Dahlonega Georgia: Wine Country, Gold Country and More
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Dahlonega’s GoldDahlonega sits on a gold vein stretching in a wide belt throughout Georgia, and it is the town the gave this glittering layer its name. The native Cherokee knew gold was here, but not having a monetary system based on precious metals, they saw its value primarily as decorative. It was the early settlers who saw the situation differently.
Legend has it that a local man was out hunting, or at least walking through the woods, kicked at some pebbles, spotting the tell-tale glint of yellow gold. It was 1829 and gold fever struck hard. Although Auraria was the first gold rush town, Dahlonega ultimately became the permanent county government. The gold continued to be wrested from the land and much of it shipped to the Philadelphia mint for coinage. But in 1838 the Dahlonega Branch Mint opened and Georgia began to make gold coins (the actual mint building burned down in 1878). But you can learn about the nation’s first real gold rush in the Dahlonega Gold Museum.
Dahlonega Gold MuseumIt’s only natural that the precious metal that put Dahlonega on the map should be front and center in the town square in the Dahlonega Gold Museum . This State Historic Site started out as the Lumpkin County Courthouse and is Georgia’s oldest courthouse building still standing. The exhibits, film, and tour are fascinating (including a complete set of the gold coins minted by the government in Dahlonega and made of local gold), but what intrigued me the most was the gold in the walls. The bricks used to construct the building came from local clay. The same clay and mud mortar that came from the hills, hills filled with gold. That gold found its way into the clay and mud. Not many buildings have gold in their walls.
Panning for GoldDreams of tiny gold nuggets filled my head as we started out for the Crisson Gold Mine. The Crisson Gold Mine, owned and operated by fourth generation of gold miners, was an open pit mine opened in 1847 (the time of the second, smaller Dahlonega gold rush) and worked until the 1980s. Gold mining at that time involved literally washing away the mountain to loosen the gold-bearing quartz rock. Once the rock was recovered, it was run through a stamp mill that pulverized the rock into sand and grit. These stamp mills used 450 lbs blocks to crush down on the rock. They ran around the clock and the noise literally deafened the operators.
Although millions of dollars worth of gold had been taken out of the mine, I knew there must be something left for us to find. A sense of community builds as adults and children, tourists and locals alike stand at the trough with a pan filled with the crushed ore and carefully wash the dirt away, checking periodically for the tiny glitters. JoJo was there helping us spot these flecks. One of the experienced panners loaned me his tweezers so I could carefully lift the gold and deposit it into the glass bottle we used to collect our finds.
Although the principle in panning is based on the gold being heavier than the rock, it was still amazing to see how fast a speck of gold could sink into the water. At the end, I left clutching my souvenir – 5 flecks of gold. The gift shop sells gold jewelry make with Dahlonega gold, as well as a lovely collection of rocks and minerals. Wagon rides will also delight the children.
At the Consolidated Mine, just down the road, fascinated us with the history of the mine and mining, and the economics of digging the gold out of the ground as we walked through the massive network of underground tunnels. Despite the sky-high price of gold, it is still short of meeting the cost of wresting more of it from the earth. So, gold mines have become recreational sites, as the new gold miners come for pleasure more than profit.
The Consolidated Mine is also the site of the Annual World Open Championships. Visitors can also pan for gold and shop in the gift shop.
North Georgia Wine Trail – Wine-ing through GeorgiaThe mountains of Georgia once prized for their gold, are now cultivated for their grapes. They call it the Dahlonega Plateau. A broad high plain shadowed by some of Georgia’s highest mountains, the Dahlonega Plateau offers near perfect growing conditions. It offers good drainage (crucial since grapes don’t enjoy having wet roots) and shelter from extreme weather moving in from the north while it is open to the south and east for good sun. The altitude in the mountains means that the temperatures cool down in the evenings, while the humidity of the southeast portion of the country is good for the grapes.
Three Sisters Winery
Named after the mountain known as the Three Sisters, this vineyard sits on 180 acres in the Frogtown District. Established in 1996, it’s one of the original vineyards in the burgeoning wine region. Owners Sharon and Doug Paul have planted over 8000 wine grape vines covering thirteen-plus acres. They also grow a grape indigenous to America called Norton that is hardy in colder temperatures. It’s sometimes called by the more lyrical name Cynthiana-Norton. Open for tastings, this is a warm friendly welcoming place and a wonderful way to learn about wine. And to enjoy a bit of Georgia folk art which decorates the tasting room. If your passion for wine includes ice wine, their Vidal Blanc icewine was wonderful.
Named after the Frogtown area of Lumpkin County, this particular winery is notable both for the wine, and the building itself, built with no nails and every piece cut by hand. The winery serves as both the tasting room, and a location for weddings amidst the Georgia mountains. With 22,000 grape vines encompassing about 17 different varieties, it is clear this is indeed a serious winery.
Wolf Mountain Vineyards
In addition to their tastings, Wolf Mountain Vineyard is also a place for a wedding, as well as delicious gourmet lunch with a beautiful view of the mountains. Wolf’s wines are all blends, enabling them to adjust their wine slightly from year to year to take advantage of the natural ups and downs of wine growing. They focus their vineyard on red wine grapes and buy BlackStock whites for their white wine blends. In addition to tastings they have an educational cellar tour.
Appalachian MountainsThis is the foothills of the Appalachians, the Blue Ridge Mountains, and there is glorious scenery, serene lakes, mountain streams, and hiking. It’s one end of the legendary Appalachian Trail that stretches up to Maine. Dockery Lake, part of the Chattahoochee National Forest, is a lovely campground and picnic spot, with a hiking trail around the lake (which is stocked with trout). Grab a picnic lunch from town, and head out for a delightful day by the water.
Nightlife: Crimson Moon and the Holly TheatreAfter a day exploring the mountains, doing the tastings, panning for gold, it’s not time to rest. It’s 10PM and the Crimson Moon is rocking. It has given up its daytime guise of friendly gourmet restaurant and is transformed into a laid-back easy coffee house. This is, as owner Dana LaChance explains, a listening venue. Food might be the focus during the day, but at night, people come for the music. There’s an ever-changing lineup, but all are excellent.
The other evening must-do is taking in a play at the Holly Theatre. First opened in 1948, the Holly started out showing movies but by the 1960s it faced tough going and went through a series of changes becoming both a saloon and a church at different times. By the 1980s the Holly was in sad shape and the town missed its beloved theatre.
Today the Holly is a true community theatre, rescued with love, dedication, and money by the people of Dahlonega. Officially reopened in 1993 this delightful theatre in the heart of Dahlonega produces six mainstage shows a year plus children’s shows, and concerts. If you can, see one of their beautifully, and lovingly produced plays. This is professional quality produced by dedicated community theater.
I had spent the day exploring the many pleasures north Georgia and would end the day ensconced in my cozy bed in Top of the Square, snuggling under my
quilt with the music still singing in my head. If I wasn’t in heaven, I was pretty close.
Dahlonega Georgia will long be on my mind.
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