Annual Gold Rush Days, Dahlonega, GA. “There’s gold in them thar hills!” ~ Dr. M.F. Stevenson.
Okay, I was just blown away by the origin of the above quote. I typed out the words as a the title of my blog about a little historical town in northern Georgia that I love and decided that even though it is a very common phrase, I had better find out where it had come from so I could quote whomever was responsible for first uttering the famous line. As it turns out it was first spoken by Dr. M. F. Stevenson who was trying to persuade gold miners to stay in Dahlonega, GA rather than heading to the California Gold Rush. I had no idea.
I was, however, familiar with the rest of the story. The California Gold Rush did lure miners away from the Appalachian mountains and Dahlonega, which happened to be the first location in the U.S. in which gold was discovered. They packed up and headed west leaving all that gold…and it’s still there!
I was ten years old when my family took one our trips north from Florida for a vacation “in the mountains” and saw Dahlonega, GA for the first time. “Where are you going?”, people would ask us. “To the mountains.” Just like my grandpa’s sailboat, the Arial, was known as “the boat” in our family, anything north of Atlanta, east of Chattanooga, west of Charlotte, and south of Knoxville was called “the mountains”.
We had just driven into the foothills and were winding around small bends and tree-lined corners of an old highway when we entered a little town square. I was only a kid, but even at that age I felt as if I had been born in the wrong century, at least the wrong decade. It was the most quaint, charming, and absolutely adorable little town I had ever seen. Very Mayberryish! I expected to see Aunt Bee walking down the sidewalk carrying a gallon jar of pickles any second. But in only moments we had passed through the square and driven out of town past a prim little clothing store with mannequins in the window that sported clothing that seemed to be left over from the mid 1950s and in fact the mannequins themselves were of that style. The store was called Green’s and if I recall correctly, either had green striped awnings or walls along the store front. My grandmother was with us on that trip, my sister, dad, and mother were packed along with myself in our yellow VW van and when we had reached the edge of town I looked around at my family members wondering if they had seen what I had just seen. No one seemed to have noticed that we had gone back in time for a moment.
Fast forward to the next fall. I’ve had my eleventh birthday. Friends of ours have invited us to the wedding of their eldest daughter which was to take place just north of Atlanta, GA. My dad, always the adventurer, decides that if we are going to drive all the way up to Atlanta that we would make a long weekend of the trip and hop into “the mountains” for a mini vacation. He has read about a little town in the north Georgia mountains that was the sight of the first gold rush in America and he wants to visit. The wedding ends. Dad hates Atlanta, loves our friends, but isn’t fond of weddings, so I’m sure he was anxious to head for the hills. I was right with him. I couldn’t wait to get out of the city and into the mountains.
We made it to our destination late that afternoon. I remember the excitement we all felt as the foothills came into view. I was amazed when, minutes later, we entered that same square that had made such an impact on me the previous summer. I told my parents that we had been there before. They said we hadn’t. I insisted that I remembered everything about it and even the store called Green’s. My parents said that we had never been that route so couldn’t have seen the little square. I was hurt and upset that no one believed me. I KNEW this was the square I had loved so much. It was best to leave it alone so I didn’t say anymore about it but absolutely fell in love with the little town. We rented a little cottage for the night that was owned by the bed and breakfast next door and walked into town to an old inn that served family style dinners where all guests sat together at long tables and passed bowls and platters of food around to each other, just like Thanksgiving dinner at home. The fried chicken, which I didn’t realize until I was much older, was strips of fried chicken tenders and I had never had anything like them.
I was a bit sulky during the rest of our stay, still sure that we had been there before. I felt like the little girl in Miracle on 34th Street when she sees the house of her dreams only there was no Santa cane for my family to find to prove that my memory was correct. On top of it I was growing feverish and coming down with a head cold. As we hunkered down into our little cottage for the night, my sister and I were in one room, my parents in another, my dad called me into their room sounding a little sheepish. I went in to see what he wanted. He sat on their canopied bed, with an open map in his hand, my mother beside him grinning a little. He told me that he was looking at the map of the area and realized that on our last trip to the mountains we would had to have driven right through that little town, that I was right when I had been certain that I had seen it before. Needless to say, I was elated and very grateful for a dad that would admit that he had been mistaken.
I still love that town. After years of being so far away from my mountains, and finally having the opportunity to live within them, driving into that square anytime we visit Dahlonega, GA is always the same as that first time when I was ten years old, only now it’s like an old friend, nearly as comforting as sitting in my own grandma’s living room.
This month marks a decade since we have settled in “the mountains”. I get homesick for Florida and the other places in which we’ve lived, but if I had to move away from these hills I would truly be heartbroken, in the same manner that I pined for them when I lived in the middle of the Pacific and on the Pacific coast, too far away to visit very often. I remember watching the movie The Last of the Mohicans through all those years of being away, which was filmed at some of my favorite mountain locations, just to get a glimpse and a feel for them. In fact some of the scenes were filmed in the gorge that’s entrance was literally two doors down from the home that my parents eventually bought when they moved to the mountains themselves. I rarely watch it anymore. I just look right out my bedroom window.
This past weekend I was able to get away with my family to do some “leaf-looking”. We headed to Dahlonega for Gold Rush Days. It is not the same sleepy little town it was the first time I fell in love with it, it’s popularity as a southern tourist destination has increased so enormously since the mid-eighties, but it hasn’t been developed and hasn’t lost an ounce of charm. The discovery of the original mine shaft that leads from underneath the inn of The Smith House, the inn in which my family and I shared that family-style dinner with other guest and which carries on the same tradition, and leads across to the square and under the court house. No mining is allowed as the town would literally be torn up for anyone to get to the gold, but the recent discovery of the vein intrigues tourist enough for their to be an annual festival to celebrate all that gold and the town becomes swamped with a literal sea of people. Honestly, I like it better on off season days when we have the place to ourselves, but we do have a lot of fun at the festival when we have the opportunity to go.
We packed a picnic lunch and ate it on the courthouse steps.
Old time, all American southern charm!
The Smith House is an inn that serves family style dinners. The gift shop on the street level offers gold and gemstone related items as well as their own line of jarred foods and preserves. Click on the link to read the entire Smith House story and gold mine legacy.
Soap in the shape of giant gemstones. soaprocks.com
In the inn’s basement you can see the original mine shaft that was only recently discovered and display cases full of odds and ends that were found in the shaft.
I’ve included this post in my food blog for a reason. We packed our lunch that day with the intention of having dessert in town at a little bake shop we knew of. Later that evening around dusk we stopped for dinner at an old cafe that had reopened after sitting empty for some time. The building had once been a gas station, general store, and a cafe in the past. I will blog separately about each location on a new restaurant review page that I had always intended to include in the blog. The problem is, that since I have started blogging we rarely dine out. Vicious cycle. I intend to remedy that because part of the learning process for me as a cook is sampling great food, even if it’s just coffee and pastries, or country-style diner food.