TownTalk 1-14-21 History/DNA/Genealogy with Mark Pace and Shannon Christmas

For some people, just hearing or reading the term “mitochondrial DNA” conjures up fond (or not-so-fond ) memories of high school biology class; for genealogy enthusiasts, however, mitochondrial DNA and other genetic tools can provide crucial information to help fill in a family tree.

Take the family tree of Shannon Christmas, for example. Christmas used genetic testing to find a common ancestor that goes back to his seven-times great grandparents. And he ought to know – Christmas is a nationally known genetic genealogy influencer. He appeared on Town Talk Thursday with host Bill Harris and guest host Mark Pace, genealogy specialist in the North Carolina Room at Richard Thornton Library in Oxford.

Christmas, who phoned in from Maryland, has local ties to Warren County. He discussed Thursday different types of genetic testing and the importance of understanding what each can provide when researching family history.

Christmas specializes in genetic, colonial American, and African-American genealogy in Virginia and the Carolinas, according to information on the Afro-American Historical and Genealogical Society website. He uses autosomal DNA to verify and extend pedigrees, assess the veracity of oral history, and reconstruct ancestral genomes. His Through The Trees blog is for genealogy enthusiasts interested in learning about new technologies to aid in research genealogy.

Before purchasing a DNA test, Christmas said, people should know a little bit about the different types of DNA. “Think about what it is they want to learn because that will determine which test is appropriate…think about what questions you want to answer and then match your question to the right DNA test,” he said. For example, only women pass mitochondrial DNA on to their children; both men and women have x-DNA, he continued, but it has a “unique inheritance pattern. Women pass down x-DNA to all of their children…men only pass x-DNA down to their daughters.”

Continued below. For audio click play…

Something called autosomal DNA, however, reflects all of one’s ancestry. “That is the type of DNA that we tend to find to be most powerful for many of our genealogical questions because it covers so much information,” Christmas said. Children get one set of autosomal DNA from their mother and one set from their father, he explained. Typically covering the previous five generations, autosomal DNA can be used to trace back further. It was what he used to tie back to his seven-times great-grandparents.

Documents such as wills, deeds, Bibles and other historical records are very useful in tracking down ancestors, Pace and Christmas agree, but genetic information adds another dimension that can confirm or disprove what may be written in a family Bible or otherwise recorded on paper.

Another question to ask yourself before submitting a DNA test is “Do you want to know the whole truth?”  he said. “DNA tests can reveal family secrets and secret families,” which can create a whole new line of inquiry and, Christmas noted, “not everyone reacts the same way to the truth.”

Christmas agreed that the genetic testing offered through genealogy websites and other companies are pretty consistent and reliable with providing information about which continent you’re from, but less so when drilling down to region or country within a continent. “One has  to take that particular part of the test with a grain of salt,” he said. Genetic testing is “extremely accurate at predicting relationships, and matching individuals as relatives. And that is the part of the test which is most useful in genealogy,” he said.

Choose a genealogical DNA test to build out a family tree, he advised. “Go straight for the full mitochondrial sequence,” he said, which will show your mother’s mother’s mother’s side. Because it mutates very slowly, the mitochondrial DNA can find a perfect match, but a common ancestor may be beyond the typical five-generation scope. An autosomal DNA test will match you up with relatives to confirm things you already know.

Something that genetic testing cannot discern, however is cultural identity. There are individuals who have documents which connect them to native Americans, for example, Christmas said. Although the cultural connection exists, that doesn’t mean that genetic testing can prove a connection. “Genetics is one thing, but cultural traditions and kinship go beyond the scope of genetics.”

The North Carolina and genealogy room at Thornton Library is open weekdays from 10 a.m. to noon and 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. Call the library at 919.693.1121 to make an appointment to visit. Contact Pace at

Hungry Heroes is at it Again

Amanda Riggan is at it again – the founder of Hungry Heroes BBQ returns to Henderson Thursday, this time to stock refrigerators at the sheriff’s office, fire department and EMS agencies.

Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, Riggan has had to make some adjustments in the way she shows her appreciation for law enforcement personnel. Since 2018, she has been firing up her Traeger grill and cooking up meals for law enforcement officers and firefighters.

