GoldMine_GoldMinePark (3)

Gold mines are an important part of Sugar Hill’s history. Many believe the name of our city could be related to gold versus the tale of an overturned wagon spilling sugar on a hill. Pulverized quartz looks like sugar crystals. The connection could be coincidental or both stories could contain an element of truth. The history of gold in the area dates back to Hernando de Soto and the Native Americans that lived along the Chattahoochee River. Gold was mined in Buford as early as 1830. Several mines operated along what is now Level Creek Road up until the mid-1900s.

The two main mine operations in Sugar Hill were owned by the Simmons and Shelley families. These are the mines often cited in history. Both are described in detail in a geological survey titled “Gold Deposits of Georgia” done in 1896 by state geologist, W.S. Yeates.

The Shelley Mines were named after Edward and William Shelley who came from Virginia in 1870. Mining operations in the area took place before the Shelley family had ownership, but the history is largely lost except for some references made in documents for the Level Creek Mining Company, dated 1901, which read:

“Seventy-five years ago, Jesse Chambers worked on the property with slave labor. He did both placer and vein mining and accumulated considerable wealth, notwithstanding the crude methods used by him in manipulating the ores.”

The 1901 prospectus goes on to state that:

“Prior to, during and since the Civil War, the property has for short periods been worked by Colonel James Simmons, Edward Shelley and others, but only in a desultory and haphazard manner, without either mining or practical experience and with very limited financial means.”

According to a “History of Gwinnett County, Georgia” by James Flanigan, Dr. Adam Simmons may have become rich from gold mining. He began mining 2,000 acres on Level Creek in 1831, amassed a considerable fortune, sold his land in 1852, and moved to Texas where he apparently died a wealthy man.

Several different parties would later operate the mines after the Simmons and Shelley families. A 1941 incorporation document for the Amphlett Mining Company compiled by the law firm of Smith, Smith & Bloodworth and a 1984 survey done by the Georgia Department of Natural Resources refers to the other gold mining operations in the area; like the Suwanee Gold Mining Company and the Level Creek Mining Company.

William Amphlett, and his brother Harry, would purchase both the Shelley and Simmons Gold Mines in 1936. They were both experienced miners from England and had worked in Canada and Panama. The men were in their 50s. Very little wealth would come from their activities as gold miners.

An Atlanta lawyer, referred to only as McKay, initially entered a lease purchase arrangement with the Amphletts. He worked for six months before defaulting from lack of experience and an inability to pay adequate royalties. McKay, during those six months, would mine, out of 100 tons of ore, about 73 ounces of gold. He sold it for the fixed price of gold in the United States during that time, $35 per ounce. McKay made about $2,555. Had he lived today, the story would have been different. With the price of gold now, he could have made more. It would be several years before the Amphletts would continue mining the properties and officially establish their mining company.

The Amphletts, upon official incorporation of the Amphlett Mining Company in 1941, valued their company at $100,000. Today, that would be more than $1,500,000. They sought to sell the mines to the incorporated entity for $30,000. Both brothers offered two years of time and labor at $200 per month. They estimated that it would take about $15,000 to buy the initial equipment for the operation and predicted $15,500 in profit each year. The last account we have was written by attorney Lamar Smith when he visited in mid-1941:

“From the center of Atlanta – out Piedmont Drive, northerly five miles; turning easterly onto Buford Highway; on same twenty-two miles northeasterly to Suwanee; turning left and crossing the railroad; thence entering the unpaved road from Suwanee to Level Creek Church and driving about three miles to said church; there turning to the right past the church and driving about a mile.”

I am a student of history and find it comprised of many things, including mystery and legend. The element of mystery is what drives us to explore and learn. I drive on Level Creek Road and imagine what the area was like in the times of Hernando de Soto, Jesse Chambers, Colonel James Simmons, Dr. Adam Simmons and other gold seekers.

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