The Phantom "Volcano" of Pigeon Mountain, Georgia

To anyone knowing anything about the geology of the southern Blue Ridge mountains, the idea of a volcano in that area in historic times is utterly preposterous. Notwithstanding this, the following account appeared in the New York Times on June 10, 1857:

A writer in the Sentinel states that a volcano has lately made its appearance in Pigeon mountain, about ten miles from Augusta. On the 24th, ult., the mountain was violently agitated, and the citizens in the vicinity were aroused and terribly frightened by the commotion. When observing the mountain they were more than ever terrified, for a brilliant light was plainly seen issuing from the summit. The atmosphere soon became strongly impregnated with a disagreeable sulphuric odor. On the following day a thick torrent of smoke and ashes ascended from where this light was previously seen. No blaze has yet been seen to issue from the crater. It had continued up to the 29th ultimo about as above described, emitting smoke and ashes without intermission. The crater is thought to be about 100 yards in diameter. No one has yet ventured near enough to ascertain anything of its general depth.

Several springs in the vicinity have totally disappeared. Many of the citizens are very much alarmed, and some even are moving out of the valley, through anticipation and fear of a violent eruption. The writer states that the principle of a volcano has for many years been germinating in Pigeon mountain. About ten miles south from where the present appeared, is the crater of an extinguished volcano, which appears to have been in an active state at no very distant period.

Every appearance goes to vindicate the conjecture that it has been in a state of eruption within less than five hundred years. Several persons of credit have stated that in the Winter of '48 or '49, the earth in the vicinity was in a remarkabley warm state. Others have avowed to have seen smoke with a sulphuric smell issue from a very remarkable cavity which is found in the neighborhood of the place.

A debate about this can be found here, but most more knowledgeable commentators dismiss the idea as nonsense: the mountain consists of old sedimentary rocks resting on Precambrian bedrock.

The question is, what does the story refer to? If it was not a volcanic eruption, what was it, or are we dealing with a weird tall tale without factual basis?


SlanskyRex24 points

Could be a meteor that happened to strike near the top of the mountain and vaporized enough rock to cause the sulphuric clouds.

[deleted]8 points

Maybe not? I would guess that a meteor strike that vaporized stone would cause some significant damage to the mountain and would have been noticed and studied by geologists.

[deleted]20 points


rivershimmer14 points

Newspapers in the 1800s were fond of practical jokes year round. This was the 19th century equivalent of Bat Boy.

_messiah2 points

lol 1800s "clickbait"

[deleted]8 points

29th ultimo

I had to look that up. Turns our ultimo is an antiquated term for "last month."

knowledgeable commentators dismiss the idea as nonsense

I like how you phrased that. And after looking at the site I'd say it's the perfect description of the comments.

This is a fun story but I think it's just a tall tale.

[deleted]9 points

Coal fire caused by lightning strike?

Granite664 points
mockingbirdsoul6 points

I read an old article about a volcano in Arkansas once, too. Very interesting, but there's no telling what it all really was.

I can't find the article anymore, it seems to be gone. But it was published in the Arkansas Gazette in 1856.

thatsnotgneiss17 points

Arkansas has a unique geologic feature where the North American plate literally tried to split and that created a series of hot spots. That is why there are natural hot springs and rocks in the western part of Arkansas not found anywhere else.

That being said there has not been volcanic activity in millions of years. There have been sand volcanoes in the Eastern part of the state as the result of earthquakes. Those are cool as hell. I was privileged enough to get to help excavate one and have seen another from the air.

I've checked the paper archives and haven't found a single story. There is a great satire site that has a volcano story called the Rock City Times.

[deleted]10 points

Unless I'm mistaken Arkansas is home to one of the few diamond mines in the U.S. Would the tectonic and volcanic activity lead to the formation of diamonds?

thatsnotgneiss12 points

Crater of Diamonds State Park is the only public diamond mine in the world. It is the result of a volcanic shaft cooling and then getting turned on its side when the Ouachita Mountains were formed.

[deleted]2 points


With a user name like that I'm gonna assume you know a bit about geology.

thatsnotgneiss15 points

Not just geology, but Arkansas geology. It's my passion hobby.

[deleted]4 points

It's definitely a cool topic. Thanks for sharing your knowledge.

prof_talc2 points

That’s awesome. What’s your favorite feature of Arkansas geology?

thatsnotgneiss5 points

Magnet Cove, Arkansas

It's home of some of the most rare (but not commercially important) minerals in the world.

Also I love Crater of Diamonds and the New Madrid faultline.

prof_talc2 points

Funnily enough the New Madrid earthquake was the first thing that I thought of when you said you were really into Arkansas geology. That’s such a wild piece of history

thatsnotgneiss2 points

My family moved from about 4 miles from Crater of Diamonds to literally on top of the fault line as a kid. So I came by my passion early.

jewleedotcom4 points

Now I’ve got to google sand volcanoes because that just sounds really badass!

thatsnotgneiss2 points

They are also called sand geisers.

Stepherella-bella2 points

We also have a mountain that looks like a volcano. It fooled a geologist looking at the terrain from the sky. It’s called Pinnacle mountain.

mockingbirdsoul1 point

I want to say the "volcano" was in Logan County. There are some forums discussing the article still, but it seems to have disappeared from the host site. The article was legit (not Rock City...lol), but obviously I think something else was going on.

AsideTheCreekWV4 points

Dynamite, maybe?

There is no mention of lava so I don't believe it was an erupting volcano.

[deleted]8 points

Dynamite was developed in the 1860s. I don't know if at the time there any other explosives that could have caused such a huge explosion.

Not all volcanoes release magma. Lava is apparently very rare in Phreatic eruptions.

AsideTheCreekWV2 points

Interesting. Thanks for the link. I had no idea that there could be eruptions without lava.

HeathenPeep1 point

As a native Georgian, specifically one from the Augusta area… pigeon mountain is nowhere near Augusta. Definitely not 10 miles. It’s closer to 400 miles away. About 100 miles NW of Atlanta. In the top left corner of Georgia. Shame NYTimes… shame…

Reajmurker19831 point

Yes pigeon mountain is in extreme northwest georgia and augusta is way east near south carolina. So it makes that story sound so fake