The Clermont County Gold Rush

The Clermont County Gold Rush

In January 1848 James W. Marshall discovered gold in Sutter’s Mill, California sparking a gold rush that saw more than 300,000 people head west in search of their fortunes. While the California gold rush lasted until 1855, very few miners were able to strike it rich and returned home empty handed. But while the allure of gold and riches still occupied the minds of many settlers, few were willing to risk everything on the long, dangerous overland journey to California.

The American Civil War and the four years of fighting made the gold rush a distant memory for much of the American public. But for the people of Clermont County, all of this changed in 1868 following the discovery of gold in Elk Lick along the banks of the East Fork of the Little Miami River. Soon gold fever swept through Clermont County.

Gold in Ohio

The most valuable type of gold and often the target of miners is placer gold. Rather than hardrock mining where minerals are extracted directly from solid rock and is done underground, placer mining is done above ground, often in creek beds and requires simple tools like a prospecting pan. Prospectors simply dip the pan into the creek bed and swirl it around to separate rocks and sediment hoping to reveal gold dust or nuggets.

While Ohio doesn’t possess large deposits of gold, it can be found throughout various parts of the state, with one of the largest concentrations in southwest Ohio. The most accepted theory for the presence of gold in Ohio is that glacial meltwaters during the Pleistocene glaciation transported igneous rocks south from Canada. Most gold that has been found in Ohio is relatively small, often as flakes around the size of a grain of wheat.

The Summer of ’68 and the Clermont Gold Rush

But for many, the allure of gold was all they needed and following the announcement that gold had been discovered in Clermont County by former California “Forty-Niners,”prospectors quickly arrived hoping to strike it rich. The chance for easy gold brought many to the area, who quickly set up operations for extracting gold from the Little Miami River.

A sluice in Batavia circa 1905.

By the end of the summer, a large scale mining company had been formed to search for gold. Following the discovery of gold quartz on the lands of Colonel William Howard and R.W. Clarke, a report from Captain J.W. Glass, a well-known chemist who had spent time on the west coast, led to the formation of the Batavia Mining Company with D.G. Dustin, L.C. Moore, John M. Nealy, and S.F. Dowdney as investors. At the cost of $3000 (around $58,000 today), the Batavia Mining Company built a series of flumes, sluices, and buildings for extracting gold from the local landscape. While the company did manage to find gold ore and other precious minerals, it was not enough to cover the financial costs of mining and after only a few months of operation, the Batavia Mining Company was shut down for good.

Around the same time the Batavia Mining Company closed down interest in the gold rush began to fade. And while Clermont County’s gold rush was short lived, dedicated individuals like John Allen and John Titus continued to search for gold into the 1920s and 1930s. However, stories still persist of gold and other precious minerals found along the banks of creeks and rivers in Clermont County waiting to be discovered.

John Allen’s Clermont County gold mine circa 1920.