Auraria

by Alton Bridges

 

[Alton Bridges was born and raised in Lumpkin County.  His family operated a store in Auraria during the gold rush and still lives in the community today. He has written several articles about the gold rush and the people who lived in the area during the days of the gold rush.]

When gold was discovered in North Georgia, many squatters rushed into what is today North Georgia . The discovery of gold in North Georgia was not the first discovery of gold in the United States, but all previous discoveries of gold was on property where there was no question of ownership. People began searching for the precious metal in the streams and hills of the "Cherokee Territory" because there was no clear title to any of the real estate in the area.

In 1832 a squatter named William Dean built a cabin on the ridge and soon a tavern was built by Nathaniel Nuckolls. The name of the place once known as “Deans” became “Nuckollsville.” The town had a rough and rowdy society and an unlawful community that included thieves, gamblers, and murders who were often drunk, malicious and looking for a fight. Today many of the local people refer to the town as "Knucklesville" because of the many stories that have been handed down about how disputes were settled in the town.

"Gold Diggers Road" ran North and South through the town. Gold Diggers Road started at the Chestatee River, or the River of Flickering Lights, and went through Auraria, Dahlonega, Cleveland, Clarkesville and Toccoa and connected to the South Carolina line. Much of the road has been abandoned today. But Hopewell Road, which runs into Gold Diggers Road in Auraria, runs into Highway 19 at Coal Mountain at Fork in the Road Church in Forsyth County. Also Hopewell Road can be entered from Highway 400 at several exits in North Forsyth, Dawson and Lumpkin Counties.

Today, not much is left of the once booming town and county seat, except the Graham Hotel, which is in a sad state of repair, the old tavern, which is today Woody's Store and the old bank building across the road, which is covered with kudzu. The red house that is standing nearby is known as the "Old Emory Brackett homeplace." Only ten months after the first white settler built a cabin in the area, the town had a hundred houses, twenty stores, a newspaper, fifteen law offices and several hotels and taverns.  Approximately 25,000 people lived in the area during the gold rush and 10,000 people made their Auraria their home permanently.

With the influx of people came some of the best legal minds in the country because lawyers were needed to establish a chain of title to the property and settle disputes among the settlers. These lawyers included such people as Thomas Jefferson Rusk, George W. Paschal, William Dawson, Stephen D. Crane, William Y. Hansel, Seaborn Jones, Eli S. Shorter, William H. Underwood and others.

The first schools and churches were established when women, such as Agnes “Grandma” Paschal, came to the region.  Agnes Paschal, was from Oglethorpe County and the widow of a Revolutionary War soldier, opened a tavern in Auraria that was clean, served excellent food, but not liquor. She established the Baptist Church which is today the Antioch Baptist Church.

John C. Calhoun bought one of the most productive mines in the area. His son-in-law, Thomas G. Clemson, an engineer, operated the mine and used some of the gold to found Clemson University. Calhoun's home, Fort Hill, is on the Clemson University campus.  When he was Vice President, Calhoun often came to Nuckollsville to see his mining operation. His friend, a Dr. Croft accompanied Calhoun on a trip in 1832 and suggested the name “Aureola” as the town and “Aldoraddo” for the county, which had not been surveyed. The state legislature chose to name the county in honor of Governor Lumpkin and Maj. John Powell, a resident of the town, named it Auraria, which in Latin meant “gold mine” or “gold region.”

The Western Herald was the first periodical in Auraria and publication began on April 8, 1833.

Auraria became the county seat of Lumpkin County. In May of 1833, after the land lottery was completed, the site where the courthouse was to be built had no clear title because of a fraudulent drawing. The whole townsite belonged to a family of orphans. The county seat was then transferred to Dahlonega, from the Cherokee word, Tau-Lon-ne-ga, meaning “golden.”

In September of 1833, a post office was established in Auraria.

With the success of his mine in the area and the problems of sending gold to Philadelphia for coinage, Calhoun used his influence to have a mint established in the gold region. With the help of Thomas Hart Benton, the U.S. Senator from Missouri known as “Old Bullion,” Congress agreed to support the mint, but because of the title problems, the mint was also established in Dahlonega.   The mint was completed in 1837 and began operation in 1838. It closed with the outbreak of the War Between the States. The mint later burned and the Administration Building at North Georgia College & State University was built on the old foundation of the mint.

With the courthouse and mint in Dahlonega, the town of Auraria and the Western Herald were doomed. When the gold that was easy to mine was gone, many of the miners left for California with the ‘49ers. Georgians James Marshall and Polly Himmel and her husband, who worked at the sawmill for James Sutter, were prominent in the discovery of Gold in California.

In the Colorado gold rush of '59, Georgians from Auraria started the "Pike's Peak or Bust" trip westward. The Russell brothers and James Gregory, who had mined in Auraria and California, were successful miners in Colorado, where their names are in the history of the state, especially the history of Aurora and Denver.

Traveling north on Highway 400, we notice a road sign that reads “Burnt Stand Road.” In the days of the gold rush, the road was lined with houses.  With no jobs and people moving away, the women who remained met at the Baptist Church one evening to plan how to establish jobs in manufacturing or services and improve the quality of life.  The men wanted to move West. While the church meeting was taking place, the men loaded the wagons with the furniture and burned the houses to the ground. Legend says the women saw the smoke rising when they left the church. Burnt Stand Road was named for that incident.

With no jobs and no gold, Auraria became America's first ghost town. Even today only about 350 people live in the unincorporated community. People who mined gold in Georgia played an important role in almost every gold rush in America after 1828. The Dawson mines in Alaska and the towns named Auraria, or towns with a similar name, were named for this area of Georgia.  


  The article above states that "Georgians James Marshall and Polly Himmel and her husband, who worked at the sawmill for James Sutter, were prominent in the discovery of Gold in California." However, according to other sources, including the North Georgia Journal (Winter 1966), the name is Jenny Wimmer, not Polly Himmel. The ones who discovered the nugget at Sutter's Fort were James W. Marshall and Peter L. Wimmer. The nugget was taken to Peter's wife Elizabeth Jane Cloud Biaz Wimmer, who boiled it down and confirmed that it was gold. Elizabeth (Jenny) was the daughter of Martin and Polly Cloud of Lumpkin County, Georgia. She married first to Obadiah Biaz, then second to Peter L. Wimmer in Missouri.

See the link below for an article at the Oakland Museum of California website:

Wimmer's Nugget