Johnny Vardeman – Gainesville Times

The Lumpkin County gold rush in the 1800s is well known, and mining continued on a small scale even in more modern times.

Less familiar is somewhat of a mini-gold rush in the late 1800s and early 1900s that included Hall and other North Georgia counties. One mining expert even predicted that Hall County could become “the banner county of the North Georgia gold belt … with unlimited possibilities.”

William Waring Habersham, son of Joseph Habersham, for whom Habersham County is named, said at the time, “I know of no county in North Georgia where the field is so new and inviting to men of means and mining ability.” He said the only reason Hall County’s potential in gold mining remained undeveloped was because most land was in farms. He said farmers were content to raise crops and implied they might not recognize gold if they saw it.

Habersham gave as an example the Big Joe Mine 8 miles north of Gainesville. A miner just walking through the woods in 1897 discovered gold in dirt and rock farmers had piled up so they could plow. They had plowed around that ore for 50 years, he said, and when gold was found, a company bought the rights and made thousands of dollars despite the expense of reaching a deep vein underground.

Guilford Thompson, who with his brother Ovid built Thompson Bridge in Hall County, earlier had found gold in a branch on his farm north of the bridge. About $7,000 in gold had been taken in a short time on what was called the Elrod or Newton Mine. The Elrod Mine, however, later was sold for taxes.

S.B. Cantrell also had a gold operation that produced $98 to $104 per ton of ore from his farm.

Flowery Branch was in on the mining fever with the Gold Hill Mine among the better prospects. Habersham wrote that in addition to gold, deposits of silver, lead, copper, manganese, graphite and iron could be found in abundance in the Flowery Branch area.

Interest in the mineral was so high and discoveries seemingly so common that a northern syndicate came south to get in on the action, focusing on the Pope Brothers mining operations in Cherokee County and the Hamburg Mine, which had yielded $300 in ore in White County.

What attracted more attention from prospectors and investors, however, were discoveries in Gilmer County. John Gaffney of St. Louis, Mo., was trying to acquire interest in the Lucky 8 Mine in the Cartecay River. One shot of dynamite, the Georgia Cracker newspaper reported, unearthed $4,000 in gold. Gaffney engaged miner Bud Odom of Lumpkin County to develop the property. A 22-foot shaft exposed $20,000 in gold, a vein so rich a guard with a shotgun was posted at the site.

R.K. Reeves reported a rich find in Rabun County.

Also in 1897 W. Szontagh dug a 165-foot shaft and 600-foot tunnel in the Curryhee (Currahee) Mine in Lumpkin County. He was hauling 150 tons of ore to a stamp mill a quarter mile away.

Activity as the 20th century approached intensified enough that a $75,000 gold smelter was built in Atlanta, allowing 200 tons of ore to be hauled via railroad.

In addition, in Hall County, H.D. Jaquish, who organized the Southern Gold Miners Association, operated a dredge on the Chattahoochee and Chestatee rivers. The purest gold, Habersham said, could be found in the Chestatee River, along its banks and in its bottom, where dredges had unearthed considerable amounts. While much of the gold came up in flakes, nuggets from 5 to 40 pennyweights weren’t uncommon, and some lumps of gold were several hundred pennyweights.

J.B. Witt, who operated the Findley Gold Chute owned by Consolidated Gold Mines, said the property had yielded $300,000, but should produce $1.4 million in gold.

Capt. Eugene Gustave Mayne, a Dahlonega gold entrepreneur, declared “millions and millions of gold in Georgia,” urging geologists to assess the value and the possibilities of deposits.

Panners still sift the streams of North Georgia, especially in Lumpkin County, where boosters have turned its gold history into a tourist attraction, witness next weekend’s annual Gold Rush Days, which attracts thousands.

Could gold still lurk beneath Hall County’s soil, or is it forever hidden by Lake Lanier?

Johnny Vardeman is retired editor of The Times.