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The Buck Starts Here: Christopher Bechtler and the North Carolina Gold Rush

Christopher Bechtler and the North Carolina Gold Rush | CosmosMariners.com
Before we bought the house we just moved into, I fell in love with a historic home here in Charleston. The love story didn't end well, and the historic home and I had to break up: it needed too much work, was basically unlivable in its current state, and would have required us to move (back) in with my parents for months and month while we renovated it.

Sigh. 

While the house we ultimately bought isn't a historic one, I still have an undying love for historic houses and home restoration. 

When I was working with the Rutherford County Tourism Bureau to create my itinerary to the Lake Lure area, I jumped at the chance to visit one of Rutherfordton's historic homes and one that is tied to the North Carolina Gold Rush. 

Christopher Bechtler and the North Carolina Gold Rush | CosmosMariners.com

Yes, you read that right: the North Carolina Gold Rush. Not the one in Alaska or California, but in North Carolina. 

I don't know about you, but I somehow missed that section in my American history textbooks. 

Apparently, there was (and still is) a huge amount of gold in western North Carolina. People were just figuring out that they were sitting on millions when the more well-known gold rushes occurred out West. And those rushes, unlike in North Carolina, had much more surface gold. The lure of cheap, fast money pushed gold diggers (ha! literally) away from the mountains of North Carolina and out towards the Pacific Ocean. 

So, while the momentum of the North Carolina gold ended up burning hot and fast, there's still an awesome history there. 

Christopher Bechtler, whose home stills stands in the heart of downtown Rutherfordton, was a German immigrant who came to America intent on making it big. He started out processing gold up in the North, but after many of his clients started showing up with gold from North Carolina, he packed his bags and headed below the Mason-Dixon line. 

Christopher Bechtler and the North Carolina Gold Rush | CosmosMariners.com

By 1830, he'd become the go-to guy in Rutherfordton--and really all of western North Carolina--to weigh, melt down, and process the gold that the prospectors had found. 

Christopher Bechtler and the North Carolina Gold Rush | CosmosMariners.com

Bechtler ended up minting a $1 gold coin a whopping 17 years before the U.S. Mint did. And even more remarkably, the U.S. Mint acknowledged his coins as legit currency. He later offered a $2.50 and a $5 coin to his customers. 

Christopher Bechtler and the North Carolina Gold Rush | CosmosMariners.com

Sadly, after the gold rush moved elsewhere, Bechtler lost most of this clientele. The role that he and his mint played in North Carolina's history, though, long outlived him. 

Christopher Bechtler and the North Carolina Gold Rush | CosmosMariners.com

For its 225th birthday last year, the town of Rutherfordton reached out to the current owners of the home that Bechtler lived in for most of his adult life. The owners (who aren't related to the Bechtlers) agreed that the story of the gold rush needed to be told to a wider audience, and so they set up tours in the house on the weekends. 

The tours were such a success that the house has remained open to visitors on the weekend. There's also been an organization established to purchase the home from the current owners and convert the home into a permanent museum. With a goal of $150,000, the museum organizers have already started fundraising to gather the money to secure this piece of North Carolina history. 

About two miles away from the home is the site of Bechtler's mint, where you can learn more about the gold rush, Bechtler, and the process of making the gold coins. I was excited to see the cave on the property; some believe that he may have mined for gold here secretly, but the exact use of the cave isn't currently known (I love a good mystery!). 

Christopher Bechtler and the North Carolina Gold Rush | CosmosMariners.com

There are plans in the works to place a reconstruction of the original mint's foundation, as well as a visitors' center. 

Christopher Bechtler and the North Carolina Gold Rush | CosmosMariners.com

Throughout my time in western North Carolina, I kept seeing a theme played out: the residents there are deeply interested in their collective history, but they're also excited about how to present what they have to offer in new ways. Bechtler and the gold rush are well-known around these parts, but the community wants to share his story in a new way through the proposed museum and redesigned mint site. 

I, for one, am so excited to see how Mr. Bechtler's legacy will be remembered. And who knows, with all of that gold still in the ground in North Carolina, there might be another gold rush!

Are you a history buff? Did you know that North Carolina had a gold rush?


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