The first hand-cranked, four-page issue of The Dahlonega Nugget rolled off the press March 14, 1890, under the editing and proprietorship of William G. McNelley and S.H. Williams. No one knows what happened to the first issue, but all following issues are on microfilm at the local Lumpkin County Library.
The Nugget gained national and international acclaim after William Benjamin Franklin Townsend became publisher in 1897. With $2.50 in borrowed money, he leased the printing equipment and started an enterprise that has stood the test of time. Townsend's columns were picked up and reprinted by metropolitan newspapers and magazines throughout the United States and Canada. A few days after his 76th birthday, Townsend set the type for his last column. “Ye editor is sick,” it read, and before the next issue, Townsend died.
The Nugget was passed down to Townsend's son, Jody, who recruited his uncle, J. Goley Townsend, to help him. After owning the newspaper 11 years, Jody sold it to William M. and Mary Lou B. Smith in 1944.
The Smiths did not last long at the newspaper. Most of their energies were devoted to The Smith House, which today is still a must-see and renowned restaurant in Dahlonega, and to founding a school for underprivileged children. Their less-than-tactful editorials against keeping chickens and pigs in town caused many to cancel their subscriptions. The Smiths sold The Nugget in 1946 after missing three issues for the only time in its history.
The new owner was 24-year-old Frances Conner, who had worked for The Atlanta Journal before purchasing The Nugget. Under her guidance, circulation climbed to 1,000 from the Smiths' lowest total of 376.
The Nugget's next publisher, Jack Parks, restored the paper to the national notice it had enjoyed during W.B. Townsend's tenure. Parks took over on The Nugget's 58th anniversary, March 4, 1949. Parks had the same homespun style that had made the paper so nationally popular under Townsend's editorship. The Nugget was often quoted in the Atlanta dailies. He remained as owner and publisher until 1981, when he sold The Nugget to Community Newspapers, Inc. He stayed on until his retirement in 1982.
The Nugget had three editors in the span between 1982 and 1996: Mike Pendleton, Dorsey Martin, who was editor for 10 years, and Joe Kisselburg.
In 1996, Terrie Ellerbee stepped into the role as the new Nugget editor. A few years later, in 1998, she took on the position of publisher as well. She served in this duel role for more than 10 years before resigning in 2008.
In May of the same year, Wayne Knuckles took the helm as the Nugget's current editor/publisher.
That's quite a difference from the days when J.A. Reynolds published the newspaper on wrapping paper with a hand press.
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