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Take an Underground Tour of the Largest Gold Mining Operation Ever Established East of the Mississippi River

Take an Underground Tour of the Largest Gold Mining Operation Ever Established East of the Mississippi River

If you’ve ever wondered what it must have been like to be a hard rock gold miner in the 1800s, the underground tour at Consolidated Gold Mines in Dahlonega, Georgia will  shed some light on that— very little light as it turns out.  Although modern electricity now allows guided tour groups to descend 200 feet and follow the original ore cart tracks, over a 100 years ago the massive tunnel system was pitch black, cold, and wet. Miners of yesteryear used weak lantern light or candles as they blasted quartz veins to uncover huge deposits of gold.  Wear a jacket, closed-toe shoes, and you’ll be comfortable. Expect a few drops of water to drip on your head now and again!

Gold was first discovered in the Dahlonega area in 1828, twenty years before the famous California Gold Rush. The discovery was a complete accident –  a deer hunter tripped over a rock that was full of gold. Within one year’s time, some 15,000 miners heard about the possibility of riches and rushed to find some gold for themselves. At that time there was so much gold in and around Dahlonega that it was easy to find on top of the ground. But pretty soon all the easy gold was picked up, and the miners went to the streams and rivers in search of more. There they used pans and sluices to separate the shiny stuff from waste material. After a while, hydraulics were used to literally blast away hillsides. All that landslide dirt and mud contained even more gold!  

Around 1880, a few determined prospectors set out to figure out what was providing all that gold. They discovered it wasn’t gold mining equipmentactual veins of gold, but veins of quartz containing gold. Heavier metals like gold and iron were found mixed with the heaviest rock of the area – quartz. After a lot of testing, an area where several extremely large veins came together to form one giant vein was found by Mr. Knight. Most quartz veins containing gold run an average of 2-3 inches thick. This vein was SO HUGE that it wasn’t measured in inches but in feet – 22 feet thick – and is still one of the largest gold-bearing veins of quartz ever discovered in the world. Soon, the huge vein system was found to be going downhill at a 45 degree angle heading deeper underground and below the water table. After a brief hiatus, mining of the Knight or “Glory Hole” vein continued when a group of northern investors bought up 7,000 acres of land around the discovery site, and all the smaller mines with it, forming the Dahlonega Consolidated Gold Mining Co. in 1895. Success was short lived. Whatever the reasons—low gold prices, high expense of extracting the gold, scamming among the investors—Consolidated was out of business by 1906. But before its demise it was certainly a legend in its own time, reported to be the very first attempt at systematic, deep underground mining in the East.

After closure, the tunnel system was totally abandoned for 75 years until new life was instilled by a coal mining family from Kentucky looking to change occupations. Today, adults and kids get a 40-minute underground adventure where tour guides demonstrate noisy drilling and blasting methods first used by old-time miners, and answer questions about the gold mining history of the Dahlonega area.  After the tour, try your luck at panning for gold (included in the ticket price). You can also mine for gemstones for an extra charge.  The gem studio specializes in cutting and polishing rough gemstones that you find into rings, earrings, pendents and more. The gift shop is well stocked with treasure hunting equipment, or you can buy a gold nugget, jewelry, and more as a souvenir.  Click for directions and detailed information about Consolidated Gold Mines.