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Are diamonds still hidden in Hall's soil?
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When the Glades Reservoir covers the valley in northeastern Hall County, will the waters forever conceal the secrets of diamonds that previously were found in that area?

Diamonds were discovered while miners were looking for gold in the Flat Creek area of what has become known as Glades Farm. Jacob Rogers owned the property in the 1840s through the Civil War.

Hall County is in an elastic sandstone belt, or italcolomite belt, in which diamonds might be found. The belt actually runs through Gwinnett, Hall, Banks and Habersham counties and was considered in the 1800s as Georgia's diamond district.

The Southern Confederacy newspaper in 1861 told of four or five diamonds found accidentally during gold-mining operations in the Glades.

Dr. Richard Banks, a noted surgeon and Banks County's namesake, and Tom Bell, who became a congressman, mined the area along Flat Creek after a German geologist had explored the area and suggested that diamonds could be found. He is said to have cut a piece of paper in the shape of a diamond and told a boy there if he ever found a stone in that shape to keep it.

John G. Nelson is supposed to have found the first diamond in the Glades about 1840. He took it to the mint in Dahlonega, which forwarded it to the U.S. Mint in Philadelphia, where its superintendent bought it. Must have been worth something.

Bell found the second diamond in the Stocking Eater Branch. His rock went to London and Paris, where it was appraised for $550. It ended up on the finger of Miss Sue Banks, whom the paper called "The Diamond of Hall County."

Nelson found a third diamond, but apparently not trusting the mint this time is said to have made away with it without determining its value.

The Wilson gold mine on the property of A.J. Odell in southwestern Hall County also produced several diamonds and perhaps a ruby or two. Dr. Matthew F. Stephenson, a federal assayer who became well known in Lumpkin and Hall counties, worked that mine. But it was John M. Luther who found the first diamond there, sold it for a dime to a fellow who sold it for $30, but its real value was later determined to be about $800.

William Dowdey found the second diamond there, broke it into pieces and apparently made good money from it.

Some of the diamonds were determined to be of "first water," or the very highest quality.

Back to the Glades, Romie Savage Jr., 85, who lives there, said his father told him a story about a large diamond tumbling out of sight in a raceway used to wash gold ore. Another story about a large gem is that it lay at the base of a gum tree and was used by children to play marbles.

Savage remembers some mining still going along in the bottoms around Flat Creek when he was growing up as a boy.

Not everybody believed the stories about diamonds in Hall County. An unsigned letter in an Atlanta newspaper in 1874 attacked Dr. Stephenson's written account of geology and mineralogy in Hall County.

"It was the most crazy and erratic publication ever printed in the English language," the writer said. The letter debunked stories about "diamonds as large as guinea eggs ... if ever a diamond was found in Hall County, it was imported."

Could somebody have planted the diamonds to increase the value of their holdings? Documentation by experts and witness accounts at the time seems to prove the existence of the precious stones buried in Hall County's soil.

William Habersham, a geologist, published a report on minerals in Georgia in the 1880s and included information about the Hall County diamonds. He said about 40 diamonds had been found in the county since its founding, most in two mines in the Glades.

Another geologist, Francis P. King, reported $10,000 worth of gold being taken from a creek branch in the Glades and mentioned other mineral deposits, including quartz, silver sulphide and monazine, but said nothing about diamonds at the time.

Who knows if any more diamonds might be waiting to be found by some lucky prospector looking to uncover a fortune hidden in Georgia's once-famous "diamond district?"

Johnny Vardeman is retired editor of The Times. His column appears Sundays and on First published Aug. 1, 2010.