The History of Jackson County Sesquicentennial Edition notes that copper mining has the oldest recorded history in the county, going back to Welshman David Davies.
After work as a miner in Wales, Davies immigrated to Pennsylvania and was employed by John D. Gray and Company of Pittsburgh. Gray sent Davies south to prospect for coal and minerals in the 1850s.
In 1856 he discovered deposits of mica and copper, and urged his company to purchase lands, but it balked, apparently in large part because of poor-to-non-existent roads.
He quit Gray and formed a partnership with William H. Bryson, William Coleman, John Walker, William Cowan and William Higdon. The group chased northern capital to explore prospects at Cullowhee, Wayehutta, Shell Ridge, Savannah, Poor Ridge and Wolf Creek.
The Civil War ended the pursuit of northern money. During the war Davis was named a special agent to purchase smelting equipment from England for the Confederacy. He was captured in East Tennessee on his way out of the country and almost died in a Federal prison before proving his British citizenship and being released.
He got the assistant state geologist to look over deposits in Jackson County in 1863. The geologist recommended against mining due to lack of transport.
Copper mining continued in fits and starts up until 1907, when Davies and Thomas A. Cox reopened the Cullowhee mine, installing a smelter. In 1909 the operation was taken over by Cullowhee Mining and Reduction Company, which began smelting; the copper produced was of inferior quality, and in 1912 the mine closed.
New owners took over in 1917, but the mine closed again in 1919.
Ninety years ago, copper fever again took hold. From the Dec. 12, 1929 edition of the Jackson County Journal:
CAR OF COPPER SHIPPED
FROM JACKSON COUNTY
The first car load of copper ore to be shipped from Jackson County in the past quarter of a century left East LaPorte, last Friday for the Tennessee Copper Company’s smelter at Ducktown, Tennessee, coming from the Cullowhee Copper Mine, now being opened and operated by the North Carolina Flux Company. A second car of copper ore was loaded and shipped on last Saturday coming from the same mine, and being placed on the cars at East LaPorte. Last summer the North Carolina Flux Company leased the Cullowhee property from the Trustees, and began preparations for mining operations, placing Mr. W.E. Ellis in charge. A great deal of work has been done in cleaning out the old shafts and building roads. Last week, Mr. Ellis moved his family here from Blue Ridge, Ga., and expects to make his home in Sylva for some time. It is generally believed that there are other copper properties of great value in Jackson County, as the lead crosses the county, northeast and southwest, with outcroppings at various places. And it is thought that the operation of the Cullowhee property is but a good beginning of the copper industry in Jackson. Two or more mines have been operated with success, in Swain, for several years. Back in the pioneer days of Jackson County, copper was mined, the ore hauled in wagons to Charleston, and shipped across the Atlantic to smelters in Wales. Since then, no serious attempts have been made to operate the mines of the county; but recently “scouts” for some of the biggest mining companies in America, have been investigating the deposits here. The success of the Swain County mines has stimulated interest, and it is known that the engineers and mining experts are watching the outcome of the Cullowhee operation with a great deal of interest.
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The Flux Company actually became the largest producer of copper east of the Mississippi, for a time shipping a carload of copper a day to Ducktown. It became a casualty of the Great Depression, which caused copper prices to plummet. The mine was shuttered for good in 1932.