Virginia Rocks and Minerals

Virginia though small, produces a wide variety of rocks, minerals, fossils and metals.

Drowned valleys along the coastal plain of Virginia form long bays and, in the southeast, swamps such as the Great Dismal Swamp. Behind the coastal, sandy plain lies the Piedmont Plateau, its rolling surface broken by ridges of crystalline rocks. This passes into the Blue Ridge Mountains, running from northeast to southwest, and the Alleghany Mountains, with a great valley between them.

In 2016, Virginia declared Nelsonite as the first official state rock of Virginia. Nelsonite was first discovered in the early 1900s near Roseland in central Virginia. Found in Nelson County and named after the county, Nelsonite is a distinctive igneous rock composed primarily of the ilmenite and apatite, and as such it’s rich in both titanium and calcium phosphate. Titanium is used in paint pigments and steel alloys, and the calcium phosphate was used as agricultural fertilizer and as a filler for artificial teeth. Nelsonite is no longer mined in Virginia, but it has been found in China.

Construction aggregate minerals are presently mined in nearly every county of Virginia. The carbonate rocks in the Valley and Ridge province provide crushed limestone aggregate and cement; intrusive igneous and metamorphic rocks in the Blue Ridge and Piedmont provinces are mined to produce crushed granite and greenstone; and unconsolidated sediments in the Coastal Plain provide sand and gravel.

Iron, copper, lead, and zinc have all been mined in Virginia in the past. Copper and zinc have been widely mined in the Piedmont and Blue Ridge provinces, and in the Valley and Ridge Province. Iron was one of the first mineral resources discovered and extracted by the colonists at Jamestown, reportedly mined as early as 1609. In the nineteenth century, belts of rich iron ore were discovered along the flanks of the Blue Ridge mountains, and in the sandstones of the Valley and Ridge Province. Virginia lead deposits played important roles in both the Revolutionary and Civil wars, and deposits mined for lead to make bullets were located near Austinville, in Wythe County, and at Faber, in Albemarle County.

Gold was mined extensively in Virginia from the early 1800s until 1849. Commercial gold mining continued on a smaller scale until 1947, when gold production was last recorded in Virginia. Silver has been found in Virginia primarily as a by-product of the lead, zinc, copper and gold mining. Most of Virginia’s silver has come from the Virgina District in Halifax County, the Mineral District in Louisa County, and mines in Prince William, Goochland, Spotsylvania, Orange and Buckingham counties. Also in Virginia, titanium, manganese, nickel and tungsten have been found.

Coal had been found in southwest Virginia, in the Valley and on the eastern side of the state. Coal was first discovered in Virginia’s Chesterfield County as early as 1701 and by 1730 coal was actively mined for commercial use. The largest concentration of mines was found in the present-day Midlothian area. This was the site of first recorded commercial coal mining in North America. Today the Mid-Lothian Mines Park has exhibits depicting Virginia's coal mining history surrounded by walking trails and beautiful woodlands.

The Blue Ridge Mountains are a good source of garnets, feldspar, mica crystals, aquamarine, citrine, emeralds, peridot, rubies, sapphire, topaz, and tourmaline.

Diamonds have been found in Virgina! In early 1854 or in 1853 Benjamin Moore was digging into a clay hill at the corner of 9th and Perry streets in Manchester, Virginia when he pulled out an 18 3/4 carat diamond. They also were found in the abandoned Vaucluse Mine, in Orange County.

Amethyst is found in Virginia in Charlotte County, Amelia County, Prince Edward County, or the Blue Ridge Mountains, among other places.

Shark teeth and megalodon teeth are found in the Cenozoic sedimentary deposits of Virginia’s Coastal Plain. Lots of other fossils are found in Virginia’s Coastal Plain, as well as in the Ridge Province, the Appalachian Plateau, and along the western flanks of the Blue Ridge Mountains.

Virginia has some public dig sites including the Pay to Dig Lucky Lake Gem & Mineral Mine, in McKenney.

Before venturing out-do some research on where and what you can collect. Remember you must have permission to collect on private property.

See my page on Rockhounding Rules for general information on the rules of collecting rocks on various lands.