Charlotte is a gold mine of financial history.
Wells Fargo opened the latest repository of the region's sparkling past on Saturday, a museum on South Tryon Street that traces the bank's roots from the Old West to the modern days.
Charlotte's place in the world of money is intertwined among the exhibits.
Our role started when a molten thread of quartz laced with gold shot through the planet's mantle like Silly String and landed hereabouts. Then, 300 million years later, give or take a week, little Conrad Reed was out fishing near the family's Cabarrus homestead in 1799 when he came across a sparkly yellow rock, a piece of that ancient quartz vein. It served as a doorstop in his house for three years until his father sold the 17-pound stone to a jeweler for $3.50.
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Conrad's rock was soon fluxed into a gold bar, then worth $3,600, and the nation's first gold rush was on.
Mining towns sprung up across the region, rough-and-tumble camps like Gold Hill south of Salisbury, which counted 15 shafts and 27 saloons.
Uncharted shafts would still be found in uptown Charlotte in the boom days of the late 20th century as foundations were dug for skyscrapers. Rudisill Mine, near Bank of America Stadium, was the city's last mine to close, in 1938.
Here are five museums in the region that have notable collections of our history with gold, banking and money.
New: Wells Fargo History Museum
Charlotte's newest historical hot spot tells the story of Wells Fargo from its founding in 1852.
Specimens of gold - nuggets and dust - are part of the attraction. One hands-on exhibit lets you loft various material weights - copper, silver, lead and gold - to get an idea of the heft.
Historic coins and currency get a cabinet of their own. Among the old bills is a $20 national currency note issued in 1929 by the Union National Bank of Charlotte - the legacy bank of First Union. Gold pieces minted at the historic Charlotte Mint, with their distinctive little "C" mint marks, are on display, as are coins from the 19th-century private Bechtler Mint in Rutherford County. At one time, the Bechtler coinage was so respected for quality and purity that some obligations of the Confederacy were required to be payable in "Bechtler gold."
Interactive exhibits range from panning for gold to a history of stagecoaches through the frontier, and the highway robbers who preyed on them.
Wells Fargo History Museum, 401 S. Tryon St., Charlotte. 9 a.m.-5 p.m., Tuesday-Saturday. Free.
Old: Reed Gold Mine
Here in rural Cabarrus County is the site of the country's first documented gold strike, at Little Meadow Creek.
A visitor center tracks the history of gold back to the Egyptians. It tells the tale of Conrad Reed's discovery and the century of mining that followed. Heavy machinery used to pump water out of the deep mines and to crush ore are on display.
Up the hill, visitors can walk through one of the old underground labyrinths excavated by miners. And for $2, you can buy a platter of dirt and pan for ore. Wee splinters of gold are often found by careful swishing.
Reed Gold Mine State Historic Site, 9621 Reed Mine Road, Midland. 9 a.m.-5 p.m. Tuesdays-Saturdays. Free.
Levine Museum of the New South
"Cotton Fields to Skyscrapers" tracks Charlotte's financial history, from the arrival of the railroads to the city's rise as the nation's second-largest financial center after New York.
Banking technology is one specialty explored. On display is a homegrown invention for First Union: An ATM, a model one series from the 1970s. IBM developed much of the technology for ATM networks in Charlotte, and First Union was one of the first banks to use it.
Soaring nearby is the architect's model for the Bank of America tower. Old pictures and interactive displays show the growth in financial institutions and Charlotte's skyline over the decades.
Levine Museum of the New South, 200 E. Seventh St., Charlotte. Monday-Saturday 10 a.m.-5 p.m.; Sunday noon-5 p.m. $6 adults, $5 children.
Mint Museum Randolph
Charlotte's federal Mint operated from 1836 until it was seized by Confederate forces at the dawn of the Civil War. It was the first branch mint established outside of Philadelphia, located here to be close to the gold fields.
In 1932, expansion of the post office, where the federal building now stands on West Trade Street, brought the historic building down. Citizens raised $950 to buy the remains and carted them to the Eastover neighborhood, where they were reassembled and became the home of the state's first art museum in 1936.
Expansion has all but obliterated the original building, but if you walk to the rear, you can see the original Federal Style façade designed by William Strickland, a noted Philadelphia architect.
Inside, there is a gallery dedicated to the old mint, displaying examples of the half eagles ($5), quarter eagles ($2.50) and dollar coins made here. There is also a model of the original mint building, showing the chambers where coins were minted and stored.
Mint Museum of Art, 2730 Randolph Road, Charlotte. Tuesday 10 a.m.-9 p.m.; Wednesday-Saturday 10 a.m.-6 p.m.; Sunday 1-5 p.m. $10 adults, $5 children. Free 5-9 p.m. Tuesdays.
Bank of America Heritage Center
Charlotte-based Bank of America traces its history to July 5, 1784, when The Massachusetts Bank became the first independent joint-stock-owned bank in the nation. A replica of the charter is on display, showing the familiar signature of Massachusetts Gov. John Hancock. His account ledger is also there - he tended to keep a balance around $5,000.
Correspondence from other notables - Franklin D. Roosevelt and Ronald Reagan among them - are on display, but none rival the tone of the note written by Thomas Jefferson on Nov. 27, 1803, shortly after he authorized a $15 million payment for the Louisiana territory. Jefferson was known for mismanaging his private financial affairs and he wrote to the Bank of Metropolis in Washington, D.C., another BofA forerunner, asking more time to repay a $558.14 loan. "I find I shall be hard pressed during the next month," he wrote.
A video in the center marks milestones in the bank's history, including when Bank of America came to the rescue of Cecil B. DeMille in 1923 when his epic "Ten Commandments" ran out of money.
One strange artifact is a chunk of braided steel cable woven for the Golden Gate Bridge. Bank of America was one of the first investors in the project, buying $6 million in bonds in 1929.
Bank of America Heritage Center, 100 N. Tryon St., Founder's Hall, Charlotte. 9 a.m.-6 p.m., weekdays. Free.