By allowing ads to appear on this site, you support the local businesses who, in turn, support great journalism.
Johnny Vardeman: Gold in Nacoochee field wasnt the kind he had in mind during rush
Placeholder Image

George Walton Williams grew up in Nacoochee Valley in White County and became a successful banker and merchant, living most of his life in the 1800s. He was a native of North Carolina, but besides Nacoochee Valley, he also lived for a time in Athens, Augusta and Charleston, S.C.

But it was Nacoochee Valley that he held closest to his heart and a place where he learned a lesson from his father that perhaps helped him succeed as he did in later life.

As prospectors invaded White County scrounging around for gold, Williams caught the fever. He implored his father to cut back on farming and mine for gold instead. His father, the story goes, seemed to agree and told young George they would start the next day.

The next morning, however, George’s father told him to hitch their horse to a plow and till the cornfield. That was his pot of gold, he said, in that it had never failed to make money for him. He advised George that all the people hunting for gold would buy their crop, a surer bet than digging holes in the ground for an elusive bonanza.

George was so tired of plowing at the end of the day, he had his supper and went straight to bed. By morning, he is said to have been cured of gold fever.

• • •

To another White Countian, a horse was more valuable than a gold mine. So he swapped his eventually rich Loud gold mine for a horse.

Tommie Bowen, who lived for more than a century, is said to have once owned the whole of rich Nacoochee Valley, but the Indians ran him out.

He moved to Shoal Creek, south of Cleveland, and acquired much of the property in that valley.

Thomas Bowen is sometimes credited with White County’s first discovery of gold in the Duke’s Creek area.

• • •

New Holland Springs was one of the earliest health resorts in North Georgia. It was located in what we now know as the New Holland Mill Village.

Joseph Rivers is credited with acquiring the property for a resort, but the New Holland name apparently came from an Atlantan, Edmond Holland, who later bought the property and developed it into a more high-class resort. Besides the springs, there were cottages and a hotel. The place attracted numerous conventions and special events.

It wasn’t without its troubles, however. When the elder Holland died, he willed the property to Mrs. Ed Holland, his son’s wife. W.A. Camp had leased the resort, but the Hollands didn’t want to renew the lease and tried to remove him from the property.

They sued, and Camp countersued, resulting for a time both parties occupying parts of the premises. A newspaper described the tiff as “scrambling possession.”

A few years later, Pacolet Manufacturing Co. bought that property and hundreds of adjacent acres and turned it into the New Holland Mill and Village.

• • •

A Jackson County man was hanged twice the same night, but lived to tell about it.

During Christmas Week 1886, nine Ku Klux Klansmen broke into W.O. Shellnut’s home in the middle of the night, dragged him from his bed and took him to a nearby church to hang him.

They did indeed place a noose around his neck and threw the rope over a tree limb. The KKK let Shellnut hang there until he was unconscious, then woke him up to accuse him of stealing $100 from a nearby store. He refused to confess, saying he had nothing to do with the theft. So the Klansmen threw the rope over the tree limb and strung him up again. When they brought him down, he still refused to admit any part in the burglary.

This time, they ripped off his shirt and beat him with a leather strap. That didn’t work either, Shellnut accusing another man of the crime.

In the end, the sheriff put the injured man in jail, along with some of the Klansmen. It was undetermined who the real culprit was, but citizens were outraged nonetheless about the treatment of Shellnut, who had only one leg.

Johnny Vardeman is retired editor of The Times.