Community Helping Place struck gold with the recent selection of Consolidated Gold Mine as the subject of the Dahlonega Official Christmas Ornament for 2019.
The collector’s ornament sold out in less than a week. And it brought in $20,000-plus for the local service organization that provides the community with a food pantry, free medical and dental clinics, emergency assistance as well as the vital White Christmas outreach.
“Most of the funds go to White Christmas, and this year especially,” said CHP’s Executive Director Melissa Line. “We had a lot of last minute families and we are trying not to turn anyone away.”
A MINE HISTORY
Consolidated Gold Mine is the 11th in the ornament series that focuses on local places of historical interest.
Family owned for 38 years, the mine remains in the hands of the Whitfields. It is one of Lumpkin County’s most visited attractions.
Bryan W. Whitfield, native of Kentucky and a third generation coal mine operator, traded coal for gold and became one of the founders of Consolidated in the 1970s.
At that time the price of gold was on the rise. He invested in several properties in Dahlonega, and partnered with John Crisson to construct a pilot plant to prove the feasibility of mining gold commercially.
But just as rapidly as the price of gold rose, it began to fall, and the hope of commercial gold mining became unfeasible.
However, with his love of geology, history and mining, a suggestion from their Gold Museum manager Sharon Johnson, the backing of his wife, Donna Winkler Whitfield, and the support of the county’s Sole Commissioner J.B. Jones, the younger Bryan found another way to make a living doing what he loved.
“[I] came up with an idea of opening the old tunnels on the family property in Dahlonega as a tourist attraction,” he said.
It took a ton—literally 3,000 tons—and three years to clear the main and several side tunnels of debris.
While that was underway, Bryan and his wife Donna were considering what an appropriate structure should look like. While on vacation in Tennessee, between Ruby Falls and Rock City, Bryan spotted the perfect building, pulled over and said, “That’s it!” After initial confusion about why her husband had pulled to the side of the road she concurred—“That is it!,” she said.
They couple visited the shop—part of a park—and Bryan took measurements and photos. When he got home, using his great-grandfather’s transit, he laid out the building.
The couple traveled to all the cave tours they could, including the Mollie Kathleen Mine in Cripple Creek, Colorado to see how that site ran its cave tours. Bryan wanted to “get it right,” he said.
In October 1991 the historic mine welcomed its first visitors, just in time for Dahlonega’s annual Gold Rush Days Festival. Only about 150 or 160 people came to the Grand Opening of Consolidated Gold Mine, but that number rapidly grew.
Twenty eight years later, Consolidated is still going strong. Bryan still works at the mine daily although he lets staff manage and run the day to day operations.
Consolidated Gold Mine, the largest hard rock gold mine east of the Mississippi, is located at 185 Consolidated Gold Mine Road adjacent to the Walmart parking lot.
Unfortunately for latecomers, eager collectors claimed all Consolidated Gold Mine ornaments soon after they went on sale during the Lighting of the Square, despite the fact CHP’s Board increased the limited edition run from 600 to 750 and raised the price from $20 to $25.
“It’s the first time we’ve raised the price since the tradition started 10 years ago,” said Thomas Scanlin, who has overseen the projector the last several years. “The cost of producing them has been steadily going up, and CHP has been absorbing the cost. But the bottom line is that this is a fundraiser.”
Just because you may have missed out on this year’s ornament doesn’t mean you can’t contribute to the good things CHP does for the community. Donations are always welcome and can be sent to CHP, P.O. Box 712, Dahlonega; online at its website comunityhelpingplace.org; through Amazon Smile, Kroger Card or donate your time. Find out how you can help. Visit communityhelpingplace.org online to learn more.