IMG_6458Ella Kliger – Contributing Writer

Starting May 1, visitors will be able to stop by the Franklin Gem and Mineral Museum six days a week from 12 to 4 p.m., rather their winter hours of simply Saturdays. A key part of Franklin’s history, a history that gave Franklin the name “Gem Capital of the World” is housed within the walls of the museum. That history dates back to 1865 and the gems and minerals still sparkle throughout our area. And guess what? Hearing about the history and enjoying the beauty of the gems and minerals at the Old Macon County Jail is free. Plus, you can sit in a real jail cell.

The Franklin Gem and Mineral Society have a group of volunteers that runs the museum that has been at the same location since 1973. Their mission is to provide education for pebble pups (children), experienced rockhounds (those who love rocks, minerals and geology), and everyone in between.

Al Pribble, president of the Gem & Mineral Society of Franklin, will be speaking at the Macon County Public Library on Thursday, April 14th, at 7 p.m., as part of the Walking with Spring series. The title of the talk is “Mines and Mining in Western North Carolina, How Gem Stones are Cut & Polished, and What is The Gem & Mineral Society of Franklin N.C”.

Pribble said that one of his goals was “to have someone who could teach the kids how to identify rocks… The schools have a little bit of geology,” but the time devoted to the subject is limited. “We’ve done a lot of demos where we’ve gone out and showed kids how we do the cabbing (one style of stone cutting). We take a small machine with us. I want to get some of our members who have the expertise to get in with some of the teachers to teach the kids more about identifying the rocks that they find. Most kids are interested in rocks, it seems to be innate in people. That’s how I got started. When I was a kid, I went up to Colorado every summer and picked up rocks,” said Pribble.

“The board has decided this year to give some mini-grants to the school teachers who are teaching these subjects. If they have a need for an instrument in the classroom, or books … eventually, we want to do it for all the schools in Macon County,” continued Pribble.

The board gave a $2,000 scholarship to Leslie Montoya of Franklin. She is a junior at WCU majoring in geology with a concentration in Solid Earth. She is doing her senior thesis on structural research.

Another goal is to find additional space for the museum.

“We have 50 percent more specimens that we could show but we don’t have room,” said Pribble. They would like to start an Education Center, with room for classes on faceting stones, wire wrapping of gems, and gem and mineral identification. Maybe an after school program could come together.

In the glass cases in the museum are ruby and corundum specimens plus a large variety of stones, petrified wood a dinosaur egg and dinosaur bones.  The marrow structure has filled with minerals so the colors are not what you’d expect. Others include stones that have been written on with hieroglyphics; stones sorted by state, country, and whether they fluoresce. The room where you can see the stones and minerals glow in the dark is amazing.

If you’re lucky enough to get Virginia Bennis to guide you through the museum, you are in for a treat. Bennis is the museum’s assistant manager and her passion is contagious for the potential of rocks, the history of the museum’s specimens, and for learning to cut stones.

“Once you’ve got kids’ attention, you got ‘em. So we ask them if they eat rocks. They say, ‘No, we don’t eat rocks.’ So I say, ‘I bet you do eat rocks.’ Then we show them salt. We talk about rocks that light on fire. They go, ‘No! Rocks don’t light on fire,’ and then we show them coal. And pretty soon you’ve got ‘em. Then you can take them through the whole museum and they pay attention. It’s really cool,” said Bennis.

Last but not least, the group takes field trips. Vice president Marsha Harmon has been busy planning trips and there are two happening in the next ten days; one is to an amethyst mine. When asked what equipment a novice would need, Pribble answered, “Gloves, boots, a hammer maybe. I use a four-pound sledgehammer,no special tools Someone to go with you to help show you what stones are likely to contain gems. There are stones that you can’t tell there are rubies in them until you polish them and shine an ultra-violet light on them.”

Any member of the Franklin Gem and Mineral Society would be happy to be your guide.

Monthly general meetings, open to all, are held at 6:30 p.m., the last Thursday of the month in the Macon County Community Building, 1288 Georgia Road HWY 441 S. The next meeting will be April 28. Visit for more information.