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 in 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, 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.