One new program is called “Stock the Fridge,” and that’s what she’ll be doing in Henderson later this week.

Armed with everything from bottled water, Gatorade, chips and other snack items, Riggan will visit the Vance County agencies. “I always buy what I like…I think I like the good stuff,” she remarked during Tuesday’s Town Talk with John C. Rose. “They never complain,” she said, of those whose fridges get stocked.

(To Listen to Riggan and Owen on TownTalk, Click Play…)

“I wish we could actually serve and shake hands and give hugs, but we can still bless people,” she said. Her Hungry Heroes program came to Henderson in September 2020, partnering with local restaurant Skipper Forsyth’s Bar-B-Q to provide meals to the Henderson Police Department and the Henderson Fire Department. This time, she said, she will deliver the snack items as a way to show her appreciation for the tireless service they provide in their community.

Randy Owen, a friend of Riggan’s and fire technology coordinator at Vance-Granville Community College, agreed. Owen also appeared on Town Talk Tuesday and said when the two were discussing a return visit, they agreed that serving a meal may not work as well this time, given the spike in COVID-19 cases being experienced in Vance County and statewide. “Maybe this will put a smile on their faces,” he said, referring to the delivery of the beverages and snacks.

Although she misses the face-to-face meetings that Hungry Heroes created before the pandemic, Riggan said she hopes the Stock the Fridge project will serve the purpose until she can get back to doing what she loves – interacting with all those who serve their communities on the front lines, whether in a police uniform or firefighter gear. “I’ll be back as soon as this COVID is over and we’ll serve real food — we’ll serve barbecue and not just snacks” she promised.

Until then, the grab-and-go snacks hopefully will be a welcome addition to the fridge or pantry that firefighters and deputies can get on their way back from a call or take with them when they leave.

In addition to the local agencies, Riggan’s Hungry Heroes serves active military and veterans. She went to Fort Scott in Kansas back in November and was responsible for three meals a day for a weeklong event that entertained a group of combat veterans on a hunting expedition.

Owen, who coordinates training for 58 agencies in the Franklin, Granville, Vance and Warren counties, noted that the firefighters don’t just put out a fire and then head back to the station. “They are dealing with people if they have to bet people out of the house,” he said. “Their job is also to console…to get the Red Cross involved…It goes a lot deeper than just going and putting the fire out,” he explained.

“These agencies step up to the plate every time,” Owen said. “It’s not just to fight fires, but it’s to serve the community and I appreciate them so much. They are my heroes. And Amanda thinks the same way I do.

Visit to learn more.

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TownTalk 1-7-21 Washington DC Riot

Host John C. Rose talks about the events that occurred in Washington DC on Wednesday, Jan. 6th.

For full details and audio click play.


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TownTalk: Vaccine Deployment; Lisa Harrison, GVPH Director

The Granville-Vance Health District is establishing a Hotline for county residents to call to register for the COVID-19 vaccine, according to GVHD Health Director Lisa Harrison.

Harrison appeared on Town Talk Wednesday and told host John C. Rose that residents who fall into the 1B phase of people eligible for the vaccine can call the number as early as tomorrow (Thursday). The number will be posted on and on WIZS home page when it is available.

“The plan is for us to get as many shots in people’s arms as quickly as possible,” Harrison said, but asked for patience from residents as the health department staff makes adjustments to roll out the vaccine. 

Click Play to Listen to Lisa Harrison on TownTalk…

The state is in Phase 1A of the process, which prioritizes vaccinations for front-line health care workers and those who work and who live in long-term care facilities. Harrison predicted that vaccinations for this group would take all of the month of January to complete, at which time the area would move to Phase 1B. Phase 1B includes any resident age 75 or older and front-line essential workers aged 50 or older, according to Harrison. “That is a huge group – we will be (vaccinating) that group for quite a while,’ she said. 

Harrison predicted that it may be March before the third group prioritized to get the shot. This group includes health-care workers and front-line workers of any age, as well as other groups including educators and city and county government officials.

The health department staff continues to monitor current COVID-19 cases and do contact tracing, and now, Harrison said, she has 20 people who can give the vaccine. “We want to do the best job we can as fast as we can,” she said. “I know a lot of people are really eager to come to the health dept or the hospital and get their shot, and I am grateful,” Harrison continued, and asked for public’s patience as those at higher risk to contract COVID-19 are vaccinated first.

