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Photo by Neala

Dahlonega Georgia: Wine Country, Gold Country and More

I gave serious thought to making Dahlonega my second home. I would stay in the Top of the Square B& B. Charles, one of the owners, would make Cajun breakfasts for me every morning in the kitchen of Gabee's Cajun Restaurant and I would eat dinner in Crimson Moon then hang out and listen to the great music before going back to my spacious but cozy two-room suite. For a change of pace I'd hit the Back Porch Oyster Bar (one floor down from the B & B) for their delicious seafood. During the day I'd pan for gold, hike by the lakes and streams, and indulge my taste for wine tastings. On evenings when the Holly Theatre was doing a production, you'd find me in the balcony enjoying the performance. I'm still not ruling it out.
Site of the nation’s first Gold Rush in 1829, Dahlonega Georgia is poised for a renewed rush of eager visitors but instead of miners wielding pick axes, the new influx will be tourists – eager for the pleasures of this friendly and charming historic town. About 1.5 hours from Atlanta and 150 years back in time.

Dahlonega’s Gold

Dahlonega sits on a gold vein stretching in a wide belt throughout Georgia, and it is the town the gave this glittering layer its name. The native Cherokee knew gold was here, but not have a monetary system based on precious metals, they saw its value primarily as decorative. It was the early s ettlers who saw the situation differently.

Legend has it that a local man was out hunting, or at least walking through the woods, kicked at some pebbles, spotting the tell-tale glint of yellow gold. It was 1829 and gold fever struck hard. Although Auraria was the first gold rush town, Dahlonega ultimately became the permanent county government. The gold continued to be wrested from the land and much of it shipped to the Philadelphia mint for coinage. But in 1838 the Dahlonega Branch Mint opened and Georgia began to make gold coins (the actual mint building burned down in 1878). But you can learn about the nation’s first real gold rush in the Dahlonega Gold Museum.

Dahlonega Gold Museum Dahlonega Gold Museum
It’s only natural that the precious metal that put Dahlonega on the map should be front and center in the town square in the Dahlonega Gold Museum. This State Historic Site started out as the Lumpkin County Courthouse and is Georgia’s oldest courthouse building still standing. The exhibits, film, and tour are fascinating (including a complete set of the gold coins minted by the government in Dahlonega and made of local gold), but what intrigued me the most was the gold in the walls. The bricks used to construct the building came from local clay. The same clay and mud mortar that came from the hills, hills filled with gold. That gold found its way into the clay and mud. Not many buildings have gold in their walls.

Panning for Gold
Dreams of tiny gold nuggets filled my head as we started out for the Crisson Gold Mine. The Crisson Gold Mine, owned and operated by fourth generation of gold miners, was an open pit mine opened in1847 (the time of the second, smaller Dahlonega gold rush) and worked until the 1980s. Gold mining at that time involved literally washing away the mountain to loosen the gold-bearing quartz rock. Once the rock was recovered, it was run through a stamp mill that pulverized the rock into sand and grit. These stamp mills used 450 lbs blocks to crush down on the rock. They ran around the clock and the noise literally deafened the operators.

Although millions of dollars worth of gold had been taken out of the mine, I knew there must be something left for us to find. A sense of community builds as adults and children, tourists and locals alike stand at the trough with a pan filled with the crushed ore and carefully wash the dirt away, checking periodically for the tiny glitters. JoJo was there helping us spot these flecks. One of the experienced panners loaned me his tweezers so I could carefully lift the gold and deposit it into the glass bottle we used to collect our finds.

Although the principle in panning is based on the gold being heavier than the rock, it was still amazing to see how fast a speck of gold could sink into the water. At the end, I left clutching my souvenir – 5 flecks of gold. The gift shop sells gold jewelry make with Dahlonega gold, as well as a lovely collection of rocks and minerals. Wagon rides will also delight the children.

At the Consolidated Mine, just down the road, Johnny Parker, one of their experienced tour guides (and a world-record holding champion gold panner), fascinated us with the history of the mine and mining, and the economics of digging the gold out of the ground as we walked through the massive network of underground tunnels. Despite the sky-high price of gold, it is still short of meeting the cost of wresting more of it from the earth. So, gold mines have become recreational sites, as the new gold miners come for pleasure more than profit.

The Consolidated Mine is also the site of the Annual World Open Championships held on the 3rd Saturday in April. Visitors can also pan for gold and shop in the gift shop. Dahlonega Wine

North Georgia Wine Trail – Wine-ing through Georgia

The mountains of Georgia once prized for their gold, are now cultivated for their grapes. They call it the Dahlonega Plateau. A broad high plain shadowed by some of Georgia’s highest mountains, the Dahlonega Plateau offers near perfect growing conditions. It offers good drainage (crucial since grapes don’t enjoy having wet roots) and shelter from extreme weather moving in from the north while it is open to the south and east for good sun. The altitude in the mountains means that the temperatures cool down in the evenings, while the humidity of the southeast portion of the country is good for the grapes.

