Gold in them there hills!
The Dahlonega Gold Museum Historic Site in Georgia is one of America’s most unique landmarks.
Located on the square in Dahlonega, it is housed in the historic old Lumpkin County Courthouse, built in 1836. It was here, local legend proclaims, that an assayer first used the line, “There’s gold in them there hills!”
The phrase is now embedded in the history not only of Dahlonega and the mountains of Georgia, but of the nation as a whole. It was used by Mark Twain and an internet search of the phrase in 2016 produced 23,800 results! The corrupted version, “Thar’s gold in them thar hills!,” returned more than 72,600 more.
Rarely has a single spoken sentence attained such note!
The story of gold in North Georgia dates back to the earliest days of European exploration.
The Spanish explorer Hernando de Soto entered the Blue Ridge Mountains in 1540, having heard stories from various American Indian groups that there was, as the phrase later claimed, “gold in them there hills!”
De Soto did not find gold but was told that it could be found in a place called Chisca. The mountain country around the town was thinly populated and food was scarce along the way. Native Americans even told the conquistador that the inhabitants of Chisca were cannibals and that the way was barred by “mountain ridges which the horses could not cross.”
De Soto did not try to take his main army to Chisca but sent out a scouting party that returned with a report that the country looked favorable for gold mines. The conquistador missed the gold for which he was desperately searching, however, and his army passed on into history.
Rumors of gold mines in the mountains continued to be reported by other early explorers of the South. It would take nearly 300 years, however, before the legendary mines were found.
While there is some dispute over the exact year and location of the first strike in Georgia, a report prepared for a U.S. Congress sub- committee in 1831 indicates that it took place about 30 miles north of Gainesville near the Chattahoochee River. This supports the claims of both Dahlonega and Auraria that gold was first found in the vicinity.
The Congressional report goes on to note that the nation’s first big gold rush was underway by 1829 with as many as 3,000 miners working in the Georgia mountains. Since so many men had learned of the gold discovery and made their way into the remote mountains by the summer of 1829, it seems likely that local legend is correct in its claim that the first strike was made in 1828.
Early eyewitnesses described how “gold fever” gripped men in the North Georgia mountains for years to come. And with good reason – there was definitely gold there.
Most of the early mining was done by panning or light digging along the streams, creeks and rivers of the region. The 1831 report indicated that hundreds of thousands of dollars in gold had already been taken from the mountains and that there was every reason to believe that millions of dollars worth more would be found.
The influx of so many people into the region – both miners and those who came to open businesses and prosper from their work – led to the creation of Lumpkin County in 1832. The new boom town of Dahlonega became the county seat.
The historic brick courthouse, a beautiful structure that reflected the wealth of the city, was completed in 1836. Originally built to hold the governmental offices of the new county, it is now home to the Dahlonega Gold Museum.
So much gold was coming from Georgia by that point that Congress approved the construction of a U.S. Branch Mint at Dahlonega. The huge structure was finished in 1838 and operated for 23 years, turning out over $6,000,000 in gold coins.
Then came news of the 1849 California gold strike.
The news set off a new gold rush to the far western state. Many miners left Georgia for California but the local assayer tried to convince others to stay.
The assayer’s name was Dr. Matthew Stephenson and he pointed to a nearby ridge from the steps of what is now the Dahlonega Gold Museum and promised miners that millions of dollars in gold would still be found. He told the gathered miners, “There’s gold in them there hills!” An American phrase was born.
Stephenson was right. Millions more in gold would be found in the North Georgia mountains. The mining and prospecting continues today and visitors to Dahlonega can check out a working gold mine and do a little panning of their own.
The Dahlonega Gold Museum is a great place to explore that history. Located on the square in Dahlonega, the museum is open 9 to 5, Monday through Saturday, and 10 to 5 on Sunday. Admission is $7 for adults, $6.50 for seniors (62+), $4.50 for youth (6-17) and $2 for kids under six. The address is 1 Public Square, Dahlonega, Georgia.
While visiting Dahlonega, be sure to travel up the road to nearby Helen! Here’s a quick introductory video to Georgia’s Bavarian Village from Two Egg TV: