We started with brunch at 5Church Mike and I tried this place when they first opened awhile back during Restaurant Week. We didn’t feel it lived up to the hype then but wanted to give it a second chance.
At the time, the décor got a lot of press. That’s the complete text of “The Art of War” by Sun Tzu hand-painted on the ceiling. The tables were concrete molded to look like they were draped with tablecloths, complete with very sharp edges. They must have ripped many pairs of pantyhose because the tables are now gone. These days only the upstairs bar still reflects that design element.
Bill was very happy with his mushroom and Swiss cheese Three Egg Omelette ($8). Mike was thrilled with his Chicken Salad Sandwich ($8), mostly because he asked that arugula be added to the local greens. It was my day for a miss. The Shrimp & Anson Mills Polenta (fancy-schmancy for shrimp & grits) ($14) was incredibly salty. I think the problem was the combo of a heavy-handed chef compounded by really salty bacon. The waitress offered to take it back to the kitchen but by then I had already made a dent and decided to just eat it.
Fortified, we were ready to get down and dirty. The plan was to pan for gold at Reed Gold Mine. The website says to wear clothes you don’t mind getting dirty. I wondered if we had to stand in a river to pan. Nuggets of gold danced in my head.
We arrived just after a school busload of kids descended on the mine for a field trip. We sighed with relief as they were hustled off somewhere and we were left almost alone to watch the movie explaining the history of the mine. The quality is pretty poor and it needs to be redone in high-def. The mine is a state-run historical site. The North Carolina government is on a cost-cutting bender. Some generous donations are going to have to be dropped into the bucket before a new version is shot. C’mon all you wealthy spelunkers!
Our tour guide Aaron opined that the bad weather forecast that didn’t “pan out.” (Get it? Pan out?) probably scared off most of the tourists. It was only Bill, Mike and me on the tour. Aaron was just learning the ropes. We told him if he had to refer to notes along the way that was fine with us.
Walking towards the mine, Aaron pointed out the documented spot where 12-year-old Conrad Reed discovered the first gold. His father, John, didn’t know what the rock was and held onto it for 3 years before selling it to a jeweler. The jeweler asked him to name his price and John asked for $3.50. It was really worth $3,600.
This particular tour normally does not include going into the mines. But Aaron indulges the three big kids who have never been here. He quickly forgot about his notes and excitedly started pointing out features. He spied exhibit number 3, a vein of white quartz and explained how gold is often found in those type veins.
The temperature cooled as we headed further underground. The original tunnels were only 5 feet tall and 3 feet wide. Though they are a couple of feet taller these days, it is still easy to get claustrophobic.
We emerged after seeing exploratory tunnels, ore carts and even peering down into the bottom of mine shafts. We climbed back out to check things out on the surface. Fifty feet above where we were just standing was the Morgan Shaft head frame with a bucket, or kibble, as it is called in gold miner terms.
Meandering through the woods, we passed the chimney and foundation of the old Engine House, and the Brunerville area where 20 mining company buildings once stood. The powder house, as in explosive powder, was set far away from the cabins, blacksmith, the shop and other buildings in case it blew up.
From anywhere on the property, you can hear the great Stamp Mill pounding away. Daniel, the operator has been there for decades. He helped build this restored mill and keeps it in running order. Whenever a group forms, he demonstrates how the loud machine crushes the ore and uses a water bath to reveal the gold. Like Aaron, he’s a font of knowledge with an obvious affection for the mine, the people of that era who lusted and fought over gold, but especially for this monstrosity of a machine that he helped reassemble.
Finally, it was time to make our fortune. Forget about sloshing in some creek wearing thigh-high waders. Just off the parking lot is a kiosk where we were given a pan full of dirt and rocks. We claimed a spot along a waist-high trough filled with muddy water and were given instructions on how to pan.
According to the man who supervised the trough, the gold will sink to the bottom of the pan so our goal was to remove the top layers of rocks and dirt. Gingerly, we dipped our pans in the water, sloshed it around until most of the water was out and then repeated and repeated and repeated and repeated.
Aaron reported his first time panning took 20 minutes to a half hour. Since he got the hang of it… maybe five minutes now. It took us forever. As newbies we were so afraid that our gold would be lost in the water that we s-l-o-w-l-y swirled out small amounts of dirt at a time.
After about a half hour and nearing closing time, our instructor came to our rescue. He worked much faster and EUREKA! GOLD at the bottom of my pan! I’m rich, I tell you, RICH! Okay, so I wasn’t rich. The gold is more of a speck than a nugget. That’s my gold next to the quarter. You might have to zoom in on the picture to see it. It’s placed in a small vial of water so I don’t lose my fortune.
Giddy with gold fever, I assumed that all pans yield a fleck or two. I was wrong. Mike and Bill were not as lucky. Their mud washed off to reveal empty pans. Still, we all had fun. And not a speck of mud spotted our clothes!
Our last stop of the day was hidden off the road in South Charlotte near I-485 and Rea Road in the Thornhill subdivision. Just past the homeowners’ association pool and clubhouse is the trailhead for Big Rock Nature Preserve. As the name implies, giant rocks are concealed by 23 acres of woods. It’s just a short walk down a well-worn trail. Some of the rocks have graffiti on them and there were a few stray beer bottles. It’s an oddity worth the quick drive if you are looking to kill a little time and take some goofy pictures.