Located in the mountain town of Dahlonega, the Dahlonega Gold Museum State Historic Site chronicles the discovery of gold in Georgia and the pivotal role it played in the history of Georgia.
Gold was first discovered in Lumpkin County in 1828, and it triggered the first major gold rush in the country by 1829. (There was a much smaller gold rush in North Carolina that began in 1799.)
Some 10,000-15,000 ambitious prospectors came to Georgia looking to strike it rich, with over 500 different gold mines in Georgia at the peak of gold production.
The Dahlonega, Georgia gold rush is inextricably connected with the removal of native Cherokee people on the Trail of Tears and white settlement of the North Georgia Mountains.
Dahlonega gold mines produced so much gold ore that the U.S. Government opened a mint in Dahlonega for the refining and assaying of gold. The mint operated from 1838 until the Civil War began in 1861.
A full set of Dahlonega gold coins are on display at the museum today, along with exhibits on the history of the GA gold rush.
Read on for our in-depth guide to visiting the Dahlonega Gold Museum.
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Dahlonega Gold Museum Info
ADDRESS: 1 Public Square, Dahlonega GA
HOURS: Mon through Sat 9AM–4:45PM; Sunday 10AM–4:45PM. Closed on Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s Day.
COST OF ENTRY: $6 to $8.50, depending on age; children under age 6 are free.
DRIVING DIRECTIONS: Travel north from metro Atlanta on GA 400 and continue on as GA 400 becomes US-19. Turn left on South Chestatee Street and go five miles, heading into Downtown Dahlonega GA.
The museum is located right at the center of the mountain town’s public square, surrounded by an array of great shops and many of the best restaurants in Dahlonega.
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History of the Dahlonega Gold Museum
The Gold Museum is located inside the Historic Lumpkin County Courthouse, which was originally a log building.
A Classic Revival building made of bricks (using mud from nearby Cane Creek) replaced the log structure in 1836. The exterior walls are 22 ½ inches thick, while the interior walls are 12 inches thick.
Although the building was repurposed for use as the Gold Museum in 1967, the structure and exterior elevation remain relatively unchanged from its original construction.
The facility is one of the oldest surviving county administration buildings in Georgia’s state history.
The popular saying “There’s gold in them thar hills!” was first noted as having been spoken from the Lumpkin County Courthouse steps in 1849.
It was part of a speech given by the Dahlonega Mint assayer, in an attempt to stop the exodus of miners leaving North Georgia to capitalize on the California gold rush.
Today, Georgia State Parks employees are available to answer questions and provide more background info on the many engaging exhibits at the museum.
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Gold Museum Overview
Georgia’s story cannot be told without examining the impact that the discovery, exploration, and commercialization of gold had on the state.
To that end, the Gold Museum in Dahlonega ranks among the premier history museums in Georgia. The facility is two stories tall, and includes a gift shop.
Its many exhibits include gold mining and assaying equipment, background on the Georgia land lotteries, and a great video outlining the history and impact of gold mining in Georgia.
Dahlonega gold was so plentiful in the 19th century that, when mud bricks were fired to build the 1836 courthouse, flecks of gold in the mud made their way into the bricks!
These gold flecks can still be seen today. When I toured the museum with my children, one of the museum employees was kind enough to show us where the most plentiful gold deposits could be seen in the walls.
My kids also enjoyed completing the Junior Ranger booklet offered at this Georgia historic site.
Because the building is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, it cannot be retrofitted to include an elevator.
Visitors wanting to tour the upstairs exhibits and view the movie must be able to climb the stairs.
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Finding Gold in Dahlonega
The name for the small town of Dahlonega is derived from the Cherokee word talonega, which means “golden.”
Although the Cherokee people had known of the existence of gold in North Georgia for hundreds of years, it was Benjamin Park’s discovery of a nugget on the forest floor in 1828 that triggered an influx of white miners to the area.
This gold rush in Dahlonega GA is considered the first time in US history that massive amounts of people traveled to an area for the primary purpose of gem mining.
Dahlonega gold mining was initially accomplished by what is known as “placer mining.” This involved panning the Chestatee River and Etowah River, and exploring the land between the two rivers with picks and shovels.
To do this, miners needed access to lots of land. To that end, the state of Georgia claimed thousands of acres of Cherokee Territory in 1830, under the assumed jurisdiction of its original colonial charter.
The land was then dispersed to native-born white men via state-administered lotteries, which were collectively known as the Georgia Land Lotteries.
Georgia gold is considered to be exceptionally pure: At more than 98% pure, it measures out at more than 23 karats. Gold that is 100% pure will rate 24 karats.
READ MORE: How Gold Mining in Georgia Led to Land Lotteries & the Trail of Tears
After the Dahlonega Gold Rush
Hydraulic mining came to the North Georgia mountains in 1848, but by that time many of the miners who focused on placer mining had headed West to California.
Water cannons shot high-pressure streams of water across the sides of mountains to wash down the ore-containing earth. In the valleys, it was directed through a sluice-box and further refined by stamp mills operating in Dahlonega.
Hydraulic mining was extremely hard on the natural environment: It cut vast amounts of earth from between the mountains, and was strong enough to wash out mature trees.
The largest gold mine in Dahlonega was the Consolidated Gold Mine, which featured a 120-stamp mill and a 550-foot tunnel. It remains the largest gold mining operation to have ever been built East of the Mississippi River.
The Consolidated Mine operated from 1900 until 1906, when the dropping price of gold and remote location of the precious metal within the mine made its recovery increasingly unprofitable.
Today, you can find gold in Georgia by visiting one of the two gold mines in the area that target commercial tourism.
At the Consolidated Gold Mine or the Crisson Gold Mine, visitors can try their hand at panning for gold, just like the early prospectors of the 1830s!
Georgia gold can also be found covering the domes of both the state capitol building in Atlanta and the steeple of North Georgia College & State University in Dahlonega.
This gold steeple is a great reference point for hikers who are summiting any of the nearby peaks in the Blue Ridge Mountains, as it can be seen from miles away! -by Jennifer Worrel, lead photo of Dahlonega Gold Museum at Christmas by Bret Love & Mary Gabbett