by Barney Quick
If, when you’re observing the throng of tourists and locals ambling down Van Buren— Nashville’s busiest street—you notice, among those aimlessly gazing in shop windows, a group of highly focused people peering into wire-mesh baskets, you’re seeing gem miners in action. There are definitely precious stones in the Brown County hills, as of last August.
That’s when Matt and Amy Gray established the Copperhead Creek Mining Company. It’s the newest addition to the Iris Garden Complex, an array of buildings north of the courthouse on Van Buren Street that also includes overnight-rental cottages and an art gallery.
“On vacation last year with my dad and our kids, we went gem mining and had a great time,” says Amy. “We found a father-and-sons team that installs gem mines and brought them here to build one for us.”
The structure entails a water tower and a winding viaduct called a sluice through which the water flows. The items needed by miners are a bag of sand, known as mining rough in the trade, and a small basket.
Customers purchase a bag of a particular size that, among the grains of sand, contains either fossils, gems, or arrowheads. They are given a basket. The idea is to pour a little of the mining rough into the basket at a time, dip into the stream and give it a shake. Most shakes yield a residual collection of stones, which customers get to keep. Among the gems one might find are peridot, quartz, ruby, emerald, and amethyst. Fossils might include sea urchins, shark teeth, sponge coral, or petrified wood. “A lot of people get really excited when they find amber with the bugs in it,” Amy notes.
The team that built the mine for the Grays go to actual mines around the United States throughout the year and buy stones culled from the veins. They then leaven the sand with them for packaging and distribution.
Matt Grey is from Gatlinburg, Tennessee and is the son of renowned artist Jim Gray. Amy is from Columbus, Indiana. After several years of living in Pensacola operating an art gallery they relocated to Brown County, which suited each of them due to proximity to her family and the area’s similarity to the town he came from. They purchased the Iris Garden property, renaming the former Brown County Art Barn to reflect its inclusion in the overall complex.
“There’s lots to look at in downtown Nashville, but we noticed that there wasn’t an activity-based business here,” says Amy. “Kids in particular needed something to do. Not that gem mining appeals only to kids—we get enthusiastic miners of all ages!” She notes that the water tower is a favorite backdrop for tourists’ photographs.
The Iris Garden Complex proper is flanked by the Joybell Theater, the Trolly sandwich stand, and the Ice Cream Cottage. “We often joke that people can have a destination vacation on half a block here in Nashville,” says Amy. “Lodging, dining, art, a show and mining, all in one spot!”
The mine stayed open well into November last year, and the Grays intend to be open this year as long as weather permits. Rain is no obstacle either, due to a big umbrella. Likewise, the length of a business day is determined by whether there are people who want to mine.
“We get a lot of repeat customers, even locals,” observes Amy. “We also get people stopping to see what the excitement is all about. When you pass this location on your way up the sidewalk, you’re likely to hear someone exclaiming, ‘Look what I found!’”
Copperhead Creek Mining Company can be contacted at (812) 988-2422.