The cry of "There's Gold in Them Thar Hills" (which is Mark Twain's version of what Mr. Stephenson said from the second floor porch of the Dahlonega Courthouse) still echoes through the halls of the Dahlonega Gold Museum in Dahlonega, Georgia. When the news spread that gold had been discovered in North Georgia in the Cherokee Nation, thousands of gold seekers flocked into the Georgia mountains in 1829 starting America's first major gold rush. Besides Lumpkin, White, Union, and Cherokee Counties each shared to some extent in the rush.
Proposed in 1833, the contract for the courthouse was originally given to John Humphries, an unscrupulous con-man who received 2,000 dollars in advance for construction on a courthouse to be completed in 18 months. When the time was up the county had paid an additional 500 dollars and no work had been completed. Humphries fled town when a deputy sheriff attempted to serve him a warrant, never to be heard from again.
Ephraim Clayton, of Asheville, North Carolina finally built the edifice completing it in 1836. Using bricks cast from gold-rich Cane Creek and mortar made from the creek's mud, the building contains significant amounts of gold. The final payment for the building was made in gold bullion.
Now the Dahlonega Gold Museum, the courthouse replaced a much smaller wooden structure that stood on the same site. The new building housed a market on the first floor and the court on the second floor, but it also housed the assayer's office where the quantity and quality of the gold brought from area placers was determined. Many people who would become moving forces in Georgia over the next 5 decades spent time in or near the courthouse including William Akin, who became a lawyer in Bartow County and ended up trying the first case in before the Georgia Supreme Court, Mark Cooper, who ran for governor in 1843, and Vice President of the United States, John C. Calhoun.
Although the number of slaves in Lumpkin County was small, on occasion a slave sale would be held on the courthouse steps. Many local Confederate units were mustered on the grounds of the Courthouse. In 1863 the building was used as a militia headquarters and prison as the militia attempted to maintain order on a large portion of the north Georgia Mountains.
The building, described after The Civil War as "half-ruined" was remodeled in 1880. The courthouse was featured in Life magazine in 1942.
By the early 1960's the courthouse was no longer large enough to meet the needs of the growing community. A new courthouse was built and when the old building was abandoned the Georgia Historical Commission was chosen to supervise a remodeling for citizens intent on preserving the historic structure. First, a massive stabilization effort helped stop the deterioration of the building.
Next the outside of the building was sandblasted to return brick to its original color. Then offices were removed to return the entrance to its original condition. When old bricks were removed Madeleine Anthony, who would become the first curator of the Gold Museum, retrieved them, hung a brass icon inscribed "Lumpkin County Courthouse, 1836" and included an assayers report showing traces of gold.
On July_1, 1967 the Dahlonega Gold Museum opened its doors.
National politics played a major role in building a mint in the city. Andrew Jackson, President of the United States, felt that a strong central bank was a problem. Most of his second term was spent dismantling the institution. Part of the act that weakened the National Bank in 1835 also authorized The Dahlonega Mint, along with others in Charlotte and New Orleans. The branch mint opened three years later. Over the next 23 years the high quality ore from North Georgia produced six million dollars in gold. The mint, closed by the Confederate Government shortly after the start of the Civil War was donated to North Georgia Agricultural College in 1871 along with ten acres of land. Today North Georgia College's impressive Price Memorial Hall stands on the foundation of the mint.