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"Barnacles of Gold" - The Story of Dahlonega's Famed Findley Mine

By Anne Dismukes Amerson

The Findley Gold Mine was one of Dahlonega’s most famous and productive mines for almost a century. Opened shortly before the Civil War and abandoned soon after the United States entered World War II, the mine site was largely forgotten over the years except by history buffs and gold mining enthusiasts.

Discovery of the Famed Findley Chute

The earliest information about the Findley Chute (alternately spelled “Shute” and “Shoot” and referring to a rich vein) comes from a mining pamphlet published August 1, 1875, by W. Reese Crisson, who owned the property at the time. In it, Crisson states that “the celebrated Findley vein....was discovered in 1858 by a man by the name of Duncan, who was employed by Col. J. J. Findley to test for gold, and while thus employed found this rich vein.”

Crisson went on to explain that Findley had gone into partnership with local entrepreneur Harrison W. Riley and the two of them had worked the mine to a depth of 160 feet. At that point, they struck a vein of water, which poured into their shaft and forced them out.

Crisson also gave an eyewitness account of seeing Findley hand-mortar a gallon bucket of ore taken from one of the mine’s pockets. When he had removed the rock, a half-gallon of pure gold was left.

An interesting story about Duncan was related by W. R. Crisson’s son, E. E. Crisson to Andrew W. Cain, who includes it in the section on the Findley Chute in his History of Lumpkin County for the First Hundred Years 1832-1932 . According to the story, Duncan claimed he was part Indian and said he could dream where to find gold. It was supposedly in such a dream that he saw an incredibly rich vein of solid gold and knew where to dig to find it.

The Beginning of Vein Mining

Prior to Duncan’s discovery, vein mining was still relatively new in the area. Gold had been discovered near the Chestatee River in 1828, but the miners who flocked to north Georgia hoping to strike it rich panned the streambeds using placer mining tools and techniques, including pans, sluice boxes, and rockers. They did not initially realize that the loose particles of gold did not originate in the streams but had washed down from the hills by the forces of erosion. It was not until the “easy gold” had been found that men turned their sights and their shovels into the hillsides in their quest for the precious metal.

Ownership of the Findley Property

The history of ownership of Land Lot 1,048, on which almost all the Findley mining operations took place, is complex, for it was divided into half- and quarter-lots, all of which changed hands more often than pieces of property on a Monopoly game board. Disagreements about ownership followed by law suits were common. Information about the numerous owners is available, but this article will focus only on those who made significant developments to the property.

The lot was originally granted by the State to Talbot Davison, of Jones County, in the Cherokee land lottery of 1833. Although there were several owners in the years between 1833 and 1852, apparently the first person to make any use of the land was Charles M. McJunkin, a woodcutter. After having cut the timber on the property, he sold his half of the lot to James Jefferson Findley in February of 1858. At that time the lot was considered an “old horse” that had seen better days.

Soon after the purchase, Findley secured the services of Charles Duncan, who was reputed to be one of the best prospectors in the area to prospect his newly acquired lot for gold. As described above by W. R. Crisson, Duncan soon found a small but remarkably rich vein which has become famous in the annals of Lumpkin County gold mining history as “The Findley Chute.”

Findley and his partner, Harrison W. Riley, worked the chute for three or four months and excavated a 4 by 6 foot incline shaft “sufficiently large to permit three men to work at the same time.” The rich yields from the mine were reportedly carried to the Dahlonega Mint in a bucket after dark to avoid attracting attention. Findley’s and Riley’s operations came to an abrupt halt when water filled the shaft to a depth of 8-10 feet.

Attempts to Recover the Lost Chute

Subsequently, the Findley property was sold to the Stephenson Gold Mining Company in 1863. Dr. M. F. Stephenson (assayer at the Dahlonega Branch Mint 1850-1853) sunk a 100-foot shaft at the top of the hill north of the chute. He then cut a tunnel from the bottom of the new shaft that was designed to strike the chute from that angle. His operations were halted by the scarcity of labor and the high price of powder for blasting the rock. Later operations proved that his tunnel stopped only five or six feet from the chute.

