Initial mining in Mitchell County, in the 1880s, was for mica, dug in a few large operations but also in small family mines which brought in extra money when men were not busy farming. By the 20th century, however, the county was found to be rich in other minerals, and mines grew in number and size. No longer independent operators, miners were employees who worked long hours at a strenuous and dangerous job for sometimes very low wages.
Chestnut Flats Mine was for many years a prolific producer of several minerals – mica, feldspar, and quartz; they are each part, geologist Alex Glover says, of a rock named Leucogranodioriticmetatonalite. Locals are more likely to call it spar, Pegmatite, or Alaskite. Quartz for the glass of the reflecting telescope at Mount Palomar, CA, came from the Chestnut Flats Mine.
Mining continued to be a family tradition; 3 of the men listed here were father and sons, while two others were uncle and nephew. Standing in the mouth of Chestnut Flats Mine, about 1932, are some of the men who worked there. From left to right: Ed Turbyfill, Arnold Blackburn, Claude Pitman, Jeff Willis, Merritt Sparks, John Duncan, Newland Sparks, Landon Pitman, Walter Buchanan, Ike Grindstaff, Roe Duncan, and Bob Duncan.
Many men who have had haircuts in Spruce Pine have seen this photo, greatly enlarged and framed, on the wall of their barber shop. The photo was displayed first by Terry Buchanan and then by Kenneth Ellis, who donated it to MCHS.