Hall Countians and others have been digging in Hall County dirt for centuries, either trying to grow crops such as cotton and corn, or the elusive search for diamonds or giant gold nuggets.
Cotton’s gone, and while corn still covers some acres, the massive fields of old are either swallowed up by Lake Lanier or massive residential subdivisions.
The interest in mining apparently originated from Hall’s neighbor, Lumpkin County, which was host to the nation’s first big gold rush. Prospectors figured if there were “gold in them thar hills,” there likely would be some in them thar foothills and valleys of Hall.
They did find some with mines being bored from Flowery Branch to the Glades to Murrayvile, just a nugget’s throw from Lumpkin’s gold fields.
They also found a handful of diamonds and other minerals from time to time. Quarries also littered the landscape when rock for roads increased in demand as the automobiles began to use them.
Mica mining for a time was somewhat of an enterprise. Harvey Rooks remembers after he built his home on Dixon Circle off Dixon Drive in Gainesville, he and his children roaming the yet-developed hills around the residential area finding caves and shiny chunks of rock, an apparent remnant of mica mines.
Indeed they were because that area was the center of a mini-mica rush perhaps beginning in the 1890s and extending all the way to World War II. During the war, mica — or isinglass, as it is sometimes called — was used as transparent covers on aircraft or vehicle instrument panels.
In the early days isinglass was used for windows in vehicles, mirrors and electrical parts.
The U.S. Geological Survey report on mica mining listed a Merck mine as a former Hope mine at the end of Grape Street, which is now part of Holly Drive off North Green Street. That mine last was operated by J.A. Rhine of Atlanta. George M. Hope and E.S. Wessels once owned it, thus the name of Wessel Drive and Wessel Park in that general area. George Gowder and Sidney Smith Sr. owned the mine in 1938.
Speculation is prospectors were hunting for gold when they stumbled onto the shiny rock called mica.
Mica deposits were found from what is now Dixon Circle north to Mountain View Road off Thompson Bridge Road. Mica also was mined several miles north of Thompson Bridge and in Rabun, Lumpkin, Cherokee and Union counties.
A mica processing house operated near Dixon Circle in the vicinity of the Gainesville High School “rock” on West Bypass.
With Lake Lanier covering much of the former mining area, one wonders what treasure might be lurking beneath the waters — mica perhaps, maybe a gold nugget or two or even a diamond.
Harvey Rooks said when they were building their house on Dixon Circle, the builders told him they were short four sheets of plywood. He wondered why, but told them to go ahead and get what was needed.
More than 40 years later, Rooks and some of his family were again exploring the mica caves and found an abandoned hut built with four sheets of plywood, perhaps having provided a temporary shelter for some wanderers or a playhouse for neighborhood children.
Johnny Vardeman is retired editor of The Times. He can be reached at 2183 Pine Tree Circle NE, Gainesville, GA 30501; phone, 770-532-2326; email, email@example.com. His column publishes weekly.