The Dahlonega Mining Company purchased the Findley property in 1866 but did little work on the mine aside from running a long tunnel designed, like Singleton’s, to strike the chute at the bottom of the incline (a distance of about 500 feet). After driving 300 feet, Superintendent Amory Dexter halted work after workers hit a belt of very hard rock. His decision was also influenced by a title dispute.

In 1868, the Dahlonega Mining Company leased the Findley and Lockhart mines to local miners Crisson and Huff. In 1871, W. R. Crisson (Huff having retired by this time) moved the Lockhart’s 24-stamp mill to the Findley and began mining operations on that property after replacing the badly worn stamps with new ones.

In 1875, N. H. Hand (General Manager for the Dahlonega Mining Company) began to develop the property in order to place it on the market. Frank W. Hall was put in charge of the work. He drove a tunnel from the Dexter tunnel to the bottom of the Stephenson shaft and successfully continued the Stephenson tunnel to the elusive chute. Hall reported taking out “about $3,000 in handsome free gold specimens and that a great deal more was left in place, the object of the work being to develop the mine for sale.”

It was during this time that “the Little Findley Mill” was erected on the northwest side of the ridge to mill the ore brought by flume from the large cut on top of the ridge started by W. R. Crisson. This mill was the 10-stamp Hall mill moved from the Lawrence Mine (located on the Mustering Ground near the Dahlonega Public Square) and was run by steam.


Findley Ridge, Backbone of the Georgia Gold Belt

In 1878, the Findley Gold Mining Company of New York City purchased the property for $30,000. According to a prospectus published by the company that year, the Findley lot “is conceded by every one to contain the largest mass of gold-bearing ores in the Southern belt.” Findley Ridge, called the “backbone” of the Georgia gold belt by mining engineers and geologists, was dramatically described as “a precipitous ridge, jutting into the valley, with almost sheer ascent of 500 feet above the level of the river.”

The celebrated Findley Vein was described in the prospectus as “a clear, lively quartz lode about three feet thick, carrying a remarkably rich ‘pay streak’ of two to eight inches, and yielding in many places almost pure masses of gold.” It went on to note that “nuggets weighing from twenty to fifty pennyweights, are sometimes broken from the quartz while taking down the vein”and “one mass of quartz and gold taken from this lode, weighing about twelve pounds, produced nearly eight pounds of gold.”

The Findley Gold Mining Company enlarged the “Little Findley Mill” to 20 stamps and increased its steam power. It also replaced the 24-stamp mill beside Yahoola Creek with 40 stamps and installed steam pumps to raise water from the Findley Ditch 175 feet to the top of the ridge for use in working the upper cut.

This information is confirmed by an item in the September 8, 1876, issue of Dahlonega’s newspaper, The Mountain Signal: “A ram of the largest size is throwing water into a reservoir on the summit of the hill 153 feet above the ditch....”


The Dahlonega Method

A reservoir was dug at the top of the ridge to store the water, which was released at the end of the day to wash the ore from the cuts down to the mill. This method was apparently developed locally and came to be known as “the Dahlonega Method.”

That process was colorfully described by a writer sent to Dahlonega in 1879 by Harper’s New Monthly Magazine to research and write an article on “Gold Mining in Georgia.” The article which appeared in the September 1879 issue provides wonderful eyewitness descriptions of scenes long vanished in time, such as “the ruins of the old United States Mint, looking very romantic in the sunset glow.” Many of them are illustrated with fine pen-and-ink drawings, including a dramatic scene showing great torrents of water sweeping ore down the hillside to be processed in the mill below.

“This operation is called ‘flooding’ the mine, and one evening we rode out to the Findley Mine to see it,” wrote the unnamed author. “There the cut runs straight up and down the side of a hill 500 feet high, and is in the form of a deep, irregular, vertical trench.....We climbed to the summit of a high knoll jutting up by the line of the cut, and waited. In a moment an ominous ‘grumble and rumble and roar’ was heard, which, beginning faint and far aloft, gradually grew more threatening, until there was a sudden volley of sound, and at the end of the narrow trench a mighty mass of red-brown waters came leaping over the ledge....But it was not all water, nor even mud. Tons upon tons of broken rocks were coming down through this terrible flume, rolling over and over, rattling among their fellows, grinding along the walls, bounding out of the narrow crevice, leaping high above the red spray, and falling in ringing rain upon the stony floor. The noise was a hoarse, crushing, terrific roar. The force was prodigious.”