“We will get to everyone. We just can’t get to everyone today and tomorrow. And so we will continue to let you know what comes up next, following the rules but being as fast as possible.”

Right now, the health department has sufficient vaccine to get through the next two weeks. She estimated that the vaccine on hand can vaccinate 100 people a day for 10 days. “We’re both excited and daunted by the work ahead,” Harrison said.

The health department is a “small but mighty group” putting in long hours to work on contact tracing, entering data into the state-mandated COVID monitoring system and now giving vaccines. Harrison said, “I will be very appreciative when other primary care offices and pharmacies have the vaccine available.” At this time, however, health departments and hospitals are the only outlets for the vaccine. Hospitals will spend most of the month of January vaccinating ER and ICU personnel, she said. Other front-line or essential workers will get vaccinated as soon as possible. “We look forward to getting to them in the coming weeks,” Harrison said.

For more information, contact the Vance office at 252.492.7915. The Granville office number is 919.693.2141.

TownTalk for Snow Lovers, Weather Buffs and Scientists

There really IS a chance of snow on Friday, according to a meteorologist with the National Weather Service. While there could be some accumulation in our area, the term Jonathan Blaes used to describe what we could see probably isn’t used much at his office in Raleigh  – it’s going to be wet and gloppy.

Blaes is the meteorologist in charge for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) National Weather Service in Raleigh. “The rumor, the conjecture, the excitement is already out there,” Blaes told Town Talk host Bill Harris on Tuesday. He said there may be just enough cold temps associated with the system to create some wet snow, “and some of that will likely accumulate in some spots.”

But he doesn’t predict icy conditions and freezing rain or sleet, more a period of rain that mixes with wet snow, falling heavily, at times. And snow lovers, stay tuned: weather patterns and the jet stream flow the NWS is watching now could make you “optimistic” during the second and third weeks of January.

In addition to getting snow lovers’ hopes up, Blaes discussed weather topics and trends and how they affect North Carolina, from hurricanes and El Niño to why Person County seems to get more snow than its neighbors to the east. And why it’s been so awfully wet here lately.

Click play for TownTalk with guest Jonathan Blaes…

Blaes returned to Raleigh in 1998 (after stints in Sterling, VA and Albany, NY with the National Weather Service) and most recently as science operations officer at NWS in Raleigh, working to promote science and training while facilitating collaborating research activities with the University and other partners. He is a 1995 graduate of NC State, where he received a degree in meteorology from the Marine, Earth and Atmospheric Sciences Department.

“It has been rainy… in the northern Piedmont,” said Blaes, confirming the excessive rainfalls lately. This past year was one of the top 5 – 3rd or 4th wettest year on record,” and that’s without major impact from hurricanes. What began last winter and continued through spring is likely to remain in place this coming spring, he said.

Every 10 years, NOAA releases a 10-year trend for weather. He said the next update likely will present a set of data that shows slightly warmer temperatures on average. That doesn’t necessarily mean that temperatures are rising, he said, but that nighttime temperatures aren’t quite as low, which would push the overall average a bit higher.

All this may contribute to fewer big winter ice storms in the area, but climate outlooks overall can be a little tricky, Blaes said. Precipitation forecasts are more straightforward –check “how much rain is in the gauge every day and add it up,” he said. “All it takes is one big storm” to skew the overall weather trend and to make it memorable.

This past year was a memorable hurricane season, Blaes said. The hurricane “season” traditionally runs June through November, but weather experts now are looking at storms forming in May. Reluctant to tie it all to climate change, Blaes said the systems that we in North America see as hurricanes form in sub-Saharan Africa, travel over the warm waters of the Atlantic and gain strength before doing damage as a hurricane in the Caribbean and the U.S. In general, climate change could mean not more storms, but storms that bring more rain. Higher rainfall in Africa can affect the storms we see here.

