Georgia Travel Articles
Americaís First Gold Rush
Story by Kathleen Walls and photos by Martin Walls -
American Roads Travel Magazine
Gold has always bedazzled man. It has driven explorers to their deaths in the quest for its glitter. It brings out the best in mankind and the worst. It has opened new frontiers and destroyed entire cultures. The settling of the American West owes much to the California Gold Rush of 1849. But long before the cry of "Gold" rang in the western deserts, the Appalachian foothills of northwest Georgia echoed with the excited shouts of successful prospectors.
It all began in 1828 when Benjamin Parks was out deer hunting and kicked at a rock. The rock was a gold nugget and the rush was on. Before it ended, thirty three million dollars of the purest gold ever mined in the United States was taken from the ground and the city of Dahlonega was born. It was also one of the prime factors in the "Trail of Tears" which resulted in the death of over 4,000 Cherokees. The fact that the land was the Indians by right of treaty and backed by the decision of the Supreme Court could not stand in the way of gold fever. Over 16,000 Cherokee were rounded up, housed in makeshift forts and driven overland on a grueling trek to Oklahoma.
Word of Mr. Parks golden pebble spread like wildfire. Prospectors, fired by the dream of instant riches, flocked to the area even though it was official part of the Cherokee Nation and off limits to white settlers. They settled mainly in an area about six miles south of present day Dahlonega around the William Dean cabin. The settlement was first informally called Deans but when Nathaniel Nuckolls provided a tavern for their entertainment, the grateful miners changed the name to Nuckollsville. In spite of the name, the miners were generally law abiding and only one murder was ever committed in the town.As the town grew the citizens adopted amore dignified name Auraria, meaning "gold mine or gold region".
By this time, the thriving city was locked in battle with its neighbor to the north for the right to be Lumkin County Seat. Dahlonega was the victor. The courthouse was built in 1836.
Aurariaís final death knell was sounded in 1838 when the nationís first branch mint opened in Dahlonega. Today all that remains of Auraria is a few old ruins and one operating business, Woodieís grocery. It is mines the golden tide of tourism. The Dahlonega Gold Museum is housed in the old county courthouse. Built in 1836, it is the fourth oldest courthouse still in existence and the stateís second most visited museum. It tells the history of Lumkin County from the gold rush days until the present. Itís exhibits and film give you an exciting glimpse of a turbulent era.
Dahlonega's original court house
The visitorís center is on the square and is a good place to gather brochures and information. The square, which is registered as a National Historic District, offers many small shops ranging from art and antiques to jewelry and native crafts. If you only stop in one store, make it the Dahlonega General Store. Itís a step back in time to the old country store and then some. Its nickel cups of coffee should be inducement enough.
The Holly Theater is another must see. It offers live stage performance and is reputed to be haunted. Randall Holly Brannon originally built the theater in 1947. It closed in the 70s and began a downward spiral until 1992. Some private citizens banded together and purchased it as a community theater. After renovation, it reopened for live shows in 1994 and then for movies in 1995. The community is justly proud of the theater.
Since the gold rush was such an important part of the townís history, you need to visit one or more of the mines. Crisson Gold Mine offerís you the chance to watch a 113 year old stamp mill crush the ore out of gold bearing quartz. There are only two original working stamp mills in the eastern United States and this is the only one in Georgia.
Consolidated Gold Mine offers you another view of mining. This one is deep in the ground. The shaft where you enter was once buried under a small mountain. Between 1845 and 1880, the mountain was blasted away to expose the ore. That was not done with explosives as you might think but with huge water hoses by a process called hydraulic mining.
When all of the loose material was washed away, then the hard rock mining began. After testing for the best locations, tunnels were blasted into the rock with dynamite so that the miners could get to the quartz that contained the precious mineral. In 1901, the largest gold containing quartz vein in the world was discovered here. It measured over twenty-two feet thick.
The most obvious feature you see when you go underground is the Glory Hole. The Glory Hole is the place where all the major veins converged. As they dug it out they result was an immense skylight opening from the bowels of the earth to a view of clear blue sky. As you stand here on the rock floor of the first level, you are 300 feet beneath the surface and 140 feet below the water table. There were three levels in the original mine but no one has been into the bottom tunnel for over a hundred years. It is believed to be over a mile long and a thousand feet deep. When the price of gold dropped in 1906, the miners left the mine as it was tools and all.
To keep intruders out, they dynamited the entrance. This was where the water was being pumped out, so all the water and debris that washed down the open glory hole rapidly filled the mine. Over 4,000 tons of debris had to be removed to open the top tunnel. Excavations are still being done in the lower tunnels.
The original machinery is still there and, wonder of wonders, most of it still works. Your tour guides here are actual miners so they give a very technically accurate and highly informed tour.Both mines have a gold panning area where you can experience the actual thrill of panning your own gold.
Amicalola Falls State Park offers a great place to camp as you explore the area. The park offers camping, cabins, a luxurious lodge and restaurants as well as other park amenities. Amicalola is the Cherokee word meaning "tumbling waters". Thatís certainly an appropriate word for these 729-foot falls, the highest in Georgia. Over a century ago, the Cherokee braves would journey up the mountain on a vision quest. To them the falls were sacred.
Dahlonega is a great place to visit for those who like festivals, this area abounds. Dahlonega has Bear on the Square and World Championship Gold Panning Competition the third weekend in April, Wildflower Festival of the Arts the third weekend in May, Bluegrass Festival in June, Family Day, Celebration of July fourth, Sidewalk Sale Charity Festival in August, Gold Rush Days third weekend in October, and Old Fashioned Christmas every weekend in December. Amicalola State Park also has frequent festivals and events to promote the mountain culture. Appalachian Pioneer Trading Days are a celebration of the old ways. Foxfire/Civil War Days also introduce you to an earlier way of life with everything from military drills to ladies fashion shows. This event is usually held in the beginning of November. To celebrate more modern ways, Dahlonega is launched its first annual independent film festival in 2001. These festivals celebrate work of the truly independent film producers.
Whether you leave with a nugget of gold or a head full of information you are sure to have fun acquiring it in Dahlonega.
Dahlonega Chamber of Commerce 706-864-3711 www.dahlonega.org
Amicola State Park 706-265-8888 Reservations 800-864-7275
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