Mining History and Gold Panning Adventures in Georgia

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A stunning exhibit of Georgia gold in a gold pan, surrounded by additional local gold nuggets and gold ore specimens. All photos courtesy Helen Serras-Herman

By Helen Serras-Herman

When we hear “gold rush,” we immediately think of California’s gold rush, which started in 1849, and Alaska’s gold rush from 1899 to 1909; however, gold was discovered first in the Eastern states, east of the Appalachian Mountains, from Maryland and Virginia, down to the Carolinas and Georgia.

There are reports of mined gold in Georgia by the Spanish and French explorers from 1560 to 1690, and Thomas Jefferson first referenced a gold discovery in Virginia in 1782. In 1799, gold was discovered in North Carolina. Gold was found in Dahlonega, Georgia, in 1828 and one year later in Maryland. Gold was found in Maryland within quartz veins, together with pyrite and/or galena, mostly near the Great Falls of Potomac (Maryland Gold Fever, Walter A. Goetz, 1979, revised 1996). The Maryland state became the northern end of the “Appalachian Gold Belt.” One of my first rockhounding field trips was gold-panning in Maryland with fellow club members from the Gem, Mineral & Lapidary Society of Washington D.C, back in the 1990s.

Feeding the "Gold Fever Bug"

The admission to the Consolidated Gold Mine includes a gold-panning sample with a gold-panning demonstration, which we thoroughly enjoyed.

Having the “gold fever bug,” my husband has taken every opportunity to pan for gold during our Montana and Colorado trips. But the place we spent a whole day gold-panning was in Dahlonega, a historic town nestled at the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains in Georgia. We visited Georgia a few years ago as I was giving a lecture and participated in “The Art of Minerals” exhibit at the Weinman Mineral Museum (now the Tellus Museum) in Cartersville, Georgia.

We first visited the Dahlonega Gold Museum Historic Site (www.gastateparks.org/DahlonegaGoldMuseum ). This wonderful museum is housed in the 1836 Old Lumpkin County Courthouse. The museum’s exhibits share the history of the 1828 gold discovery, two and a half miles south of Dahlonega by deer hunter Benjamin Parks. That discovery triggered America’s first major gold rush in northwest Georgia, where thousands of prospectors poured into the Cherokee Nation area within the next year. The intruding miners did not respect the Cherokee lands and agreements with the Federal government and caused a lot of problems and lawlessness.

The town of Dahlonega was established in 1832. After the 1835 treaty that the United States made with the Cherokees, whereby the Cherokee “agreed” to give up their lands for $5,000.000 and migrate west of the Mississippi to what is now Oklahoma, the town of Dahlonega and the gold miners thrived.

A U.S. Mint opened in Dahlonega in 1838, coining more than $6 million in gold before closing in 1861. One of the museum’s amazing exhibits is a complete set of those rare gold coins on loan from the North Georgia College and State University. Also on exhibit is a gold pan with approximately five ounces of gold dust and nuggets found by a local prospector in 1996, surrounded by gold nuggets and gold ore specimens from the Loud Mine in White County, Battle Branch Mine in Auraria, Crown Mountain Mine in Dahlonega, and the Calhoun Mine in Lumpkin County – the site of the first discovery of vein gold. The Calhoun Mine got its name because it was purchased shortly after the gold discovery by U.S. Senator John C. Calhoun of South Carolina, and his son-in-law, Thomas G. Clemson, operated the mine.

Several rooms in the Dahlonega Gold Museum and exhibits, artifacts, and mining equipment tell the story of the gold discovery and Georgia’s nearly 200-year-old mining history. A 25-minute film describes the mining techniques, hardships and lifestyle of the gold prospectors.

Heading Underground

Our next destination was the Consolidated Gold Mine, which offers the Underground

A lot of old gold-mining equipment, dredges and sluices, are at the Crisson Mine

Adventure Tour. The wonderful 45-minute tour is led by knowledgeable guides and takes visitors 200 feet underground. The guides share tales of miners’ struggles and show the equipment used for underground mining. The mine operated from 1900 to 1906 and was probably the largest gold plant east of the Mississippi. It had a 120-stamp mill, a large chlorinator, a 500-foot tunnel, and numerous small buildings. The $18 tour admission includes a gold-panning sample with a gold-panning demonstration. The mine is located at 185 Consolidated Mine Road and is open seven days a week. For more information, visit www.consolidatedgoldmine.com or call 706-864-8473.

Our next and last stop in Dahlonega was the Crisson Gold Mine. The mine is actually an open pit gold mine, established in 1847. It was commercially explored until the 1980’s. The mine started as a tunnel mining operation, with some hydraulic mining machinery in use. Once the old tunnels were dug out, it resulted in a new open-pit mining operation, which continues today.

The mine’s instructors are happy and willing to teach everyone how to pan for gold. On-site is a crusher from the late 1800s - a ten-stamp mill, with each stamp weighing 450 pounds each, still used today to crush the gold-bearing quartz rock into sand. In addition, the mine has rod mills and jaw crushers which they use upon occasion. The guides take visitors to see the Stamp Mill, which is the only working stamp mill in the state of Georgia and only one of two in the Southeast.

The gold-panning experience at the Crisson Gold Mine includes several options. Visitors can purchase five-gallon buckets with concentrated ore and pan by hand or rent the trommel to run the dirt through it before the final panning. That’s what we should have done. We opted for hand-panning, and after carrying a number of buckets back and forth to the sluicing area to pan, we learned the hard way that the trommel would have been the better, less exhausting option!

We were also surprised to see a number of customers coming in and purchasing large sacks of concentrate gold ore. We learned that they buy the ore to pan it at their leisure at home during the winter months. We purchased two five-gallon cans that came home with us and were panned later. The mining shop has a lot of gold mining equipment, including pans, dredges, and metal detectors. We spent a terrific day at the Crisson Mine and had the most memorable experience that I still treasure.

The Crisson Mine is located at 2736 Morrison Moore Pkwy, E. Dahlonega, and is open seven days a week. For more information, visit www.crissongoldmine.com, or call at 706-864-6363. A good but busy time to visit may be during the annual Gold Rush Days Festival, which takes place in Dahlonega over the third weekend of October.