Mine shaft found under Charlotte house could be 150-year-old tunnel to gold

Mine shaft found under Charlotte house

Ashley Weidner was surprised to find a big hole recently in the cement floor of her basement. Historic records and news clippings indicate the hole in her basement is probably part of an old mine tunnel.
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Ashley Weidner was surprised to find a big hole recently in the cement floor of her basement. Historic records and news clippings indicate the hole in her basement is probably part of an old mine tunnel.

A Charlotte couple’s investigation of a possible abandoned gold mine under their home began with a shocking discovery in their basement last year as they prepared to decorate their home for Christmas.

Ashley Weidner remembers it was the week after Thanksgiving when she walked down the muddy hill beside her home and unlocked the back door that leads to their basement. She was hoping to get a jump on seasonal decorations but instead, she found a mysterious hole — almost perfectly round and nearly five feet wide - in the ground, directly under her home.

“I couldn’t figure out what it was at first ... I was just kind of speechless,” Weidner said. “I’m looking at this debris inside of this very large, very deep hole in the ground and it dawned on me: That was a structural pier at one point that has now crumbled at the bottom of this hole.”

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UNC Charlotte associate professor in the Department of Geography and Earth Sciences Andy Bobyarchick looks over the mysterious hole in the cement floor of Ashley Weidner’s basement as Weidner points it out. Assistant Professor Bobyarchick did believe the hole was probably the remnants of an old mine shaft. Diedra Laird dlaird@charlotteobserver.com

She spent the next week talking with her home insurance company, various structural engineers, soil experts, land surveyors and local construction companies. The hole had swallowed a cement and brick support pillar holding up the floor of their kitchen, dining room and a hallway leading to their bedroom.

Worried the floor under their feet would at any moment collapse, Weidner, 32, and her fiance Darrius Marable, 37, even contemplated immediately evacuating their home for safety.

Ultimately, they stayed but faced an uncertain future. Their home was built in 1933 and no one seemed to know what caused such a sudden, deep opening in the ground.

“Could be a well? Could be a sink hole from a broken sewer line that wasn’t closed off the right way? … It was all these different things that it ‘could be,’” Weidner remembers.

Then a friend suggested she look online for information about the “gold rush” of the 1830s in North Carolina. Weidner found a recent Observer story that detailed a network of old underground tunnels and non-working mine shafts still scattered around Charlotte.

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This led Weidner and her fiance to search for a new set of experts. And she reached out to the Observer for help.

“Multiple people started saying it is very likely a collapsed mine shaft,” she said.

Since then, they’ve discovered the hole under their house may be connected to one of the more than 75 mines that operated nearly 150 years ago in the city of Charlotte and Mecklenburg County.

Their search for information has turned up interesting historical tidbits - from bootleggers distilling liquor in the dark, cavernous corners of old Charlotte gold tunnels to local authorities, almost a century ago, finding homeless camps inside the nearby abandoned mine shafts.

It’s a great story to tell friends over a beer, Weidner says, but the gold mine under her home is turning out to be a real money pit.

And the couple fears it could ruin their plans to make the small bungalow their “forever home” in Charlotte.

Relic of Charlotte’s Gold Rush

Some of the fastest-growing neighborhoods in Charlotte - Wilmore, Seversville, and South End - were once the epicenter of this region’s gold rush. But much of the history (and precise locations of mines) have been lost to time. And experts say that when the mines were shuttered in the mid-1800s, there was little to no requirement that the large holes and tunnels left behind be filled or remediated to prevent future structural or environmental issues.

Anna Douglas, a reporter at The Charlotte Observer, takes one of our readers on a journey to the site of the old Rudisil Mine in Charlotte's SouthEnd.

Throughout the 1830s and 40s, financiers and prospectors come from all over the world to dig for gold in Charlotte. Most riches in Charlotte came from two mines established near present-day Mint Street and the Panthers’ Bank of America stadium. These mines, named the Rudisil and the St. Catherine, drew gold ore and quartz from a large vein which remains buried deep below ground, underneath the footprint of Charlotte’s skyscrapers and highways.

