Batavia’s gold rush

Batavia is celebrating its bicentennial this year, and The Clermont Sun is publishing a series of historic vignettes. Peter A. Barnes, writer, consultant and a Batavia native, now lives near Milford pursuing his life-long interest in local history.

By Peter A. Barnes

The California gold rush that began in 1849 drew many Midwesterners to the hills and rivers of the far west. The harsh realities of that gold rush had most of them back in the farms and fields of the Midwest after only a few years. The adventure whetted their appetites for gold, but few got more than a taste of the riches.

After the Civil War, few were interested in casting their fortunes again to the risks and long odds against success known by then to be the fate of most who ventured west to prospect for gold. By 1868 dreams of striking it rich were distant memories. That all changed when news that gold had been discovered along the East Fork of the Little Miami River at Elk Lick reached the wider world.

Placer gold had been found by former California gold rush prospectors in the gravel banks and sandbars along the East Fork River. No mother lode or glory hole here, but the gold that was here was easy to get. Just wash the sand and gravel through your gold pan or sluice box, and there it was. Gold was right here in Batavia.

The excitement was contagious. Soon there were flumes and sluices at every bend and creek up and down the river around Batavia. Glowing accounts of easy gold were published in the Cincinnati papers, bringing hundreds to the hills and valleys of Clermont County. Hopeful prospectors streamed into the county and fanned out, digging, panning and sluicing in every creek and stream. Batavia seemed to be at the center of this new El Dorado and, before the summer of 1868 was over, the creeks and rivers around Batavia were full of prospectors.

Those with resources to invest in larger scale mining operations joined forces and formed The Batavia Gold Mining Company. The principal offices, mill and foundry were to be located in Batavia, and mining would be limited to Clermont County. J.W. Glass, D.G. Dustin, L.C. Moore, John M. Nealey and S.F. Dowdney were the investors.

Through the summer of 1868 and into the fall, work progressed on the construction of flumes, sluices and buildings to carry on the mining operation. By the end of the year, though, it was clear that no one was going to get rich from the meager quantities of gold being produced.

The Batavia Gold Mining Company ceased operation after only a few months, as the excitement about the gold rush in Batavia waned. Only a few hardy and dedicated souls continued the search for gold around Batavia.

One such dedicated prospector was John Allen, who tunneled into the hills above Cabin Run Creek just east of Batavia, near East Fork Lake State Park. Braving cave-ins and washouts, Allen dug into the soft, sandy hillside for most of his adult life, producing but a few ounces of the precious metal. He never found the vein of riches he sought, but kept at the pursuit well into the 20th century. He is pictured in the photo archives of the Clermont County Historical Society’s website, standing before the entrance to his mine. The picture is dated 1920.

Still later prospecting is evidenced in an image from the same source picturing John Titus’ sluice operation along Brushy Fork. This image is dated 1933 and probably marks the end of dedicated mining for gold in the area around Batavia.

Stories persist about finds by casual prospectors of both gold and diamonds in the gravel banks of the East Fork and Stonelick Creek north of Batavia as late as the mid 20th century. One such story told to the author by retired Batavia schoolteacher Francis Reese describes a mine located along Possum Hollow Road that was worked into the 1950s. She told stories of diamonds picked from the gravel bars along Backbone Creek near the point where it empties into the East Fork, again just north of Batavia. Other stories tell of gold found near several small waterfalls further up Backbone Creek just off of the present route of State Route 132.

The gold rush in Batavia has turned out to be little more than a casual curiosity in the history of Batavia and Clermont County — so far.