Gold ore floats in a showcase of bulletproof blue glass.
Gold ore floats in a showcase of bulletproof blue glass.

Dahlonega Gold Museum

Field review by the editors.

Dahlonega, Georgia

The first gold frenzy in the U.S. began on October 27, 1828, when Benjamin Parks, out hunting deer, stubbed his toe on a rock near what is now Dahlonega, Georgia. The rock was laced with gold. Word spread quickly, and soon thousands of crazed fortune-seekers poured into the region. Georgia held a land lottery, spinning a giant drum, divvying up the gold fields (Only whites were allowed to enter). The Cherokee, who lived on the land, asked the federal government for help. Instead, the Cherokee were kicked out.

Even the bricks in the museum have traces of gold.
Even the bricks in the museum have traces of gold.

The earth around Dahlonega contained so much gold that even the bricks in the county courthouse, built in 1836, contain trace amounts. The courthouse is now the Dahlonega Gold Museum, which relates the history of Georgia's gold fever. It lasted, off and on, for over a hundred years.

"They came by the thousands, lured by the Siren's song of gold," says the narrator in the Museum's introductory video. "Gold literally lay on top of the ground... many miners made their living with nothing more than a shovel and a gold pan."

Complete set of Dahlonega gold coins is worth over $1 million.
Complete set of Dahlonega gold coins is worth over $1 million.

One old-timer in the video talks dismissively of the quality of gold found elsewhere. "In some parts of the world, if it's 75 percent purity, that's good for them," he says. The gold of Dahlonega, says the narrator, averages 98 percent pure.

Georgia's infamous Land Lottery drum.
Georgia's infamous Land Lottery drum.

Exhibits in the museum include one of Benjamin Parks' digging tools (he quickly gave up deer hunting), a replica of the infamous Georgia lottery drum, the "lucky gold pan" of prospector Bill Trammell, and a display on the saloon-infested early years of the town, which the museum describes as "lively." What looks like a big log is actually the nozzle of a giant water cannon used by gold-seeking miners to wash away the hillsides of Lumpkin County (This accidentally created another local attraction: the Little Grand Canyon of Georgia). Flick a switch and a model stamping mill hammers away; the real ones were so noisy that Dahlonega banned gold mining within city limits, even though a gold vein a yard wide runs directly beneath the town. The most popular item in the gift shop are refrigerator magnets shaped like miners' pans, with flecks of real gold glued into them.

So much gold was mined around Dahlonega that the U.S. government opened a mint in town to turn the raw metal into coins. The museum has a complete set -- worth over $1 million -- and displayed them for 50 years in a big, dark safe. That changed when the museum underwent a complete renovation and reopened in June 2018. Its most valuable items are now in a floor-to-ceiling illuminated showcase of bulletproof glass. These include not only the coins, but examples of some of the crazy kinds of gold found in the area, including wire gold, spun gold, crystal gold, sponge gold, and a solid gold nugget discovered in a nearby creek that's as big as a child's hand.

Miners' pan fridge magnets have glued-in flecks of real gold.
Miners' pan fridge magnets have glued-in flecks of real gold.

Dahlonega's last golden millionaire was Graham Chesterfield Dugas, who claimed to have struck a mother lode "richer than Comstock" just before World War II. Dugas sold shares in his mine while driving around in a Cadillac with a gold-plated dashboard. The promised riches, however, failed to materialize, and the only one who made money from the mine was Dugas. Dahlonega has named its weather-forecasting grounding Graham Chesterfield Dugas in his honor.

Today Dahlonega is still under siege -- by day-trippers who wander the streets holding big cups of latte, making it difficult to drive or find a place to park, looking for the nearest wine-tasting or antiques shop. And there are gold-seekers in Dahlonega, too. Museum exhibit guide Jose Fernandez told us that when someone pulls him aside and asks, "Where's a good place?" they're not asking about a place to eat. They're looking for a place to dig. "It happens just about every day," he said.

Dahlonega Gold Museum

Address:
1 Public Square, Dahlonega, GA
Directions:
In the heart of downtown, in the old Lumpkin County Courthouse, in the middle of courthouse square.
Hours:
M-Sa 9-4:45, Su 10-4:45 (Call to verify)
Phone:
706-864-2257
Admission:
Adults $8.50
RA Rates:
Worth a Detour
Save to My Sights

Nearby Offbeat Places

Gold Mine in a Restaurant BasementGold Mine in a Restaurant Basement, Dahlonega, GA - < 1 mi.
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Indian Princess Grave in a Traffic IntersectionIndian Princess Grave in a Traffic Intersection, Dahlonega, GA - 7 mi.
In the region:
World's Largest Tiger Statue, Gainesville, GA - 18 mi.

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June 18, 2019

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