“That’s how you know that thing’s got an air-shaft,” said local historian Chris Worick as he was hit with a strong breeze of cool air emanating from the overgrown mouth of the abandoned mine. “In the summer time this is a nice cool place to be.”
It’s also an unofficial outdoor museum hidden in a wooded stretch of the banks of Yahoola Creek.
To reach it one must travel a small footpath which leads from the back of a Yahoola Creek Park softball field parking lot to the rusted gears of a crumbling stamp mill that hasn’t seen any action since the 1930s.
“That was the last big hurrah in mining for Dahlonega and Lumpkin County,” said Worick. “The mines were still operating in 1932.”
They soon shut down once FDR took the country off the gold standard, he added.
Then the scrap drives of World War II finished the job by cleaning out most of the heavy machinery throughout the county.
“All the metal was scrapped then,” said fellow historical expert Anne Amerson. “All the gold mining equipment was gone.”
Except, that is, at Findley Mine.
“I think one of the reasons this is still here is because it’s so inaccessible,” Worick said while standing near the edge of a steep drop-off leading to the creek. “There’s no place to take it out. Just imagine getting it in there.”
The series of cave-like mine shafts and ancient equipment are actually located on the private property of an absentee owner located in Florida, said Worick. But that doesn’t mean the mine doesn’t see plenty visitors.
Evidence is scattered throughout the woods in the form of recently smoldering fire rings and discarded soda bottles.
Some interlopers have even taken to marking the rock walls of the mine with everything from detailed Native American-like cave paintings to sloppy graffiti.
“People try to pilfer stuff too” said Worick with a shake of his head.
Though not everything is so easily stolen, including a series of giant gears stamped with the date of 1895 and weighing somewhere between 850 and 1,000 pounds.
“These are going to be the larger ones that you’ll find,” said Worick.
Prior to the opening of local gold mining attractions, there was serious talk of trying to turn Findley Mine into an official tourist hotspot.
“It used to be there was just no place to see a gold mine,” said Amerson. “Unless you wanted to go climbing into the hills and fall into one.”
That’s not too far from the truth, according to Worick. While exploring the property a couple years ago, he nearly stumbled into an open shaft that was covered by leaves and vines.
“This whole area is littered with different shafts,” he said.
The Findley Mine actually caught on during the later years of the Dahlonega Gold Rush since it was originally mined for a more common resource: trees.
“The second owner pretty much just used it for cutting lumber ,” said Worick. “So once the lumber had pretty much been cut from all the lot he sold it to J.J. Findley.”
Before Findley started digging, he contacted local mining legend Charles Duncan, a partial Native American who seemed to have a sixth sense for finding buried treasure.
“The story goes that Charles Duncan had this dream about where to find gold here and sure enough they went there and found some on top of the ridge,” Worick said.
Findley Mine turned into a textbook operation for the time.
“It’s a typical set up that you will see of any stamp mill,” explained Worick. “The actual mine shafts are above and behind so once you get your ore out you can dump it down. ... It’s basically just using gravity to pull it all down.”
The rocks were then pounded into nugget-sized chunks in hopes of exposing the gold.
Worick said the site proved to be particularly rich, and probably still is.
“They’re still finding a lot of gold out there,” he said. “It just costs so much to extract it.”
Now it’s a site that’s rich for other reasons.
“This is very rare,” said Worick. “Out west there’s a lot of these stamp mills that are still intact there but to find something like this, here, is pretty awesome.”