburg Iron Works Records, MfP.235.1-10

Sources include:

United States Federal Census, 1860, 1880, 1900, 1910. Richard F. Knapp and Brent D. Glass, Gold Mining in North Carolina: A Bicentennial History (Raleigh: Division of Archives and History, NC DCR, 1999) [See especially, Chapter 4, “The Gold Hill Mining District, 1865-1915;” and Chapter 5, “Other Mining Activity, 1915-1999.”