Quaint retail shops line the streets of downtown Dahlonega, including this sandwich and ice cream store. (Staff Photo: Kathy Jefcoats)
DAHLONEGA — Got a hankering for canned possum, a glass vial with gold flakes or a rabbit pelt?
Well, head about 90 minutes north from Jonesboro to find all that and more inside shops surrounding the Dahlonega Square. Visitors can also buy handmade truffles or chocolate-covered bacon or potato chips, a variety of homemade soaps, candles and a nickel cup of coffee.
Town squares aren’t preserved everywhere in Georgia, as contemporary needs overtake the historic value of old courthouses. But the Lumpkin County Historical Society works to ensure that even a small part of its past can be experienced by future generations. The Dahlonega courthouse was built in 1836 but outlived its intended use. It operates as a gold museum and a reminder of days gone by.
The brick building, small by comparison to modern justice complexes, is shaded by ancient hardwoods. Benches on each side offer a welcoming respite to tourists taking a break from shopping.
The hills, from which “thar was gold” during the state’s Gold Rush of 1828, can still be seen from the Square.
Just off the Square, an antique mall features row after row of collectibles, handmade crafts, college team merchandise, furniture, clothes, posters, original artwork and much more. On the Square, there are two candy shops, and stores selling items from Georgia wines to jewelry to candles to souvenirs, and plaques and tea towels with homey sayings such as “Here in the South, we don’t hide crazy. We parade it on the porch and give it a cocktail” and “We hope our ship comes in before the dock rots.”
There is also an honest-to-goodness General Store with penny candy priced to reflect a modern economy, a cup of coffee for a nickel, free roasted peanut samples and thousands of specialty items. There are rabbit pelts for under $10, several different types of handmade soap, including some made with beer, a collection of miniature tea sets, old-fashioned toys — nothing electronic — more candles, kitchenware, whimsical signs, metal posters, a selection of knives, walking sticks, canned possum and glass vials filled with gold flakes.
There are even sturdy wooden rocking chairs for resting. If it’s a hot day, head for the upstairs rear of the store where an air conditioning unit blows hard and cold.
Speaking of resting, the Square features an eclectic selection of benches. There is a “husband bench,” presumably used by men whose wives are shopping, a colorful bench posted at the back of the indoor mall painted with “That’s all, folks,” indicating the end of the line of stores, and a bench in the shape of a small boat. There is a brown upholstered vinyl bench at least 12 feet long on the sidewalk outside the antique mall, not to mention the black iron benches scattered around the Square.
Visitors who want to experience the legendary Smith House just off the Square for lunch are advised to drop by early in the day and sign up for a table. The restaurant features family-style dining with Southern food on the menu. For the less adventurous, try one of the handful of eateries on the Square.
Because of the shade trees, walking around the Square is comfortable in the summer and cool and colorful in the fall and spring. During the winter, Santa sets up in a bright red sleigh, listens to wish lists and sits for photos taken by visitors. The city even provides a visitors center with public bathrooms and other free amenities.
From Jonesboro, head north on I-75 to U.S. 19 north to Dahlonega. The town Square is straight ahead, just past the University of North Georgia.