The dimensions of the reservoir on Findley Ridge were given by State Geologist W. S. Yeates in his Preliminary Report on a part of the Gold Deposits of Georgia published in 1896. It was “150 feet long, 15 feet wide, and 6 feet deep, from which water is delivered, by ditches and iron pipes, to various parts of the open cuts, for making the flood-runs of saprolite from the cuts to the mill, and for operating the hydraulic giants.”

Despite the glowing description of the Findley property and its potential described in its prospectus, the Findley Gold Mining Company apparently did not prosper. According to Yeates, this company made the error of sending a young relative of a stockholder, fresh out of mining school, to be superintendent of the mine. He was unwilling to take suggestions from experienced local miners and was unable to find the famed chute, which had been lost. After some work in the open cuts, the operation came to a halt after a couple of years.

The Findley Chute: Lost - Found - Lost Again

In 1880, R. B. King leased the property. He located the Findley Chute almost immediately and mined it with great success. Just before his year’s lease expired, he “lost” the Chute intentionally! He reportedly made enough from the vein in twelve months to start a bank in Denver, Colorado.

The Findley Gold Mining Company continued to own but not work the Findley property until it was sold at sheriff’s sale in 1885. In 1890, it was purchased by the Trefoil Gold Mining Company of St. Louis, Missouri. This company repaired the mill and put in a set of concentrators, which proved a fruitless expense.

At the time of State Geologist Yeates’ visit to the Findley Mine in 1895, the property was owned by Christian Wahl, of Milwaukee, Wisconsin, and managed by Capt. H. D. Ingersoll. Yeates noted that “while no extensive work seems to have been done, yet the work on it has been constant;.....and the property is one of the best developed in the county.”

Yeates described the mill house as containing 40 stamps, each weighing 450 pounds, 20 of which were “practically new.” “When last rebuilt,” Yeates wrote, “the mill-house was planned, so as to admit of the introduction of a concentrating plant, for handling the sulphide ores.”

The mill was driven by water contained behind a 17-foot-high dam across Yahoola Creek. A 32-inch Leffel turbine wheel furnished 60 H. P. The large pump in the pump house had been installed in 1895 by the current owner of the property, C. Wahl, and was used to pump water to the reservoir on top of the ridge. The water was taken from the Findley ditch, which ran about halfway up the ridge. Note: This was one of numerous adueducts which conveyed water from higher elevations with enough pressure to operate hydraulic cannons. What was a slow and laborious process for a man with a pick and shovel was accomplished in a mere fraction of the time by a great jet of water tearing away the earth with as much pressure as 135 lbs. per square inch. It was common to estimate the work of a water cannon as equal to the labor of ten men.

A booklet entitled, "Announcement of the Dahlonega Consolidated Gold Mining Company" of Dahlonega, Georgia, published in 1899, described the Findley Mine and Mill as “unquestionably one of the most desirable properties in the South.” It went on to say, “The high, steep hill, rising abruptly above the mill, has always been considered as the heart of the Georgia gold belt. On the hill is situated the celebrated “Findley Shute,’ a wonderfully prolific pocket vein from which alone at least $2000,000.00 have been taken out and which does not appear to be exhausted.”

The booklet continued with a glowing detailed description of the property, noting the “40-stamp mill in excellent repair, and another piece of machinery which is a novelty....a pump....which is the only machine of its kind in existence, a Duplex water motor, made by Filer & Stowell, of Milwaukee. It operates, from the canal water, under a head of 283 feet and lifts 176,000 cubic feet of water to the vertical height of 435 feet daily.”

“Barnacles of Gold”

An article appeared in the April 27, 1901, Atlanta Journal Dahlonega, the Center of Yellow Metal Enterprises” and “Excitement Over the Rediscovery of a Long Lost Mine.”

After describing how the “dull, sleepy town of four years ago” had been transformed into a “busy, bustling little city” as a result of the magnitude of the developments (including electric lights) made by the Consolidated Mining Company, McNelley told of “the latest and by far the richest discovery ever made in the mines here.” He went on to relate the history of the Findley Chute and tell how “two practical miners of this place” named Witt & Campbell had set out with determination to locate the “long-lost treasure.”

