Dahlonega is located at the north end of Georgia 400, which connects Atlanta to many affluent suburbs to the north. It is consistently named as a best place to retire by many different publications due to its low cost of living, vibrant activities, continuing education for seniors, festivals, and beautiful setting.
In 1828 Dahlonega was the site of the first major gold rush in the United States. The Dahlonega Gold Museum Historic Site stands in the middle of the town square, housed in the old Lumpkin County Courthouse built in 1836. From its steps in 1849, Dahlonega Mint assayor Dr. M. F. Stephenson tried to persuade miners to stay in Dahlonega instead of joining the California Gold Rush, saying, "There's millions in it," famously misquoted as "There's gold in them thar hills." Corey Smith wrote a song about the town of Dahlonega. It is the first track on his second album In the Mood. Dahlonega is home to a campus location of the University of North Georgia.
This area was occupied by indigenous peoples for thousands of years before European contact. When European American settlers arrived, it was the traditional territory of the historical Cherokee Nation.
Dahlonega was home to many Creeks and Cherokees. There are a few Creek and Cherokee descendents in Dahlonega today, though they are not in communities but scattered throughout Dahlonega. Most of the descendents are Creek-Cherokee mixed. Names like Corn, Davis, and Bird, as well as the Chambers families, were of Cherokee blood. Surnames like Limley and Cagle were of Creek and Seminole blood. Though not afforded state or federal recognition, these families still practice their traditions as Cherokee and Creek people. The Cherokee called the area Talonega, which means yellow; George Featherstonhough, an English geologist who visited the town in 1837, observed that the courthouse was built upon a broad expanse of hornblende slate "and that the soil of the public square was impregnated with small specks of gold." The spelling of the Cherokee word Da-lo-ni-ge-i was disputed by early correspondents, with Featherstonhough, for example, calling it "Tahlonekay." Since 1977, the state recognized tribe has been known as The Georgia Tribe of Eastern Cherokee.
Numerous gold mines were illegally developed in the area. Miners, entering illegally into the Cherokee Nation lands, came into conflict with the Cherokee, whose territory they had trespassed. The Cherokee lands were defined by the treaty between the Federal Government and the Cherokee Nation in The Treaty of Washington 1819. The miners raised political pressure against the Cherokee because they wanted to get the gold. The Federal Government forced the Native Americans west of the Mississippi River to Oklahoma on the Trail of Tears during Indian Removal. Dahlonega was founded two years before the Treaty of New Echota 1835, which made its founding a violation of The Treaty of Washington of 1819.
Naming the city
In 1833 the city was named Talonega by the Georgia General Assembly on 21 December 1833. The name was changed from Talonega by the Georgia General Assembly on 25 December 1837 to Dahlonega, from the Cherokee-language word Dalonige, meaning "yellow" or "gold." The city is just east of Auraria; each claims to be the site of the first discovery of gold. Senator John Calhoun of South Carolina (7th Vice President of the United States) owned the Calhoun Mine, just south of the City Square.
The United States Mint built a branch mint here, which it operated from 1838–1861. The Dahlonega Mint, like the one established in 1838 in Charlotte, North Carolina, only minted gold coins, in denominations of $1.00, $2.50 (quarter eagle), $3.00 (1854 only) and $5.00 (half eagle). This was cost effective in consideration of the economics, time, and risk of shipping gold to the main mint in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The Dahlonega Mint was a small operation, usually accounting for only a small fraction of the gold coinage minted annually in the US.
The government decided against re-opening the facility after the Civil War. By then, the U.S. government had established a mint in San Francisco, California. Given the large amount of gold discovered in California from the late 1840s on, that mint handled the national needs of gold mint production.
As a result, surviving Dahlonega coinage is today highly prized in American numismatics. The mint building burned in 1878. The North Georgia College campus built Price Memorial Hall on its foundation. The building has a gold-leaf steeple to refer to the history of the site.
Wine and tourism
In recent years, Dahlonega and Lumpkin County have been recognized as "the heart of the North Georgia Wine Country". The county features five vineyards and wineries that attract many tourists. The historic Dahlonega Square is also a popular tourist destination, with gift shops, restaurants, art galleries and artists' studios. The city's local festivals draw many tourists. "Bear on the Square", an annual three-day festival held the third weekend in April, marks the day that a black bear wandered onto the square. It features bluegrass and old-time music. "Gold Rush Days", an annual two-day event the third weekend in October, attracts over 200,000 people.
Dahlonega is home to the Holly Theatre (Dahlonga, Georgia).