We like to think that the reasons our European Ancestors came to America is freedom, whether it be philosophical, economic, or religious. But the exploration of the New World was in an era of Mercantilism , which meant that the expansion and exploration was driven by the desire for more resources and no resource was held in higher regard than Gold. About three hundred and fifty years after Columbus first crossed the ocean, the first significant Gold Rush was not in California, not even in Dahlonega, but in a town that is lost to the passage of time, Auraria, Georgia .
The remnants of the town sit about an hour North of Atlanta and 10 minutes from Dahlonega. It marks a place where it is said that the first white man, named Findley Ridge, kicked over a rock and saw precious Gold back in 1828. This saw rise to the first Gold Rush in U.S. History and the rise of the town of Auraria to assist the gold seekers.
Today, the town is principally a memory. The only structure that seems intact is Woody’s Store, which served as a tavern during the Gold Rush. There is a nice looking home across the street, the rubble of the Graham Hotel and a red building that once served as the city’s bank. The demise of the town began with the choosing of Dahlonega as the location of the US Mint, driving a greater settlement there. And when the Gold dried up, Auraria faded away.
The significance of this little patch of land, however is far reaching. First, the Gold discovered there on what was, at that time, Cherokee territory, led to the passage of the Indian Removal Act of 1830, which was the legislation that physically manifested itself for the Natives with the “Trail of Tears.” Secondly, the skills learned by workers in this Georgia Gold Rush were applied in the California Gold Rush, which heralded great westward expansion and the founding of the State of California. The story goes that Jennie Wimmer, a camp cook and laundress and Sutter’s mill used a lye soap solution to determine that the California Gold was authentic. Jennie knew this from her experience growing up in a Auraria Georgia prospecting family. At a different location, another Auraria miner, William Greeneberry Russell, and his men, set up a new Auraria in Kansas Territory, which is now part of present day Denver, Colorado.
To get there, drive up 400 North as you would go to Dahlonega, turn right on GA 9E, which is also known as Auraria Road and travel 6.6 Miles. There’s a Historical Marker on the left honoring the location. All properties are privately owned, so I don’t encourage trespass. But if you are near Dahlonega and want to spend an hour soaking up some Georgia History or are the sort that enjoys a good ghost town, I thought I might show you the way.