“Keep in mind, while we didn’t get clobbered by a hurricane this year, we didn’t have a landfall of a strong tropical storm or a hurricane that devastated the coast, we actually had the remnants or the fringes of anywhere between six and eight tropical storms or hurricanes impact our state,” Blaes said. And while we didn’t have a direct hit, the “glancing blows” from fringes of storms had an impact. Some of the worst conditions, he recalled, were recorded in practically the middle of the state – Greensboro – as the remnants of a hurricane made its way from Louisiana across the NC mountains. Nearly half of the rainfall from late July through September is the result of a tropical storm or its remnants.

Stronger, wetter storms that track farther inland, as well as sea level rise, Blaes said are warning signs that people should be aware of.  Because North Carolina is situated in the middle latitudes, we get systems from the tropics as well as Arctic air from the Poles. The mountains to the west between the mountains and the ocean, our state experiences strange weather from time to time. The mountains to the West and the warm waters of the Atlantic Ocean both affect weather systems and patterns. “We’re in this mixing bowl,” Blaes noted. Mother Nature is always looking for balance. If there’s too many of one thing or if it’s too hot or too cold, Nature wants to find a way to get things even. But it never succeeds. That imbalance, that effort to achieve balance is what causes the weather,” he said.


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State Treasurer Dale Folwell; Money, Drinks, Covid, Pension Plans on TownTalk

For North Carolina Treasurer Dale Folwell, top issues on his radar continue to be the financial health of the state, as well as keeping fully funded the state employees’ pension plan, health-care concerns and understanding the effects of COVID-19.

Folwell, a Republican, won re-election in November to a second term as state treasurer. He spoke with John C. Rose on the Dec. 29 edition of Town Talk. “I think the people of North Carolina understand that when the money is right a lot of things are going to be ok eventually. But when the money is wrong, it’s hard to come back,” he said. “As the keeper of the public purse…our only loyalty is to the people who teach, protect and otherwise serve both at the state and the local level.”

Something that Folwell expressed concern about is the recent bill which allows bars and restaurants to sell mixed drinks to go. “I did not vote for that, nor did I vote for the original resolution about shutting down bars and restaurants back in April,” Folwell said. The additional regulations “are the last things (restaurants) need right now in order to comply with the new rule.” People who think that this will solve the restaurants’ problems, he said, “don’t really understand what the problem really is.”

For TownTalk audio click play…

Folwell spoke about the state’s employees and pension plan for retirees and how federal policy changes can affect a state’s policies. “We occasionally have to make changes to sort of gee-haw, so to speak, with the federal laws that are passed…that’s one thing that happened last year,” he said, noting recent changes in Congress regarding taxation of retirement plans.  A new Medicare Advantage contract goes into effect in January, which will involve savings to nearly 150,000 retirees on the state health plan, which “will result in a billion dollar savings to the state of North Carolina. “I want you to hear me clearly when I say this. For the Basic Plan, it’s zero premium to the member and zero cost to the state of North Carolina. It’s an unheard-of negotiation and we’re very pleased with this.” Humana is the health-care provider driving the business, he added.

“I think that the policy-makers in North Carolina need to be focused on how we flatten the economic curve of the state,” Folwell said in response to a question about the latest round of federal COVID-19 relief funds and those who have lost their jobs during the pandemic. Leaders need to figure out “how we put the joy of achievement back in the small- and medium-sized business owners,” especially noting how, especially restaurant owners, have been “decimated because of COVID…generations folks in these businesses that are going to shut down permanently. We can only do that as policy makers if we do it transparently, if we do it consistently, if we do it by willing to challenge assumptions and that’s just the biggest challenge we have right now.”

Folwell mentioned his concern for hospital consolidation and its effect on health care, especially during the pandemic and increased hospitalizations. “This is an issue not regarding the front-line people who provide health care, (but) it’s about these executives that run multi-billion dollar non-profits in North Carolina who make millions of dollars in salary.” When hospital consolidations occur, Folwell said they become like “cartels, they’re formed in order to restrict competition or raise prices and the people that suffer the most are those in our state who are lower- or fixed-income,” he added.

In addition to the political issues, however, Folwell encouraged everyone to check out, a website that can help bring together residents with unclaimed money being held in the state’s Escheats Fund for safekeeping. That amount stands at $900 million, according to Folwell.

