Now Center of Georgia Mountain Wine Country
Dahlonega, Ga., maintains its quaintness without forgetting the dark side of its golden past: the 1829 Gold Rush that precipitated Indian Removal and the Trail of Tears.
Today Dahlonega is an unspoiled town in the Appalachian foothills of north Georgia. Its town square is dominated by the oldest surviving courthouse in Georgia, now home to the Gold Museum. Craft shops and restaurants surround the square, offering pottery, wood-carvings and wine tastings from local vintners.
The First American Gold Rush
Nearly 200 years ago, however, Dahlonega was the epicenter of the first major American gold strike. The discovery of gold that still ranks among the purest ever discovered set off a land rush into the Appalachian Mountains from Virginia to Alabama, according to historian David Williams.
The native Cherokee inhabited this same area of northern Georgia, but in the early 1830s, the state of Georgia legislature auctioned off most of the territory in the gold belt to white settlers. In his book The Georgia Gold Rush: Twenty-Niners, Cherokees and Gold Fever, Williams describes how the Cherokees fought the Georgia land grab all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court, which upheld the native American claims.
Ignoring the courts, however, President Andrew Jackson approved Indian removal and by the end of the 1830s, most Cherokees had been displaced and driven along the Trail of Tears to Oklahoma. In 1848, gold fever moved west to California with the great strikes there and now most Americans have forgotten that North Georgia was the site of the first American gold rush..
Still, the gold flowing out of Dahlonega in the mid-1800s was so rich the U.S. government established a mint in the town, which operated from 1838 until 1861. When miners began to flow out of Georgia to the Western goldfields, the assayer of the Dahlonega mint pleaded with them to stay with words that Mark Twain later made famous: “there’s gold in them thar hills.”
The miners still drifted away west, but gold mining continued around Dahlonega into the 20th century, with as many as five great stamping mills operating to crush the ore and remove the gold.
Although the mines are now closed, tourists and residents still pan for gold in the rushing streams around the town and can tour the abandoned mines.
Now Dahlonega is Wine Country
The 170-year-old courthouse, built from local bricks that contain traces of gold, dominates the center of Dahlonega, whose name means “yellow money” in Cherokee. Not far from the town square rises the Dahlonega-gold-plated turret of North Georgia College and State University’s Price Memorial Hall. Dahlonega gold also covers the dome of the state Capitol in Atlanta.
The town is surrounded by the Chattahoochee National Forest, which provides an array of wilderness opportunities from hiking and mountain biking to canoeing and kayaking. Several inns and bed and breakfast establishments provide lodging and the square has a number of restaurants, such as the Crimson Moon, which also offers live music most nights. The southern terminus of the famous Appalachian Trail at Springer Mountain is not far away.
With the highest concentration of wineries and vineyards in North Georgia, the Dahlonega mountains are recognized as “the Heart of the Georgia Wine Country,” according to the official Dahlonega Web site. The climate and mountainous terrain make the Dahlonega region ideal for wine production and vintners offer tastings both on the square and at the wineries.