Mainers dreamed of mining for gold

By Wayne E. Reilly, Special to the BDN
Posted Dec. 14, 2008, at 5:55 p.m.

Gold fever afflicted Mainers a century ago. Farmers scoured their land for signs of riches, while prospectors searched remote townships for precious metals including copper and silver — or even molybdenum for those who could pronounce it. The Bangor newspapers enthusiastically kept track of these fantasies in headlines such as these:

GOLD IN MAINE — Bangor Man Purchases Mine in Pittston (Bangor Daily Commercial, Feb. 23, 1905).

GOLD IN GREENFIELD: Bangor Man Found a Lump of Quartz Showing Much Gold (Bangor Daily Commercial, Nov. 8, 1906).

GOLD DISCOVERED IN TOWNSHIP 31 — Evidence of Large Quantities of the Yellow Metal Just North of Wesley (Bangor Daily News, Nov. 24, 1906).

GOLD IN ORRINGTON — Bangor Men May Start Mining Operations (Bangor Daily Commercial, April 30, 1908).

Sometimes the notices came in the form of investment advertisements. In 1905 and 1906, big ads appeared in the Industrial Journal, a Bangor newspaper, soliciting stock purchases for the Wesley Gold Mining Co. The president was a well-known businessman, D.G. Rollins of the Bangor Mattress Co.

These feverish imaginings did not occur in a vacuum. Gold fever swept the country in 1849 when the yellow metal was found at Sutter’s Mill in California. Thousands of Mainers headed West. Other gold strikes followed in Nevada, Colorado, South Dakota and most recently the Klondike. A small number of people actually made money, while many more ended up working for large mining companies or returning home empty-handed.

Couldn’t such riches exist in Maine? The newspapers fanned the flames of imagination: “[T]he discovery of a gold mine richer than any in Australia or Alaska is not an impossibility,” editorialized the Bangor Daily News on Jan. 6, 1906.

Mainers didn’t have to go West. They could speculate in gold mining companies from their hometowns. One such example was the Bangor Gold Mining Co. in Squaw Creek, Yavapai County, Ariz., according to the Bangor Daily News on March 8, 1906. The manager, a Russian count named Sergius Mentschikoff, appeared in Bangor to meet with Dr. Melvin Preble, the local agent. The company’s operations consisted of eight claims of 160 acres. The count produced a letter from the state assayer to Charles Black of Bangor attesting to the high quality of the ore.

Maine had had its own “rush” around 1880. The incredible story was best told in the New England Quarterly by Virginia Chase Perkins in 1941. At its peak, there were nearly 175 companies mining gold, silver and copper in more than 40 communities, mostly in eastern Maine. Blue Hill was the focus of much of the activity with 39 companies alone. Huge amounts were invested and thousands of workers congregated from all over the world. Large buildings were erected and expensive machinery purchased. When the bubble began to burst the Boston Herald commented, “People of Maine have this spring made a most valuable discovery. They have found that a hole in the ground is not a mine … .”

In 1904, the whole thing appeared to be starting over again. A “big syndicate” of New York and Pittsburgh capitalists incorporated as the Maine Copper Co. announced that it planned to reopen some of the abandoned mines of Blue Hill. If the plans succeeded, Blue Hill might “rival Butte as a copper metropolis,” said the Bangor Daily News on April 14, 1904. Bangor would benefit financially if it were picked over Portland as company headquarters.

A few weeks after the announcement, a Bangor Daily News columnist recalled Maine’s earlier mining bonanza days “when all Hancock County was thought to be one great lump of copper ore streaked with gold, and every owner of a rocky pasture lot hoped to become a millionaire.” Instead of hoeing their potatoes, farmers blasted holes in their fields and then hastened to Bangor “with a carpet bag full of any stones which looked peculiar.”

The anonymous columnist wrote on May 11, “Bangor presented an appearance which made a stranger feel that he was in Colorado. … There were signs on nearly every corner setting forth the names of the great companies which were organized to make a man rich in a day.” They included the Rising Sun Silver and Gold Mining Co., capital $1 million, and the Andes Gold Mining and Milling Co., capital $500,000. There were “assayers offices to burn” and two mining exchanges.

“There was a stock auction every forenoon and to go on the floor of the big room made the enthusiastic investors think that they were in Wall Street for a few minutes,” he continued. “Hundreds of people attended these auctions and bought more or less of the stock, which was printed in gorgeous style.” The columnist’s description of the venture’s collapse was brief and was followed by a description of how modern mining methods might lead to better results this time.

Apparently little came out of these endeavors. At the end of 1908, on Dec. 21, the state assayer, William H. Ohler, commented on the state of mining for a story reprinted in the Bangor Daily News. “Up to this time the mines of Maine have existed only on paper. I know of [but] few which have done much else for the people of this state besides furnishing some persons finely engraved mementos of promoters’ aspirations, yet one never knows what may turn up at any time which may revolutionize the state.” This columnist will rest on that thought until further notice.

Wayne E. Reilly can be reached at wer@bangordailynews.net.

http://bangordailynews.com/2008/12/14/living/mainers-dreamed-of-mining-for-gold/ printed on November 1, 2014