Nothing more clearly evokes Dahlonega’s past than its very name, coming from the Cherokee Indian word “ta-lo-ne-ga.” The Cherokee name speaks of the time when the area was part of the Cherokee Indian Nation (and before that, was also home to the Creek Indians). The meaning of the word ta-lo-ne-ga, “yellow,” speaks volumes about what eventually drove the Cherokee out on the infamous Trail of Tears— gold!
Both white men and the Indians knew of the gold in the area for hundreds of years. Indians panned for gold in the early 1540s, joined by Spanish miners until they were expelled by the English in the 1730s.
Legend has it that gold was discovered in Lumpkin County in 1828 when hunter Benjamin Parks overturned a rock laced with the glittering metal. This led to the first major gold rush in the U.S., creating overnight the boom town of Auraria. When the county was officially formed in 1832, however, land title questions caused Auraria to be bypassed as the county seat in favor of nearby Dahlonega.
With the Cherokee forced out in 1838, the white miners and settlers had the gold and the land to themselves. From 1828 to 1861, Lumpkin County produced more than $36 million in gold coins, $6 million of it minted by the U.S. Mint in Dahlonega. When the Civil War broke out, the Confederacy seized the mint and produced another $23,000 in gold coinage. However, the Confederates found running the mint to be too expensive and they shut it down. It never reopened.
While the California Gold Rush in 1849 drew most of the local miners west, leaving the area to the farmers, a second, smaller gold rush in the 1880s briefly revived interest in Lumpkin County. Dredging operations were popular until 1920. Gradually, though, the gold became more difficult to extract, and miners again headed west. By 1906, the last large Dahlonega mining company, Consolidated Mining, closed its operation.
There is still plenty of gold in the area, but the cost of modern mining operations far exceeds the value of the refined gold. Most Dahlonega “mining” today is purely recreational. Visitors can pan for gold, tour the old Consolidated Mine, and visit the Gold Miners’ Camp for a taste of what mining was like back in the 1800s. Also, the
Old Lumpkin County Courthouse, built in 1836, operates as the Gold Museum, presenting information on the gold deposits of Georgia and on the Georgia Gold Rush.
Birth of a College Town
Six years after the end of the Civil War, the Dahlonega Mint building and 10 acres were transferred to the state for use as North Georgia Agricultural College, a land grant and military school. The mint building burned and a second building, known today as Price Memorial Hall, was constructed on the old foundation. This building’s spire is covered with 23 ounces of Dahlonega gold.
The mission of North Georgia Agricultural College evolved into one emphasizing arts and sciences and, in 1929, the school was renamed North Georgia College. The institution briefly became a two-year college in 1933, primarily due to the economic pressures of the Great Depression.
After World War II, in 1946, NGC reestablished senior (four-year) status. During the 1996-97 school year, the Regents granted NGC university status and changed its name to North Georgia College & State University. One of only six Senior Military Colleges in the nation, the university is designated as The Military College of Georgia.
The people of Lumpkin County have embraced North Georgia College & State University from the very beginning, especially during military reviews on campus and downtown parades that remind area citizens and visitors of North Georgia’s Corps of Cadets’ contribution to the nation’s defense.
The Great Outdoors
Another important aspect of Dahlonega and Lumpkin County is the great outdoors, the beautiful mountain scenery, captivating waterfalls, forests teeming with wildlife, and numerous trails from which to enjoy it all. In 1936 the U.S. government created the Chattahoochee National Forest from a land purchase that began in Lumpkin County 26 years earlier. Today, Lumpkin County is an outdoor enthusiast’s dream.
The advent of the automobile brought another change to Lumpkin County. New roads drew people to the area’s history, some even staying to build second homes nearby. Tourism became Dahlonega’s third gold rush. The latest attractions are the fine vineyards and wineries in the area that open for tastings and hold events of their own to promote their boutique labels.
All of Georgia and many beyond know about Dahlonega today. It’s the last stop on northbound Georgia 400. Anyone passing through Atlanta, an hour’s drive away, gets a visual reminder of Dahlonega; the Georgia State Capitol Building has 60 ounces of Dahlonega gold glittering on its dome.