The nation’s first significant gold rush took place at Dahlonega in the North Georgia hills in 1829. Gold is still being found there today!
A charming city with a rich history, much of it tied to gold mining, Dahlonega is a gateway to the mountain country of North Georgia. It is also believed to be the place that gave birth to the famous exclamation, “Thar’s gold in them thar hills!”
The name Dahlonega originates from the Cherokee word “talonega” (also spelled “dalonige”), which means “yellow” or “golden.” It is a reference, of course, to the yellow metal found in the area. The name was first applied to the community in 1833, five years after the discovery of gold there ignited the young nation’s first major gold rush.
The prosperity that gold brought to the city is clearly visible in the form of the old Lumpkin County Courthouse, which stands on the square in Dahlonega and is now home to the Dahlonega Gold Museum. Built in 1836, the courthouse is one of the oldest standing in Georgia.
U.S. Vice President and Southern rights proponent John C. Calhoun was among those operating gold mines in Dahlonega. His Calhoun mine was worked in part by slaves, although most gold mining in the
region was done by free whites and blacks.
A free black miner named James “Free Jim” Bosclair was so successful at pulling gold from the ground at his “Free Jim” Mine, in fact, that he became one of the city’s leading merchants. Not only did he run a mine and large general store, he also owned an ice house and saloon.
The amount of gold coming out of the North Georgia mountains had reached such a volume by 1837 that congress chartered the U.S. Branch Mint at Dahlonega. Located at what is now North Georgia College & State University, the Dahlonega branch mint turned out an estimated $6,000,000 in gold coins in less than three decades.
The mint operated until 1861 when it was closed by the Confederate government. It did not reopen after the Civil War.
Gold that could be located by panning was beginning to play out by 1849, when the discovery of gold at Sutter’s Mill sparked the California Gold Rush. So many miners left Georgia for California that the assayer for the branch mint, Dr. Matthew Stephenson, took to the steps of the courthouse (now the Gold Museum) in an effort to persuade them to stay.
“Why go to California?” he asked. “In that ridge lies more gold than man ever dreamt of. There’s millions in it.” The speech gave rise to the popular phrase, “There’s gold in them there hills!”
Stephenson was right. There was millions of dollars of gold still in the ridges around Dahlonega. There was a resurgence of mining in Georgia during the 1850s when miners returning from California brought back new techniques and put them to use extracting ore from the hills.
Gold mining has always been an up or down proposition in the Dahlonega area, but the recent surge in gold prices has sparked new dreams of striking it rich in the Georgia mountains.
The Chattahoochee-Oconnee National Forest allows recreational gold panning in many area streams and creeks and many visitors to the region are taking advantage of the chance. The rules are that panning can only be done in approved areas and nothing can be done that damages the environment. Please click here to learn more.
If you want a little more guidance in how to look for gold, there are businesses in the area that specialize in helping visitors find it. One of these, the Consolidated Gold Mines, offers tours 200 feet down into a century old gold mine, followed by a chance to pan for a little of your own.
The Dahlonega Gold Museum is a great place to begin your journey to the North Georgia gold country. Located at 1 Public Square, it is open 9-5 (Monday through Saturday) and 10-5 (Sundays).
The campus of North Georgia College & State University also is a great place to explore local gold history. The Price Memorial Building stands on the ruins of the U.S. Branch Mint and is topped by a spire leafed
in pure Georgia gold.
Dahlonega also offers a variety of other historic sites, unique shopping opportunities, access to beautiful mountain country as and unique places to stay and eat. If you love waterfalls, be sure to check out DeSoto Falls. They are located on U.S. 19 eighteen miles north of town in the national forest.