“We found $2,500 for the Carolina Panthers,” Folwell noted, adding that the Panthers’ organization gave the money to a domestic violence abuse shelter in Charlotte. The shelter, Folwell said, also had money in the fund, as well as three of the reporters covering the original donation to the shelter. “It’s amazing how much money is there,” Folwell said. “We’ve given out over $25 million out of just since July 4.”

Be patient, he advised, since there is now a backlog for the process, which he attributes to more people being at home and researching whether they have money in the fund. “Once the money is there, it’s there forever. It’s not a gimmick. It’s the last paycheck that didn’t get delivered to you, it’s the rent deposit that didn’t deliver to you, small bank account or in one case, a $600,000 life insurance proceed to someone designated to a beneficiary and no one had ever told them.”

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High Blood Pressure, Diabetes, Covid Wellness Conference Info For Tonight 1-4-21 – TownTalk

Two women with an eye on community service and good health are teaming up to provide a special telephone wellness conference this evening to discuss the importance of identifying underlying health concerns – hypertension and diabetes – even amid a global pandemic.

Tonight’s conference, “Understanding Hypertension and Diabetes Effect on Blood Vessels,” is the result of a collaboration between registered nurse Toni Wilson and the Rev. Ola Thorpe-Cooper, pastor of Holy Temple Church on East Avenue in Henderson.

“This Conference is for anyone 21 years and over with a goal of good health consciousness,” stated Rev. Cooper, in a statement to WIZS. She and Wilson appeared on today’s Town Talk with John C. Rose and underscored the importance of keeping medical appointments to stay on top of existing health conditions and learning how to prevent problems from affecting good health.

To join the conference, which begins at 6 p.m., dial 425.436.6330. The access code is 8605811#. This is a free event, although long-distance charges apply if those calls are not included in the caller’s calling plan.

Rev. Cooper is the newest member of the Henderson City Council, filling the unexpired term of the late Fearldine Simmons. She returned to Henderson in 2007 after a four-decades long career with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. She reached out to Wilson upon learning that she operates a YouTube channel called Talk to Toni Wilson.

“Vance County has a high incidence of high blood pressure and diabetes,” Wilson said during the Town Talk interview. Although a predisposition to both conditions could be hereditary, Wilson said, they also can be preventable. She emphasized the importance of keeping regular doctor visits and checkups, even during a pandemic.

For TownTalk audio click play…

Wilson had been having a weekly call with family members to help them understand about the effect of diabetes. “Then, as we heard more about COVID-19 and all the chronic illnesses, the co-morbidities, the secondary illnesses that put us at risk for COVID-19…my thought pattern was, ‘wait a minute,’ I need to get something out there so people understand what’s going on,” Wilson added. “They need to know that all these chronic illnesses they have are putting them at greater risk.”

In June or July, she began doing video programs with people who had been diagnosed with COVID-19.

“(People) are not going to the doctor and being checked like they should…they’re having symptoms like increased thirst, or increased urination, unintended weight loss, of feeling very tired, their vision is blurred, or they have these constant headaches…they’re simply not feeling well.” More severe health complications may arise just because they aren’t going to the doctor like they should, Wilson added, saying that some of those complications could be prevented.

Going to the doctor during the COVID-19 pandemic, she said, could cause some people some anxiety. Increased cleaning of the offices, spacing out appointments so patients don’t come into contact with one another, and mask wearing are just a few of the precautions that medical offices are using to ensure safety of patients and staff. “It’s still very important that you get those checkups, very important,” Wilson said. High blood pressure has been called the “silent killer,” so a person may not experience symptoms associated with it, including dizziness or pounding in the chest, Wilson said. “So whether you feel good or you do not feel good, you still need your checkups,” she said.

It is so important for health care providers to have a good medical history, Wilson noted, “asking about your family, your diet, taking into consideration your weight, the type of food that you’re eating, what type of medicines that you’re on and your activities, if you do any regular scheduled activities,” she continued. The question to ask your doctor, however is this: How do I prevent it if I don’t already have the condition, as well as the chances of developing the condition if it already exists in your family, Wilson added.

