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Mar. 26, 2019
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‘Day in the Life of a Miner’

By Jane Harrison
 
Tourists can walk in the boots of an 1830s gold prospector in an upcoming program at the Dahlonega Gold Museum. On March 23, the grounds and interior of the recently renovated historic site will come alive showing the day-break to dark path of wanna-be millionaires seeking riches in the Georgia mountains. In “A Day in the Life of a Miner” visitors can see how blacksmithers hammered out miners’ tools, candle makers lit the early mornings, and tavern keepers poured toasts or drowned misery after a day’s toil in the mine, on a creek side, or behind a water cannon.
 
The event commemorates America’s first major gold rush when thousands of prospectors migrated to the Dahlonega area, producing a lively, thriving community in “them thar hills.” The Gold Museum, a Georgia Department of Natural Resources Historic Site, poses in the middle of Dahlonega’s modern day gold rush. Housed inside the 1836 Lumpkin County Courthouse at the center of the downtown square, the Gold Museum attracts thousands of tourists that flock to the mountain town for its history, bluegrass music, Georgia wine, art, restaurants, antiques and folksy culture.
 
Gold Museum Site Director Sam McDuffie greeted visitors at last month’s “Super Sunday” free admission day wearing the “Assayer” outfit he’ll have on during the March event. Assayers, he explained, tested the metal miners hauled in, making or breaking fortunes. In a top hat, vest, slacks, and top coat he assayed the stream of tourists – numbering around 200 that day – as a genuine rush.
 
“People are excited about history. It is why Dahlonega is what it is now,” McDuffie said. He noted that Trip Adviser website recommends the Gold Museum as one of the top three downtown Dahlonega destinations. An estimated 21,000 people stroll into the museum annually to look back not just at the city’s gold mining past, but also at the Native American culture that prospectors chased out and the replicated judge’s chamber, jury room, and courtroom where justice was served.
 
Last year major investments blew the dust off the old exhibits and put a new roof on the museum. Georgia State Parks shoveled just more than half a million dollars into renovations completed last June. And the Friends of the Parks organization, a loyal crew of Dahlonega history buffs, poured in $20,000 to shine up the remake. McDuffie said the funds fueled a complete turnaround for the exhibits. Visitation has “been insane” since the renovated museum opened, he said.
 
Most folks anticipate the exhibits they’ll get to see inside, but the exterior of the stately edifice, one of Georgia’s oldest standing courthouse buildings, is also worth a good look. The rectangular building with exterior walls two feet thick was built in 1836 of bricks hewn from mud dug out of Cane Creek. From the upper balcony, accessed by separate outdoor stairwells (perhaps one for men, the other for women), observers can view the bustling downtown square below and the gold steeple on the University of North Georgia campus on the horizon. Dahlonega gold tops the steeple and the Georgia capitol dome in Atlanta.
 
Inside, the downstairs exhibits lead tourists from the beginning of the 1829 gold rush to the period between 1838-1861 when a U.S. mint stamped out $6 million in gold coins in Dahlonega. Upstairs got the “biggest overhaul,” McDuffie said. There, visitors can see implements miners used to pan, dredge, and blast out treasure. Sightseers are especially drawn to a large iron water cannon and nozzle used to flush gold out of mountainsides. Just as impressive, though is the Victorian period style courtroom, with rows of adjoining wood seats, and the rooms across the hall where juries deliberated and judges decided.
 
Museum staff tapped into a trendy entertainment boom last year when they staged an escape room in the upstairs hallway. Participants were “locked in” with puzzles, clues, and historical documents until they reached a verdict in an unresolved 1855 murder case. “Hung Jury: Escape the Gold Museum,”

written by museum staffer Marcia Bennett, won the 2018 Most Innovative Program Award from Georgia State Parks managers. Bennett is currently writing another escape room drama that will put participants inside a makeshift diving bell set up at the museum. Look for it in April.
 
In mid-February McDuffie was still confirming living history artisans to depict day to day living in an 1830s mining town. He expects a soap miller, candle maker, blacksmither and quilter will show the everyday chores that touched a miner’s day. Gold panning on the museum grounds, assayers declaring metal purity and story telling upstairs might reveal a miner’s daily toil and dreams. A tavern scene dramatizing drinking, gambling and bowling will take visitors into boom town nightlife.
 
Day in the Life of a Miner
  • When: 10 a.m.-4 p.m. March 23
  • Where: Dahlonega Gold Museum Historic Site,1 Public Square
  • Admission: $10-$12
  • Info: www.gastateparks.org, 706-864-2257


Posted online 2/2819
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