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Column: Despite all the doubt, diamonds were dug in Hall County
Johnny Vardeman

The stories of diamond finds in Hall County have been well told over the years.

The most popular version is only two or three diamonds were actually found. The others were fabricated or imagined, suggesting that promoters wanted to lure more prospectors to the area.

Dr. Matthew Stephenson in 1879 wrote that more than 20 “splendid diamonds” were in the hands of citizens in the area of Glade Farms, located between Lula and Brookton. He suggested that many diamonds were picked up mostly as curiosities by “the ignorant hands” apparently working the gold mines in the Glades. They didn’t know what they had, but at that long-ago time the diamonds might have been worth $2,000 to $3,000 each.

Dr. Stephenson, an assayer for the Dahlonega Mint and mining expert, was the go-to guy in those days about anything mineral. It is he who is said to be responsible for the phrase, “Thar’s gold in them thar hills.” However, legend has it that he said, “There’s millions in it,” pointing to Crown Mountain from the balcony of the Lumpkin County Courthouse. He was trying to persuade miners from leaving Georgia for the California gold rush in the 1840s.

Stephenson wrote a pamphlet about diamond deposits in Georgia, explaining that Hall County was in an itacolumite belt, where diamonds often are found. An Atlanta writer criticized Stephenson’s conclusions, saying “if there ever was found a diamond in Hall County, it was imported.”     

A Professor Hayden, a supposed expert on Brazilian diamond mines, compared the Glades mining area to those in Africa. He also suggested that such an itacolumite belt might yield rubies, sapphires, amethysts, garnets, mica, asbestos and kaolin.

The Glades mines had been worked since shortly after the Dahlonega gold rush, which started in 1828-29.

Even in the 1870s, the Glades was bustling. One writer described it: “The traveler cannot fail to be impressed with the stir and bustle of business; alighting at the Glades Store, the din of the blacksmith’s hammer, the noise of the carpentry and the roar of water rushing through the hydraulic pipes hurling rocks and stones away as unworthy to hold company with the precious gold they leave behind them.”

Glade Shoals, a waterfall on Flat Creek, which runs through the area, accommodated a saw and planing mill, grist mill and cotton gin, ruins of which remain beside the falls.

Stephenson at the time estimated $300,000 worth of gold had been taken from the Glades. That would be about $7 million in today’s dollars. “The amount of gold shipped monthly to the mint attests to the richness of the placer deposits, which for extent appears inexhaustible,” he wrote.

“Rich lodes of silver” were reported from the Glades mines, too, but there are no mentions of how much, if any, was harvested.

Since the Cherokee Indians were pushed out of Georgia, the Glades property has changed hands only a few times. Frederick Dean of Morgan County won part of the property in the 1818 Georgia land lottery. The Rogers family owned it from 1829 till 1895 when a New Yorker, A.G. Jennings, acquired it.

The Jim Hunts, owners of the Arlington Hotel in Gainesville, bought it and expanded it to 5,500 acres before the University of Georgia inherited it after they died. Mose Gordon of Commerce bought it in 1942 and expanded it to 8,000 acres. His heirs sold it to some timber farmers from Austria.

Hall County bought 805 acres for a water reservoir in 2001, but that project remains barely on life support with no current updates.

The remaining acreage remains with the Austrians. They own other forest interests and have a reputation for managing them with close attention to the environment.

The three-story house that is estimated to have been built between 1830 and 1850 still stands on a hill overlooking the valley where much of the mining took place and where the waters of the reservoir, if it’s ever built, would cover whatever diamonds and gold, if any, remain.

Johnny Vardeman is retired editor of The Times. He can be reached at 2183 Pine Tree Circle NE, Gainesville, GA 30501; 770-532-2326; or His column publishes weekly.