If you’re “from around here” (meaning Villa Rica, Georgia) you know Carl Lewis. If not, please allow me the pleasure of introducing you to him. My introduction will be, in part, quoted from a 2008 newspaper article written when the Pine Mountain Gold Museum was first opened and Carl was 64 years old. Carl retired as the Historical Preservation Coordinator of the museum this year of 2019.
Carl Lewis is a fixture around the Pine Mountain Gold Museum, but his time on the property goes far beyond the city’s involvement with what is now known as Stockmar Park.
Lewis, 64, a Villa Rica Recreation Department employee, is the last living person to commercially operate the gold mines on Pine Mountain. He and the late Dodgie Stockmar, whose family owned 32 acres behind the 28 acres now owned by the City of Villa Rica along Stockmar Road, worked for two years cleaning up the property and opened it in 1993 for what they called “recreational prospecting.”
Recreational prospecting allowed amateur gold miners the opportunity to try their hand at panning, sluicing (using a box with ripples), dredging, high banking (using an apparatus that sits above ground with ore material that is separated by spraying water), and shakers. They also allowed people to canvas the mountain with metal detectors to find mining artifacts and other items.
“We had thousands and thousands and thousands of people come out,” Lewis said. “We had every type of person come out here, including preachers, doctors, and other professionals. It was recreation, just like playing golf. They’d really get into it. We had one doctor from Marietta who would come out here every chance he got. Some people didn’t even look for gold, they just came out to hang around, meet people, talk and relax. It’s a good way for recreation; but, don’t quit your day job to become a gold miner, because you’ll starve to death.”
Gold was, and still is, found on the property on occasion, but Villa Rica gold is mainly in powder form instead of the more traditional nugget form, so it is hard to separate from the soil unless you know what you’re doing, and it takes a lot of powder to amount to anything. “We had one fellow one time that had a high banker and I took a backhoe and piled him up a bunch of dirt from the swamp in the lower end of the property,” Lewis said. “He worked down there all weekend, and I mean he worked hard because he ran through that whole pile of dirt, and he claims he got over an ounce of gold that one weekend and that’s the most I ever heard about. I don’t doubt it, because that was some pretty rich material.”
The recreational mining operation also included a small museum. In fact, the artifacts on display at Villa Rica City Hall came out of Carl Lewis’ museum and other artifacts are on display at the Wendy’s restaurant on Highway 61. Before Stockmar and Lewis opened their mining operation, it had not operated commercially since Stockmar’s father, Buddy Stockmar, walked away from it in the early 1930s when his rock crusher broke three hours into his first day of mining. This after working three years preparing the operation, including opening what is known as the Stubblefield gold vein that is reportedly one of the richest gold veins in the region. In fact, the ore he hauled up into one of the ore tanks the day his rock crusher broke is still in the tank. “Buddy was famous for starting something and then not finishing it,” Lewis said. Some of the equipment Buddy Stockmar purchased to mine the area was bought in the 1970s by Villa Rica’s Bicentennial Committee. That mining equipment now resides on the property as displays for the city’s Pine Mountain Gold Museum at Stockmar Park.
Lewis grew up in Lithia Springs but moved near Villa Rica in the 1970s. It was an interest in the history of the area that led Lewis to Dodgie Stockmar, who related to him the history of the gold-mining operations on the mountain that began in 1826. “One thing just led to another, so me and him went in as partners and opened up 32 acres he owned along the airstrip,” Lewis said. “There had been several attempts before to open it up. I didn’t have anything to do so I said, ‘Yeah, we’ll have a go at it.’”
Stockmar and Lewis spent two years cleaning up the property (at Stockmar Park), building panning troughs, cutting roads and laying out more than 200 campsites before they opened the area to the public. “We opened it up in 1993 and it was open until a little after Dodgie was killed in a plane crash in 1999,” Lewis said.
Lewis ran the gold mines for nearly three years, but he was having trouble keeping the signs he purchased to market the property from being torn down every weekend by the city’s community service workers. So, in 1995 he decided he needed to work from the inside.
“I went to the city in 1995 to get a job because I thought, ‘I’ve got to get in there and know those people because that’s who I’ve got to deal with,’” he said. “They told me they had a job as a meter reader and I said, ‘I don’t care what the job is just so I can be around City Hall to stick my nose where it needs to be stuck.’ I’ve been with the city ever since.”
The late Don Cranford took over the recreational prospecting operation when Lewis left and ran it even after Stockmar died in 1999, but Lewis continued to be involved in the commercial venture. Even after Lewis became employed by the city, he kept working with Stockmar to acquire more of the historic portions of the gold-mining operations along Stockmar Road that were owned by someone else at the time.
The property in question changed hands several times, but Lewis was never able to acquire it because the owners wouldn’t break up the acreage that fronted the road. However, in 2001 the 28 most historic acres were acquired by the city because the owners finally decided its rocky features would be too expensive to develop and they had reservations about possible contamination related to cyanide use in the early gold-mining operations. The city’s property fronts Stockmar Road and is connected to the 32 acres Lewis and Stockmar operated on the backside of Pine Mountain that is now part of the Stockmar Airport property.
“Dodgie never knew that we saved his homeplace,” Lewis said.
Villa Rica Parks and Recreation Director Jeff Reese (now the Mayor of Villa Rica) gives all of the credit for saving the historic property for posterity to Lewis.
“Carl pretty much single-handedly saved that 28 acres from being developed into subdivisions,” Reese said in 2008. “That’s his forever and always. No matter where we go with that project, he’s the one who kept it from being gone. Because of his love for that, he brings a lot to the table that I couldn’t get out of any other employee. That’s not a job for him, it’s his passion.”
It can be argued that Lewis is the foremost expert on the area and its past mining operations and he has used his expertise and construction background to build many of the attractions there for the city, including the gold-panning shed, the grist mill pond, the vintage stamp mill and portions of the museum itself.
“He really is an invaluable asset to me trying to get the museum up and going,” Reese said. “I can build the infrastructure, but having somebody with a passion for the property, the history of the site and Villa Rica, and gold mining in general, is something you normally wouldn’t have. I really do think Carl is in his own world up there and sometimes in his mind, he goes 100 years back and becomes what we call ‘Uncle Abe.’ I think he goes into costume and loves that other life.”
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