Irene Hutchinson, a longtime member of the Byron Historical Society, provided insight on gold-panning during a meeting of the Mexico Historical Society on Aug. 19. Rumford Falls Times photo by Bruce Farrin

MEXICO — Since early in the 20th century, many a person looking to find gold in Maine has ventured to Byron to pan along the branches of the Swift River.

Irene Hutchinson, 88, gave a presentation on gold-panning in Byron to the Mexico Historical Society on Aug. 19.

A longtime member of the Byron Historical Society, she is among the seventh generation of the Young family of Byron.

She said her grandfather, Clarence Young, estimated that the area has yielded over $30,000 worth of gold.

“If you go along the river, you see some of the dirt that’s kind of black,” she said. “He claimed that’s where you’d find gold. So he would take and put it in a bag, take it into a shed and keep it dry. Then he’d sit in front of a fire, an old stove in the kitchen, and he would pan gold. He found quite a bit.”

Hutchinson added, “When you find gold, it’s in little flat pieces. It doesn’t look like much.”

She said her grandfather found a nugget once and made a stick pin out of it.

The Swift River, about 45 miles long, rises up toward Lake Mooselookmeguntic in the Rangeley Lakes and flows southward until it empties into the Androscoggin at Rumford Falls.

The Swift has four well-defined branches: East, West, Bradeen and Houghton.

Yvette Lacroix of the Rumford Falls Times wrote many years ago that she thought Tumbledown Mountain had the gold, hidden somewhere within the side of the mountain.

Lacroix noted the best place for gold was the East Branch, which comes down from Tumbledown to the Swift River.

After gold had been found in the river and the surrounding hills and mountains, Hutchinson said, a Mr. Houghton bought 250 acres, thinking he was going to sell stock. “People bought hundreds of dollars worth of stock in this gold mine.”

But then the sheriff found out about it and put a stop to it.

“We still have the gold-panning business,” Hutchinson said of Byron.

Another time, she said, five old California ’49ers came to Byron for gold, and thanks to their experience, were able to make a living during the five to six years they camped there.

Hutchinson said she’s never panned for gold herself, but that might change.

“My neighbor, Janet, went out three or four days ago, and came in all excited. She had a little bit of gold after panning.”

Hutchinson noted that anyone can pan gold. “You really don’t need to buy any equipment. Just go out with a little pie plate and a little shovel.”

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