You’ve probably heard of the famed ’49ers. Not the football team, but the miners who flocked to California in 1849, to harvest that state’s riches….but did you know that the first major gold rush was actually in Georgia? It happened in the Blue Ridge Mountains, in a small North Georgia town, now known as Dahlonega.
In local lore, the story goes that a man named Benjamin Parks was hunting in the woods, and tripped over a rock. Parks inspected the rock, which he discovered to be a large gold nugget. Not long after, in 1828, Dahlonega became home to the first major gold rush, bringing men from miles around to seek their fortunes. Even the name, “Dahlonega”, is actually from the Cherokee word “Dalonige“, meaning “yellow” or “gold”.
While the bulk of major mining operations came to a close in 1840, Dahlonega continues to celebrate its gold mining roots to this day, through museums, historical landmarks, and their annual Gold Rush Days festival, which is held the third week of October. One popular tourist activity is panning for gold, which involves taking soil from a creek bed, along with water, and swishing it around in a large wok-like bowl called a gold pan. When done properly, panning separates any gold from the soil, where it can be easily seen and set aside. It is not uncommon to find flecks and small bits of gold, even today, and small glass vials are sold at panning establishments to allow visitors to keep their gold as a souvenier. The vials are normally filled with water as well, so that it can be shaken, which stirs up the gold and allows it to be seen from all angles as it settles back to the bottom of the vial.
Dahlonega is also the home of the University of North Georgia. On its campus, Price Memorial Hall stands at the former site of the Dahlonega Mint. Atop the structure stands a steeple completely covered in gold leaf, another reminder of the town’s rich heritage.