Three Sisters Winery
Named after the mountain known as the Three Sisters, this vineyard sits on 180 acres in the Frogtown District. Established in 1996, it’s one of the original vineyards in the burgeoning wine region. Owners Sharon and Doug Paul have planted over 8000 wine grape vines covering thirteen-plus acres. They also grow a grape indigenous to America called Norton that is hardy in colder temperatures. It’s sometimes called by the more lyrical name Cynthiana-Norton. Open for tastings Thursday through Sunday, they offer a complimentary tasting of three of their wines, or a 5-wine sampling that comes with a keepsake wine glass for a charge. This is a warm friendly welcoming place and a wonderful way to learn about wine. And to enjoy a bit of Georgia folk art which decorates the tasting room. If your passion for wine includes ice wine, their Vidal Blanc icewine was wonderful. In addition to European style wines, they also have the Walasiyi Wine Company that features traditional southern style wines described as "sweet & fruity.” It is certainly both.

Frogtown Winery
Named after the Frogtown area of Lumpkin County, this particular winery is notable both for the wine, and the building itself, built with no nails and every piece cut by hand. The winery serves as both the tasting room, and a location for weddings amidst the Georgia mountains. Owner Craig Kritzer is proud that the winery has garnered 18 medals in just over 2 years of wine competitions. But as gorgeous as it is, it is a winery first, he says. We designed the winery and then designed the building on top.

With 22,000 grape vines encompassing about 17 different varieties, it is clear this is indeed a serious winery. Frogtown produces dry wines, described by Kritzer as “food wines” that “cleanse the palate.” They also have a secondary label, 13th Colony, as well as the Frogtown Cellars label. The tasting room is currently open Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. Plus on selected Sundays visitors can enjoy Winetaster Brunches – 3 courses with wine pairings and desserts.

BlackStock Vineyards
BlackStock vineyard, planted in 1997 was the first to grow grapes in the Dahlonega area. Oddly enough this vineyard is in White County which is dry but owner David Harris was able to get permission for the farm winery to make and sell wine. Their open airy tasting room overlooks the mountains and approximately 90 acres, with 40 planted in vineyards. BlackStock and the Harrises are also suppliers of grapes for other southern vineyards. In fact, it is only in the last few years that BlackStock has started to make its own wine. They also make an unusual White Merlot that is based on the merlot grape, but the grapes are grown somewhat differently, with the red skin is removed early in the processing allowing the clear juice to ferment into a delicious light and fruity wine. Enjoy their live music on Saturday afternoons and their Barbeque Seminars, as well as other special events. BlackStock offers two levels of tasting at different prices.

Wolf Mountain Vineyards
In addition to their tastings, Wolf Mountain Vineyard is also a place for a wedding, as well as delicious gourmet lunch with a beautiful view of the mountains. Wolf’s wines are all blends, enabling them to adjust their wine slightly from year to year to take advantage of the natural ups and downs of wine growing. They focus their vineyard on red wine grapes and buy BlackStock whites for their white wine blends. In addition to tasting Thursday through Sunday they have an educational cellar tour and tasting Saturday and Sunday. Their Vineyard Café also Thursday through Saturday is in their elegant spacious dining area overlooking the vineyards and mountains. They also have special events involving music, wine and food.

And More Wine
Habersham Winery is nearby in Helen, Georgia. We didn’t get to visit the vineyard, but the Dahlonega Tasting Room in town features Habersham wines and offers complimentary wine tasting.

Photo by Neala

Appalachian Mountains

This is the foothills of the Appalachians, the Blue Ridge Mountains, and there is glorious scenery, serene lakes, mountain streams, and hiking. It’s one end of the legendary Appalachian Trail that stretches up to Maine. Dockery Lake, part of the Chattahoochee National Forest, is a lovely campground and picnic spot, with a hiking trail around the lake (which is stocked with trout). Grab a picnic lunch from town, and head out for a delightful day by the water.

Nightlife

The Crimson Moon
After a day exploring the mountains, doing the tastings, panning for gold, it’s not time to rest. It’s 10PM and the Crimson Moon is rocking. It has given up its daytime guise of friendly gourmet restaurant and is transformed into a laid-back easy coffee house. This is, as owner Dana LaChance explains, a listening venue. Food might be the focus during the day, but at night, people come for the music. There’s an ever-changing lineup, but all are excellent.

