Surprising Suburbs: Villa Rica

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Peal your eyes west next time you squint in the glare of Georgia’s capitol building. The gold leaf crowning that handsome dome has a new history.

Follow your view 35 miles to explore the Pine Mountain Gold Museum in Villa Rica and learn the facts about discovering gold in 1826, three years prior to the gold rush in Dahlonega.

IMG_2757Museum historians aren’t claiming the State Capitol gleam came from West Georgia, but they do raise interesting facts in an 18-minute documentary and in detailed exhibits about the early discoveries.

Then they teach techniques for finding bits of gold yourself. Worked for me, and the people on either side in a convenient stand-up trough with skimming pans and a teacher.

Larry “Pop” Arnold is his name. “Been panning for gold here for 50 years,” he says. “Keeps me outside and I just like the process.” 

He’s also a bona fide member of the Gold Prospectors Association of America. Who knew?

Maybe if my Spanish were up-to-snuff I wouldn’t have been surprised. After all, Villa Rica means village of gold. Another clue might be the Civil War company from Carroll County formally known as Georgia Company I, 19th infantry regiment, but called the Gold Diggers.

IMG_2756Fine grains, baby powder texture are the kind of gold found here and a ride on the railroad provides a sense of the land in which hopeful miners worked.

Carl Lewis is one of them, adding his authentic voice to museum tours, noting he is Villa Rica’s last commercial gold miner.

He also shares the story of the Samuel and Asa Candler families and their Coca-Cola bottling business in Villa Rica from 1903-1923.

Real-deal gold-mining history fills the woods, along with high and low huckleberry bushes, sassafras trees and wildflowers including hundreds of Pink Ladies.

Peer 50 feet into the Old Glory Hole to start understanding the process introduced in 1917 to extract the gold. Cyanide, sump tanks, ore gondolas, leaching tanks, after-effects of plate tectonics – this is a vocabulary lesson too.

Signage is clear and informative.  

IMG_2760$5.00 is the price of Museum admission, $5.00 more to ride the train (a pleasant experience relying on a four cylinder propane engine and air brakes), $5.00 to pan for gold and gemstones. Not so simple to master the right flick of the wrist so I appreciated miners more just because I tried.

Walking three miles of nature trails is free, so are the picnic grounds. Stockmar Park is the location and I’d recommend allowing time to see the farm animals and community garden.

In fact, all day could be plenty of family fun. Get a picnic to go from Evans Barbecue Company or The Southern Table.

Christine 12. 2007 4Christine Tibbetts claimed Georgia as her home state in 1972.  She covers Georgia destinations, and the world, always offering prompts for exceptional experiences and opportunities to muse. Tibbetts earned a Bachelor of Journalism from the prestigious School of Journalism at the University of Missouri and is the recipient of numerous gold, silver and merit awards from North American Travel Journalists Association writing competitions. Follow her at www.TibbettsTravel.com.