Let’s pick on a mineral for this blog. A mineral that some people would not think is found in the area but the states of California and Alaska is known for. All you have to do is mention “gold” and you will see their eyes light up.
Yes, indeed, gold is found in York County as well as throughout southeastern Pennsylvania. If you would search historic geologic writings from as early as 1820, you will read that gold was reported from Chickies Rock in Lancaster County and several of the iron mines located on the southern slope of the Hellam Hills in Hellam Township.
In his classic report “Mineralogy of Pennsylvania” in 1920, Samuel Gordon mentions gold in York County, but does not disclose any specific location.
During the late 1960’s and well into the 1970’s, a group of well-educated mineral collectors would gather weekly for a trip to a “hot” mineral locality. My father, Karl Jones, was a member of the group. During one of their adventures, a member of the group mentioned that he would love to have a gold specimen from Pennsylvania. Upon some research and talking with several geologists, the group identified some areas to investigate and the great search for gold started in 1973.
Gold is found in areas associated with igneous rocks and/or found in quartz veins in rocks with magmatic origin or association. With the largest exposures of volcanic rocks found in South Mountain in Adams, Franklin and Cumberland counties, the group searched long and hard for gold there. They came up basically empty handed and puzzled. Based on historical documentation and geology, they searched near Hunterstown, Adams County, and did find small flakes of gold. The first find in this 1970’s gold rush.
Peters Creek in southwestern Lancaster County became another target to search for the elusive mineral and yes, again, success was struck. In fact, today, I consider Peters Creek the best gold panning stream in southeastern Pennsylvania.
The next move came into York County north of Delta where gold was found on the property of the Delta Fish and Game Club. Their three tributaries flow into Muddy Creek which also hosts some gold toward the Susquehanna River. Gold fever struck the members of the group and expanded their search area into other areas of York County. Also, word began to reach the “rockhounding” world and other people learned the art of panning and made their own discoveries.
Today, recreational panners can be found in area streams, hoping to win the lottery with a large flake or nugget. The largest piece of gold I have personally seen was 0.75 inches. This specimen came from a unnamed tributary to Muddy Creek near Castle Fin. I regard this stream as the best gold-producing waterway in York County. It was nicknamed “Lucky Creek” because of the results found by prospectors. The stream may not contain the most gold, but this stream offers a natural setting for gold to accumulate. Gold is the heaviest mineral known and will settle to the bottom of a stream over time. In “Lucky Creek” the bedrock tilts into the Earth upstream. This forms a natural ledge for heavy mineral to settle and prospecting is made slightly more simpler with the help of “Mother Nature.”
Other areas in York County include northern York County. The very dense igneous rock known as diabase occupies much of this area. It is known from other researchers work, that some Pennsylvania diabase contains gold. My wife hates when I do this but I will bet my next paycheck that if you pan any stream in a quadrant bordered by Rossville and Wellsville on the south and Dillsburg and Grantham to the north, you will find a small flake of gold. This even includes the popular winter hangout of Ski Roundtop in Warrington Township that is totally underlain with diabase. Ask any unfortunate skier who has hit a rock coming down the slope just how hard the rock is.
Mentioned earlier in this blog was the mention of searching gold in South Mountain. The same volcanic rock found in South mountain is also found in the Pigeon Hills near Abbottstown and the Hellam Hills in eastern York County. Several streams pass through these rocks, but just like South Mountain, the streams appear to be void of gold.
Spring Valley County Park hosts the annual “Gold Panning” outing the last Saturday of July in Spring Valley Park. The East Branch of the Codorus Creek contains gold that is washing out of the meta-igneous rocks in the area. Although the flakes are barely large enough to be seen by our eyes, about 200 people attend the outing to learn the art of panning and maybe, just maybe, find a flake of gold. Remember, being a county park, panning is not permitted other than the day of the event in July.
Was there ever any gold production taking place in York County? As you may tell from the above description of gold in area streams, there appears not to be any “mother load” in York County. However, there has been a story that has been passed up through generations in a family that a father and his two sons were making a profit prospecting for gold in the Airville area. As the story goes, the one son thought he was being cheated out of his percentages and killed his father and brother, spending the remainder of his life in York County Prison.
It is a known fact that during the Great Depression of the 1930’s, gold miners who became unemployed from the mines along the Potomac River near Washington actually came into southern York County prospecting to have a small income.
In York County, gold has never been found in place (in bedrock). All of the gold has been found in placer deposits in the streams. The closest that gold has been found in place was from one of the slate quarries in Peach Bottom Township. Here prospectors lifted up the bedrock, placed the loose rock in a gold pan and panned it, finding small flakes.
Finally, remember to pan a stream you need to get permission from the landowner. I even give the landowner a sample of the gold (if I find any) to the landowner. They love to set a vial of gold on their shelf to try family members and friends. GOOD LUCK!!!!