Holly Theatre Holly Theatre
The other evening must-do is taking in a play at the Holly Theatre. First opened in 1948, the Holly started out showing movies but by the 1960s it faced tough going and went through a series of changes becoming both a saloon and a church at different times. By the 1980s the Holly was in sad shape and the town missed its beloved theatre.

Today the Holly is a true community theatre, rescued with love, dedication, and money by the people of Dahlonega. Officially reopened in 1993 this delightful theatre in the heart of Dahlonega produces six mainstage shows a year plus children’s shows, and concerts. If you can, see one of their beautifully, and lovingly produced plays. This is professional quality produced by dedicated community theater.

I had spent the day exploring the many pleasures north Georgia and would end the day ensconced in my cozy bed in Top of the Square, snuggling under my quilt with the music still singing in my head. If I wasn’t in heaven, I was pretty close.
Dahlonega Georgia will long be on my mind.

When You Go

Lodging
Top of the Square I had intended to walk along the town square in the dimming twilight and explore the shops and buildings, but as I walked downstairs Charles and Mike, co-owners of Top of the Square B& B, sitting at a table on the long narrow porch fronting the building invited me to join them. And that’s where I spent the evening, chatting, having a glass of wine and drinking in the good company and the town of Dahlonega.

Their two bedroom B& B takes up the third floor of a building that houses an artist gallery, where five or so artists, including owner Mike get together to paint on the first floor , a restaurant open Thursday through Saturday on the second floor where Charles presides over the kitchen of Gabee’s Cajun restaurant. Also on that floor are the potters who have set up their wheels and their wares, and the Back Porch Oyster Bar.

The spacious rooms are both individually decorated and delightful. I stayed in the Captain’s room with a small sitting area and a large spacious bedroom complete with high comfy bed and a hot tub (with the stall shower in the bathroom). It's charming, quiet, fun, and perfectly located.

There are, of course, many other places that offer lodging. Here is a sample of the diversity of places to stay.
The Forrest Hills is resort and conference center tucked away in the mountains offering a wide variety of luxury accommodations. And it is also a great place for a romantic get-away with beautifully decorated and private cabins including luxurious hot tubs and fireplaces. They have a wonderful menu of massage options, even a couples massage program. And the message I had was there was excellent.
Mountain Laurel Creek Inn and Spa, and Lily Creek Lodge are lovely secluded and romantic hideaways. The Long Mountain Lodge is upscale rustic lodge tucked into the mountains.
If hiking is your passion, You’ll love the Len Foote Hike Inn. Located near the Amicalola Falls State Park, this Inn is only accessible by a five mile hike.
Want to sleep in a yurt? The Cedar House Inn & Yurts offers environmental-friendly accommodations, and the chance to sleep in a yurt.

Shopping
Rare books at Quigley’s, the eclectic art at Hummingbird Lane Gallery, the potters and painters at the ArtCart, Appalachian Quilts, Great Fynds, the list goes on – these are just some of the places that quickly became favorites.

Eating and Drinking
Smith House can be said to be the destination restaurant of Dahlonega, and the food is the reason. Served family style, delicious and hearty county cookin’ some of the best in the south. With all my favorites – fried chicken, baked ham, fried okra, country style greenbeans, collard greens, roast beef, mashed potatoes and gravy. And then dessert. In two words – Eat Here. And, if you’re too full to move, they also offer lodging right in the heart of Dahlonega.

The Back Porch Oyster Bar is at the back of the second floor at 93 Public Square. The place has an open airy beachy feel with delicious food. Trish Creef presides over the kitchen and her crab bisque is famous, and with good reason. Their fried shrimps are delicately breaded and perfectly fried. Of course, there’s Gabee’s Cajun Kitchen for lunch and supper inside or on the balcony. When you’re craving Cajun, this is the place to go.
For a taste of Italy, visit Caruso’s Italian Grille. And, the delicious cooking at the Crimson Moon is another must-eat place. The Corkscrew Café is a delightful and delicious place to dine, and they offer an excellent Sunday brunch. There are many other places, so just stroll the town, you’ll certainly find the perfect place to eat.

Dahlonega Gold Talk Trivia
Question: Where did the expression “There’s gold in them thar hills” actually came from?
Answer: The Dahlonega gold rush. It was in 1849 and, according to the Dahlonega Gold Museum a crowd had gathered by the courthouse as the assayer of Dahlonega asked the miners to stay in here in Georgia rather than rushing out to California. As history tells us, the miners didn’t listen, and the “forty-niners” flooded California. However, the story goes that Mark Twain, hearing the assayer’s words second-hand from a friend, wrote that famous version. There’s no need to go rushing to California, “There’s gold in them thar hills.”

For More Information visit the friendly tourism folks at Dahlonega.org.


Neala Schwartzberg
© 2007 updated 2012