Out West, gold rush ghost towns become tourist attractions. The old settlement of Bodie, California has become a state park, its buildings preserved “in a state of arrested decay.” Visitors to the tiny town of Gold Point can “help preserve Nevada history” by spending the night in one of its many historic buildings. And in Virginia City, Montana, a ghost town until the tourism industry overtook it in the 1950s, stagecoaches still bump along the roads and visitors still fill the theaters as if nothing ever happened in the 150 years since the miners left town.
Unlike its flashier neighbors to the west, the gold rush ghost town of Auraria, GA has actually stayed a ghost town. It may have a historical marker, but the people who come up the mountain to see it are relatively few. Mostly ghost town hunters and relic hunters, maybe the odd visitor or two from nearby Dahlonega. These days, Dahlonega attracts the tourists with its charming town square and its Gold Museum, while Auraria, one of the country’s very first gold rush towns, sits all but forgotten.
In the 1830s, it was a rowdy place, complete with taverns and hotels and primitive cabins. After gold was discovered there in 1828, miners flocked to the area, trespassing on land that at the time belonged to the Cherokees. The Indian Removal Act of 1830 gave Georgians permission to take the land from the Cherokees, and the gold only gave them more motivation. By 1838, the Trail of Tears was well underway in Georgia, and Auraria was a gold rush boomtown.
It wasn’t to last for long, though. Auraria’s population started dwindling when the Lumpkin County seat and a US mint set up operations in nearby Dahlonega. And when gold was discovered out West, miners abandoned Georgia altogether for the allure of California and Nevada. Auraria grew smaller by the year. Buildings were torn down; some burned down or fell down on their own. Within the last few years, the Graham Hotel, a barebones building that had been there since Auraria’s start, finally collapsed into a pile of wood scraps and kudzu.
The building next door is still standing. Originally a tavern, Woody’s served as a general store up into the 1980s, which honestly is hard to imagine. When we looked into the windows all we saw were rustic shelves and rows of old bottles. It looked more “arrested decay” and less like anything that could have operated in my lifetime.