Tonight’s conference will examine the job of blood vessels in the body and the negative effect of hypertension and diabetes. High blood pressure can cause the blood vessel walls to weaken and can create aneurisms. With diabetes, unregulated blood sugar levels contribute to the buildup of plaque which limits elasticity of the vessels. The heart then must work harder to pump the blood, further breaking down the blood vessels. All this can lead to major health events such as heart attack, stroke and limb amputations. “You need to keep those vessels in good shape,” Wilson said.

As for diabetes, Wilson said Type 2 is a result of what we do to our own bodies. “Not exercising, not watching our weight, and just eating anything we want to eat,” she said, all contribute to diabetes Type 2. The pancreas cannot produce enough insulin to keep blood sugar levels steady. Wilson sees patients with both hypertension and diabetes, and sometimes heredity is a factor. Despite this predisposition, however, she says they can be prevented. Wilson hopes to be able to educate people on how to avoid these health conditions.

“I believe you cannot help people when you don’t feel good about yourself, when you have some kind of medical condition,” Rev. Cooper said. “I think you have to be well in order to take care of people to help them to stay well,” she said.  By the way, both Wilson and Rev. Cooper encourage having the COVID-19 vaccinations – Wilson has had her first shot and is ready for the second one next week, she said. Rev. Cooper will have her vaccination as soon as she is able to, she said.

Wilson and Rev. Cooper have never met in person, but upon recommendation by a family member, Wilson tuned in to Rev. Cooper’s virtual church service; then Rev. Cooper viewed one of Wilson’s programs on YouTube “and she was talking about COVID-19 and she interviewed a couple from Henderson, North Carolina. So I contacted her and I wanted some more information about COVID-19,” Rev. Cooper said. The dialogue between the two resulted in tonight’s telephone wellness conference.

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Free Wellness Conference Call Jan 4th: High Blood Pressure and Diabetes (more info Monday on TownTalk)

Henderson City Councilwoman and the pastor of Holy Temple Church, Rev. Ola Thorpe-Cooper, plans to appear on TownTalk Monday, January 4th.  She is a past worker for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

It is also planned that Ola Thorpe-Cooper will be joined by Toni Wilson, who operates the Talk to Toni Wilson YouTube Channel.

On TownTalk, they will discuss and promote a free wellness conference call which also is scheduled for Monday, January 4th, 2021 from 6 p.m. to 7 p.m.  The topic will be “Understanding Hypertension and Diabetes affect on Blood Vessels.”

Free Call-in Line
(425) 436-6330
Access Code – 8605811#

In an email to WIZS News, Ola Thorpe-Cooper wrote, “This Conference is for anyone 21 years and over with a goal of good health consciousness!!”

For more information ahead of time, call 202 236 4637.



At the Henderson City Council meeting September 14, 2020, Council members voted to appoint Ms. Ola Thorpe-Cooper to fill the unexpired term of Fearldine Simmons. Simmons passed away at the age of 73 on August 9, 2020. Her term was active through 2021.

Thorpe-Cooper was approved by a 5-2 ballot vote and will serve as the representative for the Council’s Ward 4 seat.

Henderson Mayor Eddie Ellington said, “Ms. Ola Thorpe-Cooper is a fine lady that will serve our City well. If you look back on her impressive, noteworthy achievements through the years, that’s what she has done her whole life, help others. We welcome her aboard and look forward to her encouraging personality and many talents.”

Local Gold at Portis Gold Mine: TownTalk 12-28-20 with Tim Fisher

Modern-day gold prospectors like Tim Fisher have tools and technology that simply weren’t available to folks who ventured to California and Alaska to make their fortunes during the era known as the Gold Rush. What Fisher undoubtedly does share with those earlier prospectors, however, is an enthusiasm and curiosity about what may lie just below the surface.

Gold. Right here in North Carolina.

Fisher was a guest on Town Talk Monday and he spoke with host Bill Harris about land he and his son own in northeast Franklin County, near the Nash County line. It once was part of the property on which the Portis Gold Mine is located, and Fisher hopes to restore the area to its former golden glory. In fact, he said he hopes to do some work in the next week or so on some dredge piles that haven’t been touched since the mine was active. What he finds, he said, he will post on another tool his prospecting predecessors didn’t have – social media.

For the audio of TownTalk click play…

Fisher runs Eastern Outdoor Expeditions and he hopes the Gold Run Branch Goldmine will be a place where people can have fun learning how to pan for gold while learning something new about an activity that spurred a frenzy in mid-19th century United States. Prospectors and miners flocked to California and then to Alaska, Fisher said, in search of their fortunes by digging in the ground and straining gold from rivers.

“This area is rich in gold,” Fisher told Harris of the area around Wood and Ransom’s Bridge. “A lot of gold has been found over the years.” And he predicts that there’s still a lot of gold to be found. It just isn’t an easy process.  “It’s in the clay, and you really have to work hard to get the gold separated from the clay,” he said.

As the story goes, peddlers traveling through the area near Wood in the backwoods of what is now Franklin County would stop in at John Portis’s place to spend the night, sort of a modern-day bed and breakfast. One peddler noticed that the “twinkling mud” Portis had put between the logs of his cabin to keep it airtight, Fisher said.

He researched mining journals and old newspapers to learn more about the history of the Portis Gold Mine. He knows that the mining process involved using running water through troughs to separate the mineral from the clay. The clay slurry produced was then washed away, leaving the gold behind. This was a difficult way to extract gold, he said, so prospectors were eager to head West, where they had heard gold was much easier to find. The town of Wood, located in northeastern corner of Franklin County, used to have its own post office and railroad station, as well as a general store, Fisher said. Now, however, it’s just a crossroads. The buildings that housed the post office and the train station remain, but that’s about it, Fisher said. He hopes that increased tourism to Gold Run Branch Goldmine will bring a little “shine” back to the area.

In his research about the area Fisher has learned that notables of the time visited Wood – Thomas Edison and Mark Twain, for example. He also said he discovered that the very first performance in North Carolina of the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus was at Portis Gold Mine.

Perhaps the most unusual discovery, however, was one that Fisher and his son made while walking their property. They noticed timbers sticking out of the ground in a very wet, swampy area near a creek. Fisher thought it may the remains of an old stamp mill, which were often found near gold mining sites. His son thought it may be the entrance to a long-forgotten mine shaft. They finally got the chance to investigate in October of 2019, when the area was finally dry enough to get to the timbers.


To their surprise, they found a ship – a bucket line dredge, to be exact. This particular dredge, although buried in mud and sediment now, was used for several years, Fisher said, “until the gold got thin, and then they just stopped using it.”  The mining journals Fisher researched noted that the dredge was built in New York City and then disassembled and put in pieces on a train for delivery to Portis Gold Mine. It is 94 feet long and 32 feet wide, and has a 7-foot-deep hull.

“The crazy thing is the paint is still on the wood,” Fisher said, adding that the color is barn red. Some glass is still intact and the hinges are still on the doors. His best guess is that the roof split in two and the dredge slowly sank and was buried in the sediment that flowed into the valley where it is currently situated. The plan is to rebuild it so visitors can have an idea of what it was like in its heyday.

Fisher wants to mine the mounds of sediment in and around the dredge, in hopes of finding some gold there. “All the water runs through the ship,” he said, which makes it like “a huge gold pan.” Fisher explained that the main purpose of dredging was to separate the smaller pieces of gold from the clay, which meant that the larger “klunkers” would be discarded with the slurry. He expects to find some klunkers as their prospecting continues.

Fisher found a story from 1911 in Henderson’s Gold Leaf newspaper that estimated the Portis Gold Mine had more than $1 billion in gold. Fisher projects that, with the price of gold hovering at around $1,700 per ounce today, today’s estimate could be double.

Back in the 1980’s, when gold prices were low, so was interest in land that had gold mines on it. Fisher bought his property after it had passed through several tree companies’ ownership. One reason he and his son chose the particular two tracts was because there is a small branch that runs through a little valley. It is a perfect spot for sediment to accumulate. Sediment that may contain something a little shinier than the prevalent orange clay. “We knew there was gold there,” he said, adding that he got a fair amount of kidding at first for buying what amounted to a swampy flood plain.

“We still get gold on a daily basis,” Fisher said. But one byproduct of this gold-mining process is stains – on clothing, on hands, on everything. “It looks like … a weird fingernail polish.”