History of Pine Mountain Gold Mines
Nothing in nature can compare to it. For thousands of years mankind has sought it, bought it, fought for it and died for it. The same is true for the continent of North America, and more specifically West Georgia.
Native Americans knew of gold in America long before the first settlers set foot on the continent but held that its value was that of jewelry instead of currency. The first Europeans to touch the shores of North America in search of gold were the Spanish explorers. In 1513 Ponce de Leon was informed by the Florida natives of a land to the north where gold could be found in abundance, but there is no record to suggest that he used the information. Stories of gold lured the Spanish northward, where an expedition under Hernando de Soto traveled through what is now western and northwestern Georgia. In his travels Desoto heard tales of people who wore golden hats and of lands where gifts of gold were given in large quantities to the women who ruled them. The expedition even came across a young native who showed them how gold was mined, melted and refined by his people. However, it seems certain that Desoto never found the cities of gold, as there is no record of his ever returning.
No one is certain when the first discovery of gold was made in Georgia by the white settlers. There are tales of finds in the Chestatee River near Dahlonega in 1815 and in McDuffie County in 1826. Lucian Lamar Knight, Georgia’s first State Historian, tells of a discovery in Carroll County near present day Villa Rica in 1826 but does not list his sources.
Therefore, the Villa Rica claim was not widely recognized and remained one of conjecture and folklore for over 175 years. Meanwhile, Dahlonega, Georgia played host to the first widely publicized gold rush in the state in 1829. By the mid 1830’s, Georgia was abuzz with gold mining activity. In fact, well over 500 working gold mines have been documented in Georgia during this period, making it one of the more prolific producers of the precious metal in the nation. This southern gold rush, the first in the nation, lasted well into the 1840’s. The region in Georgia stretching from Rabun County through the city of Dahlonega, southward through Cherokee County and into Paulding and Carroll counties before ending in Alabama became known as the Dahlonega (Georgia) Gold Belt. Throughout the mid 1800’s it was one of the richest gold formations ever found in the continental United States of America.
According to ground surveys taken in the mid 1820’s, gold was discovered in the northern parts of Carroll County, (now Douglas County) near present day Villa Rica.
However, due to an obscure law passed in 1825, which basically gave the mineral rights to the state for the newly created “Carroll County,” gold mining remained a closely guarded secret in Carroll until December of 1829 when the law was repealed. Within a few months, dozens of commercial mining operations suddenly appeared on the deed books in the area. Soon, the easy gold dwindling, the miners turned their attention northward to the Cherokee Indian territory. The driving force behind this expansionism and the subsequent eventual removal of the Cherokee and Creek Indian Nations was the discovery of gold. Ironically, the Georgia gold rush survived the Indian removal by less than twenty years. In 1849, the miners headed west to California.
In its heyday, there were as many as nineteen commercial gold mining operations in and around Villa Rica. By the turn of the 20th century, most lie in ruins or were plowed under to make room for cotton fields. Of the original nineteen, only the Pine Mountain Gold Mine was commercially mined seriously after 1900.
In 1917, T.H. Aldrich introduced cyanide gold mining, a process used to separate the gold from the ore. However, mining ceased with the start of World War II and most of the old mining equipment was sold for the war effort.
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