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Dahlonega plans to dedicate diving bell pavilion

Device from 1800s allowed divers more time underwater searching for gold

POSTED: November 29, 2012 11:59 p.m.

North Georgia history will be unveiled today at Hancock Park in downtown Dahlonega.

At 11 a.m., the Chestatee River Diving Bell Committee, along with other special guests, will be dedicating the Chestatee River Diving Bell Pavilion that has been in the works since 2009. The pavilion will provide a permanent, protective outdoor space for the 1875 Chestatee River diving bell.

The diving bell served as one of the most advanced types of American diving technology in the 1800s and allowed Dahlonega gold miners to remain underwater for longer periods in their search for gold.

Although initially thought to be a smokestack from a sunken mining boat, local gold prospector John Weingard convinced Owens Farm, which owned the land, to extract the stack from the Chestatee River.

There, it found the diving bell that had been tethered to the first steam-powered boat built and operated on the Chestatee River; the boat mysteriously sank Oct. 21, 1876.    

“This diving bell, or caisson, is the only one of this type known to exist,” said Chris Worick, vice president of the Lumpkin County Historical Society and chairman of the Chestatee River Diving Bell Committee. “For Dahlonega, this was the first in a series of river gold mining operations on the Chestatee and Etowah rivers, which lasted until the beginning of World War I.”

The Dahlonega City Council agreed on Dec. 7, 2009, to allow a portion of Hancock Park to be the permanent home for the diving bell. After several presentations, the City of Dahlonega and the Chestatee River Diving Bell Committee chose a design by Richard Owens that represented Dahlonega’s historic district, according to Worick.

After sufficient funding had come in, ads were run for companies to bid on the contracts to construct the diving bell’s plaza and pavilion.

“This has been the longest ongoing research project I have ever been involved with. I think it truly reflects the spirit of small-town America in recognizing and preserving our heritage,” he said.


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