Travel

Southeast Excursions: Minted in Rutherfordton: 1st U.S. $1 gold coin

The Bechtler House in Rutherfordton honors the legacy of the German immigrant who minted America's first $1 gold coin.
The Bechtler House in Rutherfordton honors the legacy of the German immigrant who minted America's first $1 gold coin. Gary McCullough

The Bechtler House helps promote the legacy of a German immigrant who operated a private mint in Rutherford County at the height of the N.C. gold rush. In addition to producing $2.50 and $5 coins, he minted the very first $1 gold coins in America – 17 years before the U.S. Mint.

Distance

Rutherfordton is 82 miles from Charlotte, about a 90-minute drive.

To see and do

Christopher Bechtler migrated to America in 1829, along with sons Augustus and Charles and nephew, Carl. After residing briefly in Philadelphia, the men relocated to Rutherford County – when the nation’s main supply of gold came from Rutherford, Rowan, Cabarrus and Mecklenburg counties. After opening a jewelry business, Bechtler began mining operations on his own, but was soon convinced his talents and expertise as a jeweler could be put to better use by opening a much-needed mint, where local gold could be converted into coin, rather than being shipped to Philadelphia for minting. Bechtler did so and soon established a reputation as an honest man who produced coins equal to or superior in quality to those made in Philadelphia. The Bechtler mint stamped more than $2.5 million in gold coins during its two decades of operation.

The establishment of a U.S. Mint in Charlotte in 1837, combined with a decreasing amount of locally mined gold during the 1840s, finally led to the closing of the Rutherford mint. By that time, Christopher Bechtler and both his sons had already died. Ironically, Bechtler’s death was directly attributable to his working with the harmful agents used in the process of refining gold.

The Bechtler House, built for Christopher in 1838, started as a two-story house with one room on each side of the central hallway on both floors. It has been converted into a museum, with the most significant artifact being the actual press used to stamp America’s first $1 gold coin.

If you’re going

The Bechtler House, 130 W. Sixth St., Rutherfordton, is open 10 a.m.-1 p.m. Friday-Saturday and 11 a.m.-2 p.m. Sunday. Admission is free. Details: www.visitncgold.com.

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