Campbell got discouraged and quit, and Witt was almost at the point of giving it up as a fruitless search when he instructed his workmen to put in “one more shot.” If that didn’t break into the gold, they were to “pull out their tools and give it up as a bad job.” The hole was drilled, the dynamite put in, the fuse ignited, and the men hurried out of the hole. After the explosion when the smoke had cleared, the miners went back inside “with bated breath to discover the result.” There, to their astonishment, they saw “exposed to the naked eye an almost solid mass of gold nuggets sticking out like warts on the face of the quartz.” They had struck the famed Findley Chute!

According to McNelley, the discovery had taken place “about two weeks ago.” “Captain” Witt had kept his men constantly working to extract the ore and had already mined 326 pounds of the rich ore. He was obviously eager to get as much gold as possible before his lease expired on June 1, at which time the property would be taken over by the Consolidated Company.

The Journal correspondent described the “chute or ore in the mine as zig-zag in shape” with”cones” projecting right and left, each weighted down with “barnacles of pure gold.” He wrote enthusiastically, “The seams in the rock are full of nuggets and in many cases the quartz is held together with pure gold.” He quoted an old miner as saying, “The Findley is a-goin’ to run to Chiney, and the deeper you git on the vein, the better and richer it will be.”

According to McNelly, the Chute was excavated to “about 350 feet” at the time. He noted that Consolidated Company planned to “drive a tunnel in at the base of the hill and intersect the chute some hundred feet below” in order to work the entire vein.

The Consolidated Company also proposed to increase the number of stamps on the Findley property from 40 to 100 to give it a 200-ton capacity. At an estimated average value of $3 per ton of ore, the expanded Findley was expected to earn $600 per day. However, the company’s grandiose dreams never came to fruition, and it was bankrupt by 1906. Some mining probably took place on the property in subsequent years but on a minor scale.

Mining at the Findley in the 1920s and 30s

Major Graham Dugas is usually associated with the Calhoun Mine, where he made a big strike in the 1940s and made national news. However, two old photographs show him with miners at the Findley Mine in the late 1920s. The extent of his involvement there is not known.

A decade later, Cornelius O’Kane erected a new mill on the Findley property beside Yahoola Creek. Lester Shelton worked for O’Kane at the time and helped clear out the area around the old mine so the new stamp mill could be built. He hauled sand from a sandbar on the other side of Yahoola Creek to put in the cement of the foundation.

“There wasn’t much of a road to the Findley at that time, so I helped work on it with a drag-pan and mule,” he related to this author in a 1993 interview. “It was real narrow because there wasn’t much room between Yahoola Creek and the bluffs of Crown Mountain. When the owners bought a diesel engine to run the mill, nobody thought they could get it in on that road except for Tal Odum, who said he would do it.

“Tal was behind the wheel, and I was standing in the back of his old Chevrolet truck holding on to the engine to keep it from shifting, when the vehicle started to tilt sideways. The weight of the engine was making the tires on one side sink deep into the soft dirt. I jumped off just as the truck started to turn over. I yelled at Tal, but he was already jumping free. We watched helplessly as the truck turned bottom-side up in the middle of the Yahoola!”

Paul Early helped move the 10-stamp “Little Findley” mill from up on Findley Ridge down to the new mill. Other heavy equipment was moved to the Findley from the Mary Henry gold mine. According to Early, a tunnel was dug into the base of Findley Ridge with the intention of striking the historic Findley Chute, but the ore dug out of the tunnel proved to be of a disappointingly low grade.

Playing “Goldball”

Ross Adams also worked at the Lockhart and Findley Mines when they were owned by “Ol’ Man O’Kane.” “My job was usually shoveling ore with a square-bottomed shovel to feed the stamps that pounded it into fine dust, but the Findley was a self-feeder with a hopper that fed ore directly to the stamp mill,” he related in a 1993 interview with this author. “The crushed ore went into a sluice box to be washed. The gold was heavier and fell to the bottom, where it was caught on copper plates coated with quicksilver.

“Every week or so we would have what was called a ‘cleanup’ to get the gold. First, the mercury plates were scraped with a piece of hard rubber. Then the mass of gold and quicksilver was put into a round iron container and heated in the blacksmith’s forge. The heat made the quicksilver boil out and caused the gold to melt and run together so that it came out looking like a half a pound of yellow butter. Sometimes it would weigh six or seven pounds, and I remember throwing a good-sized ball of gold back and forth with another fellow like we were pitching a baseball.

