In 1876, the steamboat Chestatee mysteriously sank after having been the first steam-powered boat built and operated on the Chestatee River.
On Friday, the historic diving bell that was tethered to the sunken steamboat and rested on the river’s bottom for more than 100 years made its home at the new Chestatee River Diving Bell Pavilion at Hancock Park in downtown Dahlonega.
Described as a “rare artifact” and “historic treasure,” the diving bell was initially brought to Northeast Georgia by P.H. Loud, a businessman who came to the Appalachia region in search of gold. Loud’s use of the diving bell was the only known attempt to use that type of diving technology east of the Mississippi River. After a gold prospector convinced property foreman James Jones to pull the “iron stack” out of the Chestatee River in the 1980s, the mystery of the diving bell was revealed.
“The Chestatee River diving bell is a unique, rare and valuable example of American diving technology from the 1800s used for mining gold in a river bottom,” said Manny Carvalho, a director with the Lumpkin County Historical Society and member of the Diving Bell Committee. “It is of national significance and is the only one in the world to be displayed in such a magnificent manner.”
In 2009, the Dahlonega City Council approved space to be set aside in Hancock Park for the permanent home of the diving bell. The owners of the property where the diving bell was found donated the artifact in 2010, giving opportunity for the diving bell’s restoration and the building of a public display.
After its restoration in the summer of 2010, fundraising for the diving bell began. During that time, an initial design for the pavilion was chosen. After receiving a matching grant, two separate contractors began work on the diving bell’s plaza and pavilion.
“It took the dedicated effort of many people over a number of years to bring this project to this wonderful conclusion. It’s a terrific example of what can happen when a community realizes what a treasure it has and comes together to honor its originator by displaying it to the world in such a beautiful plaza,” Carvalho said.
Anne Amerson, a Dahlonega historian and writer, emphasized the symbolic details placed throughout the plaza and pavilion’s designs.
“The plaza has concrete poured in curves to represent the Chestatee River and uses different sized river rocks,” she said. “The open pavilion has eight columns made of heart cypress set in bases made of stones from the consolidated mine.”
Visitors to the pavilion admired the construction as a work of art.
“As long as this has been in the making, it was absolutely worth the wait,” said Susan Righter, a native North Georgian passionate about the region’s history. “The diving bell is this incredible discovery that needed a home fitting of its significance, especially to this area.”