Smaller, lesser-known mines, though, exist in almost every direction from uptown and can be found across the region, including larger sites which have been preserved for educational and tourism purposes, such as the Reed Gold Mine in Cabarrus County.

Last year, the Observer talked to several experts, including Charlotte historian Dan Morrill, Reed Gold Mine historical site director Larry Neal and North Carolina state geologist Dr. Kenneth Taylor, who all said they’re not surprised when construction crews - or, in this case, a homeowner - find unexpected holes in the ground caused by past gold mining.

Taylor believes the hole under Weidner’s home - located on Duckworth Avenue in Charlotte’s Seversville neighborhood - is likely connected to the Chinquepin Mine which operated in Charlotte in the 1800s. And a professor of geology at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte recently took a look at the hole in Weidner’s basement and confirmed “It’s not just any old hole.”

“We don’t have any limestone or any other natural causes for sink holes in the Charlotte area,” says Dr. Andy Bobyarchick, a UNCC geologist. “We think this is probably connected to some of the historic gold mining operations in Charlotte.”

Through historical maps and records, the Observer found Weidner’s home sits squarely in between two other locations of documented gold tunnel or mine shaft discoveries in the past 100 years. Both sites of past discoveries are less than 500 feet from Weidner’s home -one to the south, one to the north.

She’s also heard of other unusual ground depressions or holes in her neighborhood and she’s worried the one in her basement could expand or that another part of the mining tunnel could collapse.

But all this evidence has yet to convince Weidner’s insurance company to help pay for repairs.

“If this isn’t one of those freak things that’s covered by insurance - then what is,” she asks.

‘Forever home?’

The same day Weidner discovered the hole, she opened a homeowners claim with her insurance company.

In a rejection letter two days later, she was told her policy doesn’t cover sinkholes or earth movement on the property. When Weidner tried a second time, her insurance company again said it would not cover the damage or expense of repairs.

Weidner says she wonders why local officials haven’t done more to document potential environmental or structural issues related to subterranean gold tunnels around Charlotte.

Last year, the state’s geologist told the Observer his office fields occasional phone calls from developers, road planners and construction companies about the location of mines. The few maps that exist show the general location of old mining operations but most remaining tunnels or shafts are found only after digging and site clearing begins.

Given the widespread presence of the old gold mines, Weidner says city and county leaders should do more to identify where the tunnels are and make that information public so that home buyers and real estate developers can beware of the potential for a costly collapse.

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Exterior of Ashley Weidner’s home. Diedra Laird dlaird@charlotteobserver.com

As a temporary solution, the couple has paid out of pocket to add support posts under their home to replace the structural pier that fell into the hole. A more permanent repair, though, could cost tens of thousands of dollars - and even that may not be enough if the land underneath their home is riddled with old gold tunnels also at risk of collapsing.

“It’s potentially less expensive to knock the house down and build a new one,” Weidner says.

Or, they could sell. Like many who live in popular parts of Charlotte, Weidner knows her house - or, rather, the land it sits on - is the real estate equivalent of a gold mine. In the last decade, the property on Duckworth Avenue has more than doubled in value. And in the last four years Weidner has owned it, the value has increased more than $100,000, according to county tax records.

But the thought of leaving, she says, is heartbreaking.

Before they moved in, Weidner and Marable were renting just a half-block down the street. Every day, she would walk their dog past the home they now own.

“When this house went up for sale, I got really excited because I knew that it had a great view, it was a great location and we loved the neighborhood. So we bought it before it even actually got listed,” she said.

“Our ultimate goal was that this was going to be our forever home ... That’s potentially changed a little bit.”

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Anna Douglas is an investigative reporter for the Charlotte Observer. Previously, she worked as a local news reporter for The (Rock Hill) Herald and as a congressional correspondent in Washington, D.C., for McClatchy. Anna is a past recipient of the South Carolina Press Association’s Journalist of the Year award and the Charlotte Society of Professional Journalists’ Outstanding Journalism Award. She’s a South Carolina native, a graduate of Winthrop University, and a past fellow of the Dori Maynard Diversity Leadership Program, sponsored by the Society of Professional Journalists. Anna has lived in Charlotte since May 2017.