North Georgia is a good place to vacation, and with a sister who lives near the tourist town of Dahlonega, I have visited there often.
Recently, I took advantage of visiting the newly renovated gold museum located in the middle of the town square inside Lumpkin County Courthouse, one of the oldest courthouse buildings in Georgia. More than half a million dollars was spent to update it and add a clear “safe.” A fist-sized lump of pure gold is on display, along with coins from the mint there that opened in 1838. Items used by miners are well displayed, as well as art work depicting scenes from the days of mining there. A 17-minute documentary tells how thousands of residents rushed into Dahlonega during the late 1920s and grew the town to about 3,000 residents until 1849 when the famous California gold rush lured most of the miners further west.
The documentary, and many of the displays, describe scenes of wild living when men earned a few dollars each day and spent them on drinking, gambling, and women each night. Upright townspeople were appalled at the lawlessness that prevailed, and the courthouse was a busy place as law officials sought to tame the lawless individuals whose only intent was getting rich and living outside the bounds of decency.
The displays also show the process of extracting gold from beneath the ground; and how, back then, several large companies sprang up to mine and process gold. One method was to use high-pressure water nozzles against the mountainsides and wash away the softer soils to expose the gold. Of course, extracting gold is harsh on the environment; and as soon miners moved further west, locals realized that they needed to preserve the beauty of the land.
The museum also displays artifacts about how the early white residents divided the land among themselves as the Native Americans of the Creek and Cherokee tribes were forced along the Trail of Tears. As with Northeast Alabama, many of the Native Americans intermarried and stayed behind. Some descendants of the original Native American families still reside there. Also, as in Alabama and in many states, Native American names remain as reminders of the original inhabitants. The word “Dahlonega” was taken from the Cherokee word “Dalonigei,” which means “yellow,” or “Tahlonekay,” another spelling.
Today, Dahlonega gold is still prized. It is known for its purity and was used to cover the dome of the Georgia State Capitol in Atlanta. Also, it can be seen in the city of Dahlonega on the administration building of the University of Georgia, only a block or so off of the main downtown square.
Today Dahlonega is a “gold mine” for tourists, meaning thousands come through there each year to enjoy camps, campgrounds, the views, panning for gold, tubing, and restaurants. Many senior citizens take advantage of the educational opportunities offered free to them through state programs. Also, the city is a popular place for senior citizens to settle because of the comparatively warm winters and the area’s emphasis on arts and culture.
The University of North Georgia campus in Dahlonega educates thousands of students each year on a wide variety of majors. It offers degrees in writing, literature, business digital arts, the medical sciences, biology, graphic design, education, law enforcement, music, sociology, political studies, mathematics, history, and Chinese language and culture. The campus has a focus on preparing military students to become proficient in the Chinese language, and there are programs of study for several other countries.
In addition to walking around town and exploring, my sisters and I visited the downtown cemetery. We found graves for Georgians that had fought in the American Revolutionary War and every subsequent war. Many of the graves were marked with only crude stones, and other graves had elaborate monuments.
We ate at a restaurant called Shenanigans and had a meal of Irish stew, shaved steak salad, and a delicious wrap. Next, we walked to the Paul Thomas chocolate shop on the square and found quite a few treats that were freshly made and delicious. The store offers free samples, which, of course, are popular with tourists.
Those wanting to travel from Calhoun County to Dahlonega must travel only two and a half hours, and calculating the times when traffic in Atlanta is less crowded saves time. Try to avoid the times when employees are going to or leaving work.
When I was raising children, we used to leave early in the morning, take advantage of the tubing activities in the Yahoola Creek that runs near Dahlonega, and come home, tired, in the evening. Those were fun days, but when I go to Dahlonega now, I like to stay at least two to three days and find new things to do.