In 1848, the discovery of gold by James W. Marshall at Sutters Mill in Coloma, California beckoned thousands of people all over the United States and the world to what became known as the “Gold Rush”! People came chasing their dream.
However, prior to all this, a man from across the sea in a city in the German state of Baden, specifically, Pforzheim, Germany also would chase his dream. He would become Germany’s gift to Rutherfordton, North Carolina.
He was born in 1782. His name was Christopher, alias Christoph or Christian, Bechtler. He had been apprenticed to a gold and silver metallurgist and gunsmith at the early age of 15. In Germany, Charles Frederick, Grand Duke of Baden, allowed watch manufacturing in the town and started a technical school which Christoph attended. Around 1820 Bechtler began his fascination for gold. In 1823 he requested a mining concession, around Sternenfels, Germany, however the amount of gold was not satisfactory. Prior to that Bechtler asked for a Ducal Badensian Patent for his gold washing machine in 1819.
In 1829 Christoph Bechtler made a decision. With his two sons, Augustus and Charles and a nephew, Carl Crist (who later in America changed his name to Christopher, hence the Bechtler Sr. and Jr. designation), emigrated to the United States. At the time Bechtler was 47 years old. In 1830 he opened a watchmaker store in Philadelphia and applied for citizenship. However, he quickly was drawn to North Carolina because of its’ early gold discoveries. In a remote part of North Carolina, Rutherford County, in either March or April he settled. He initially purchased three and a half acres, later 260 acres, north of Rutherfordton. He took out an ad in a regional paper announcing his jewelry and clock repair business. What happened next would be the beginning of Christopher Bechtler making history. He would be forever etched in the annuals of America and his newfound hometown of Rutherfordton.
Local miners had petitioned Congress to establish a branch mint in this gold producing area. Congress ignored the petition. It was then that they approached Bechtler to assay their gold and convert it into coins. In July of 1831 and several months thereafter, Bechtler took out advertisements in the North Carolina Spectator and Western Advertiser that stated he was ready to convert raw gold into coins at his home in Rutherfordton. Bechtler lived on the initial land he had purchased, (three and a half acres) from 1832 to 1838. He then built a home in Rutherfordton on North Washington Street. It was initially a two story four room house. Now, moved around the corner from its’ original location, it proudly stands today at 130 West Sixth Street in Rutherfordton.
Bechtler was considered very honest in all his dealing. He also became very rich. He made gold coins in the $1.00, $2.50, and $5.00 denominations. He minted gold coins seventeen years before the first United States mint in Philadelphia. In a decade he and his family minted $2,241,840 in gold coins and fluxed and additional $1,384,000 in raw gold. In their most active period from August 1836 to May 1838 the Bechtlers minted an amazing $770,239.50 in gold coins. Their impact on the region’s economy was remarkable. Bechtler was 61 when he died in Rutherfordton. He accomplished these amazing feats in just 14 years!
Friday, October 26th, the Grand Opening and Ribbon Cutting of Historic Bechtler Mint Park took place. It is located at 342 Gilboa Church Road in Rutherfordton. It was followed by the unveiling of the Bechtler press from which he minted coins now on display at the Bechtler house at 130 West Sixth Street in Rutherfordton. The press is on loan for five years from the American Numismatic Society. At the park, the only thing left is the entrance to the gold mine. The park hopefully will be an emerging project, headed by the Tourism Development Authority of Rutherford County, and will be open seven days a week, 24 hours a day.
The Bechtler House is available for tours by appointment. Call 828-287-6113 to make arrangement. It now is filled with the Bechtler gold press as well as Bechtler memorabilia. For local history buffs, it definitely deserves your attention.
The entire story of Christopher Bechtler, his family, adopted country and his magnificent achievements are now a beautiful and intriguing part of Rutherfordton, Rutherford County, North Carolina.