“I also drilled with a jackhammer inside the mines and set off dynamite to blast out the rock. There was always a bell set up on the hill that was rung to let everybody know there was dynamite in the hole fixin’ to blow. One time I just barely got out in time, and the blast liked to have knocked me down!”

O’Kane’s new Findley Mill began operations in the summer of 1940 but only operated a couple of years before World War II put a halt to mining. Men were drafted, and dynamite was unavailable. A college student named Hinton Amerson exploring the mill in 1953 found a newspaper dated 1942, suggesting that the mine was still operating at that time.

Col. James Jefferson Findley

No history of the Findley Mine would be complete without some information about the man whose name has come down in history because of its association with the mining property and the knob of Crown Mountain still known today as “Findley Ridge.” Since Findley didn’t purchase the property until 1858, the ridge may not have had a name when Dr. Matthew F. Stephenson made his famous speech from the porch of the Lumpkin County Courthouse attempting to dissuade local miners from leaving to join the 1849 California Gold Rush.

“Why go to California?” he asked them, pointing dramatically toward the small mountain about a half-mile south of the Dahlonega Public Square. “In that ridge lies more gold than man ever dreamt of. There’s millions in it!” The miners who disregarded his words and headed West nevertheless quoted the expression until "There's millions in it" became a popular idiom. Mark Twain further immortalized the phrase by using it in his book, "The Gilded Age."

James Jefferson Findley was born in 1829 and reportedly came to Dahlonega at a young age. A lawyer by profession, he was elected sheriff of Lumpkin County and later represented the county in the Georgia Legislature.

During the Civil War, Findley was a Major in Company D, 52nd Georgia Regiment, C.S.A. (“Boyd Guards”) and afterwards a Colonel who commanded the Lumpkin County Home Guards. He had his headquarters in the 1836 courthouse, which also served as a jail for deserters, bushwhackers, and other military prisoners. In October of 1864, he was the officer in charge who ordered the execution of three Union soldiers, whom he believed to be bushwhackers who had been burning and looting in the area. A month later, Col. Findley and his 1st Georgia State Cavalry Home Guards followed raiding Union troops over the top of Amicalola Mountain and captured them after a skirmish that took place in Bucktown in Gilmer County.

J. J. Findley had three sons by his first wife, Elizabeth Stephens (1825-1879). He married Martha Mathilda Williams (1848-1931) of Dahlonega in 1886. Their only child, Jefferson William Findley, was born in 1887, but Findley did not live to see this son grow up. He died of cancer in 1888. In his obituary published in the March 9, 1888 Dahlonega Signal , he was described as “true to principle, true to friends, a genial, wholesome, liberal, gentleman” who always “wore a cheerful smile.”

The Findley Ridge Roadside Park and Historical Marker

In 1961, a roadside park was created beside Highway 60 where it crosses Findley Ridge on Crown Mountain. It was located in a hollowed-out area created when top soil was dug out and hauled away for use as a base for paving the road. According to Madeleine Anthony, who wrote a feature article about the Findley Ridge Park for the Gainesville Times , the top soil removed was gold ore, making Highway 60 “the only one anywhere with a gold base.”

Anthony related another piece of interesting information. “While hauling off the gold-ore-top-soil,” she wrote, “workers uncovered a gold vein only 10 feet from where a tunnel ended. Had the miner, in 1850, continued his tunnel 10 feet more, he would have felt like a millionaire overnight.”

For some years visitors stopped at the roadside park to read the Findley Ridge Historical Marker and enjoy the scenic view of the town below with its backdrop of blue-green mountains. Local residents sometimes took picnic lunches to eat on the concrete tables or had cookouts on the outdoor grills. While Highway 60 was widened, however, the small roadside park was destroyed. The Findley Ridge Historical Marker put up by the Department of Natural Resources was missing for a number of years but has now been replaced and may be seen on the right side of the road as motorists reach the summit of Findley Ridge headed into Dahlonega.

Attempts have been made in recent years to open the historic site to those interested in viewing the remaining artifacts, but the costs of making the area safe and accessible were prohibitive. At this time the Findley property is privately owned and is not open to the public.

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