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Ore Knob Copper Mine

by Stewart Lillard, 2006Shaft at the Ore Knob Copper Mine in Ashe County (date unknown). Courtesy of North Carolina Office of Archives and History, Raleigh.

The Ore Knob Copper Mine in Ashe County was first conceived in the spring of 1854, when John Mason Lillard of Decatur, Meigs County, Tenn., channeled his resources into the organization of the Meigs County & Virginia Mining Company and the Decatur Mining Company. Lillard managed the original opening of the Ore Knob Copper Mine in 1855, when "four shafts were sunk on the property to depths of 90, 40, 30 and 40 feet and enough ore that assayed 19 percent copper was mined to make a profit of $9,400." But the distance of 63 miles over "poor mountain roads" to the nearest railroad prevented the mine from being profitable, and it was closed in 1856.

S. S. and J. E. Clayton of Baltimore reopened the mine in 1873, and that July "about 1,400 tons of ore" were raised, "averaging more than 25 percent of copper." Other periods of operation included 1896, 1913, 1917-18, 1927, 1942-43, and 1953-62, when the mine was "completely worked out" and abandoned.

In January 1982 two bodies were found in the abandoned Ore Knob Copper Mine; Johnny Sands, known as the "Nashville Flame," wrote a popular ballad about the incident. The large, gaping entrance to the mine remains a forbidding reminder of the dangers-both physical and financial-of mining.


Eben E. Olcott, "The Ore Knob Copper Mine and Reduction Works, Ashe County, N.C.," American Institute of Mining Engineers Transactions 3 (1874).

Thomas J. Schoenbaum, The New River Controversy (1979).

Jasper Leonidas Stuckey, North Carolina: Its Geology and Mineral Resources (1965).


Origin - location: 



Lost in the mountains a week ago stumbled onto the mine . The say an article about it in a magazine. Very interesting, however, have never read who the two people found in the mine were.


I once read that in the 1920’s. This mine produced more copper than any other mine in the USA. Is this true?


Thanks for the entry. I'm still trying to find information on the "Mount Airy & Ore Knob Railroad" that was chartered and may even have been built. The line itself or at least the chartered company was acquired by the Cape Fear & Yadkin Valley or merged into the Western Railroad to form the Cape Fear & Yadkin Valley Railway about 1879. I hope you might be able to confirm or refine this information.


If you go to North Carolina Railroads or and look under the 1880 and the 1890 tab, it shows a map of the railroads in NC at that time and one is the Mt Airy Ore Knob Railroad. Scroll down and you will see Mount Airy Ore Knob Railroad highlighted in blue. This will tell you part of the story. In the Mount Airy Museum they have items that were used by that railroad like plates and lanterns. Nice stuff.
Mt Airy & Central Railroad was chartered in April of 1871. That became Mount Airy Ore Knob Railroad. The railroad was built and operational around 1875. It could be that the Elkin and Alleghany Railroad followed a similar route closer to the mountains.
There are no certain maps which, is hard to believe. However, the railroad did exist for 4-5 years prior to the merger with the Cape Fear & Yadkin Valley Railroad which continued to operate the line. They list the towns that the railroad might have gone through.
I met a man that lived in Roaring Gap NC and he stated that there is a clear railroad bed that wraps that mountain for miles headings towards Sparta. It might have followed Thompsons Creek up the mountain because they believe it went through Devotion NC. There are remnants of a concrete bridge that cross a creek that runs along the Mitchell River at Kapps Mill. They did use concrete at that time for many RR bridges, even logging RR's. The remnants make no sense and it does run parallel to the Mitchell River towards Devotion.
I believe they started hauling the ore to West Jefferson some 10 miles away to the Creeper Railroad later after the Mount Airy Ore Knob Railroad was not longer running.
This railroad did exist with different names for at least a decade from what I can find.
I believe that most towns in existence today had a railroad of some sort at one time or another and that's why they exist today.


Would love to find a copy of the ballaf from the Nashville Flame.


Thank you for using NCpedia and for your inquiry! I've forwarded your information to Reference Services at the State Library of North Carolina's Government & Heritage Library. Their contact information may be found at Someone will be following up with you soon.

Thank you again!

Michelle Underhill
NC Government & Heritage Library

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