Goochland County will soon have Virginia’s only active gold mine, if a Tennessee prospector can turn his plans into reality.
William Kilgore of Bristol, Tenn., wants to re-mine the site of the abandoned Moss Mine near the Goochland-Fluvanna County line, and he says he will clean up contamination from past mining operations as he goes.
When he talks about the proposal, he likes to call it a “mine cleanup project,” rather than a mine, though he also notes that the project is only viable because there’s enough gold in the ground at the site in the 4300 block of Shannon Hill Road to pay for the cleanup and net him a profit.
“(I want to) take all that was inappropriately handled during the 1800s and 1900s and remove those footprints,” he told the county’s Board of Supervisors this month, just before the board granted him a conditional use permit.
The former miners, who last worked the property in the late 1930s, sank shafts into the ground. Kilgore wants to dig up the whole area, creating a small open-pit mine to get to the gold, he said.
The reason there’s enough gold left behind to be worth mining, Kilgore said, is that the mine shafts were sunk through soft, wet ground.
“They were pumping hundreds of gallons of water from the shafts every hour to be able to be down there in the shafts in the first place,” he said. “And it still just kept caving in on them.”
He said he is not aware of any reports of loss of life in the mine.
After the 2011 earthquake, enough earth settled that the outlines of the shafts became visible at the surface, Kilgore said. Sinkholes of unknown size also formed on the property. His mining project, he said, would fix all that.
The exact size of the mine pit has not been decided, but it could be in the ballpark of 200 feet by 400 feet, he said. The mine’s maximum depth will be about 125 feet.
The gold lies in a vein that averages about 2 feet thick. It’s made up of what is called fractured quartz, so it can be extracted without any blasting, Kilgore said. The rock will be crushed to a consistency close to beach sand, then separated using water.
The main pollutant he would be likely to remove is mercury, Kilgore said.
Old mining operations would crush gold-bearing rock, then pour it over copper plate coated with mercury. The gold clung to the mercury and could then be scraped off the plate.
“Then they would wash the plates off and that mercury just went right out the back door,” Kilgore said.
His operation would wash all the dirt pulled out of the pit, collecting the mercury (and any gold that happens to be in the soil). Kilgore also said he hopes he might be able to get federal mine reclamation grant money to help with his project.
Kilgore, who took up prospecting after he retired from U.S. Tobacco, was at first part of an effort to market the property on which the mine sits. That proved unsuccessful, and the owners offered him an option on the property that he thought was too good to turn down, he said. So now, he’s trying to mine it himself.
“This is what I do; this is what I love doing,” he said. “It started out as a hobby, and it’s turned into a passion.”
He said he is looking for additional investors to help cover estimated startup costs of $2 million. He said that between the property’s proven reserves and the conditional use permit he already has in hand, that’s a realistic goal.
There’s also a strong possibility of selling other minerals and gems found at the site, Kilgore said, though his main focus is gold.
This is not the first time the Moss Mine has been the object of a plan to revive Virginia’s gold mining past.
In February 1936, shortly before the mine’s most recent closure, the Richmond Times-Dispatch mentioned it in a report on the resurgence of Virginia’s gold mining industry, confidently reporting on the mine’s bright future.
“It has not only been reopened,” the paper reported, “but is now in production and those who are familiar with it predict a long and profitable operation. … Modern mining and milling equipment has been installed and the rumblings of this machinery is concrete evidence that the rejuvenation of the Virginia gold fields is definitely on the march.”
Various accounts put the mine’s last closure sometime between 1936 and 1939.
If this project does take off, it would be the only active gold mine in the state, according to the Virginia Department of Mines, Minerals and Energy.
Gold was last mined in Virginia in 1947, according to the department.
Kilgore said he plans a wetland area after he is done mining.
“We will remove the mining footprint from that property,” he said. “There will be no trace of it when we’re done. And that’s a pretty good thing.”
After the gold sinks, the water, full of non-gold sediment, will be sent to a settling pond. After the sediment settles out, it can be put back into the hole from which it came, he said. The entire process should take two or three years, he said. After the mining is done, Kilgore plans to leave behind a revegetated pond.
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