The U.S. Branch Mint at Dahlonega, Georgia, turned out more than $6,000,000 in gold coins between 1838 and 1861. The ruins of the building can be found beneath the Price Memorial Building on the campus of North Georgia College & State University.
The discovery of gold in the North Georgia mountains during the winter of 1828-1829 sparked a gold rush unlike anything before seen in the United States. Three thousand miners rushed to the mountains in a matter of months, digging and panning for the precious metal.
Many of the miners were successful and hundreds of thousands of dollars in gold soon poured from their claims. The region boomed and thousands of people and hundreds of thousands of dollars in gold was quickly discovered. This prompted a boom in the region as thousands of people settled in the gold towns of Dahlonega and Auraria.
So many people were living and working in the region by 1832 that the state created Lumpkin County in the edge of the mountains. Dahlonega became the county seat.
The U.S. Congress took note of the big strike in 1831 and a select committee was appointed to investigate the possibility of opening a new U.S. Branch Mint in Georgia. The select committee returned a positive recommendation.
Georgia now led the nation in gold production. In just three years the state had turned out $212,000 (in 1831 dollars) in pure gold. Gold was then worth around $19.39 an ounce so it is possible to estimate that the miners working in the mountains produced 10,933 ounces (683 pounds) of the precious metal from 1829-1831.
In modern terms, that much gold would be worth somewhere around $18,586,900 (at $1,700 an ounce). The select committee learned that production was only going to increase in coming years.
Congress approved the construction of a U.S. Branch Mint at Dahlonega, with furnaces and machinery for making gold coins. Work on the complex was progressing well by 1837. The government reported then that the machinery had been delivered to Savannah in May and was in place by November.
That same report indicated the mint was nearly finished by January 13, 1838, “except as to the enclosure and out-buildings.”
One of the most remarkable structures of its kind in Georgia at the time, the main mint was a large two-story building set on a foundation of solid stone. It was completed in 1838 and began operating that same year. Over the next 23 years, the Dahlonega Mint manufactured gold coins with face values of more than $6,000,000.
The production of the branch mint took a serious hit in 1849 when news arrived of the California gold strike. Many of the men working the mines of North Georgia set out to join the Great California Gold Rush of 1849.
Dr. Matthew Stephenson, the assayer for the branch mint, spoke to a crowd of miners at the Lumpkin County Courthouse (now the Dahlonega Gold Museum) in an effort to save local mining. He pointed to the nearby mountains and told his audience that gold remained there, waiting to be found.
Legend credits Stephenson with saying, “There’s gold in them there hills!” The phrase became an important part of American culture and history.
The U.S. Branch Mint at Dahlonega operated until Georgia seceded from the Union in 1861. The new Confederate government shut it down and the U.S. government did not return it to operation after the War Between the States (or Civil War). Gold from the area has since been shipped to other mints.
The main mint building was destroyed by fire in 1878. Price Memorial Building of what is now North Georgia College & State University was built atop the ruins. The historic structure features a glass viewing panel that allows visitors to see the ruins of the old mint. The steeple atop the building is leafed in pure Georgia gold. Gleaming in the sun, it is a perfect reminder of the rich history of gold prospecting and mining in Dahlonega.
A historical marker outlines the site’s history and more can be learned at the Dahlonega Gold Museum on the city square.
The Price Memorial Building is located on College Circle just off West Main Street in Dahlonega, Georgia. Please click here to learn more about other places to see in Dahlonega!
While in the area, be sure to visit nearby Helen! Here’s a quick video preview of Georgia’s Bavarian Village from Two Egg TV: