Finding gold in a mountain town north of Atlanta
Sorry, San Francisco, but the first gold rush in U.S. history didn't start in California in 1849. It was 1828 when gold was discovered in a part of the Cherokee Nation known today as Dahlonega, Ga. The town gets its name from the Cherokee word talonega, meaning golden. A U.S. Branch Mint opened there in 1838, pumping out $6 million in gold coinsover $100 million in today's dollars.
Yes, there's still some gold in the hills, but that hasn't driven up the cost of living in this Blue Ridge mountain town 70 miles north of Atlanta. Don Crivellone, 70, a retired banker from California, bought a four-bedroom house on 2 acres of land in Dahlonega two years ago. "People from L.A. come out to visit us, and all they do is giggle," Crivellone says, adding that a house that might cost $800,000 in Southern California would sell for $300,000 in Dahlonega. He shows off the 11 fruit trees on his spread, and wild turkeys frequently stroll by.
About 500 units are under construction in Dahlonega for the 55-and-older set. "They're like a small industry," Mayor Gary McCullough says of retirees. "If they don't have kids, they don't put a strain on the school system, but they volunteer, and that's the kind of people we like."
When retirees aren't bird-watching, horseback riding, or canoeing, they can attend classes at North Georgia College and State University free of charge, tour any of the five local wineries, attend a movie or performance at the historic Holly Theatre, or even pan for gold and keep what they find.
Dahlonega's historic town square is anchored by the original Lumpkin County Courthouse, built in 1836 and now a museum. Newlyweds still walk around the square three times for good luck.
"I always thought I'd be at the beach, but I'm happier here," says Karen Mannis, 63, a retired teacher. It helps that Mannis's husband built a beach for her in their backyard. That's where she keeps her seashell collection.
Median home value: $233,100
Age 65 or over: 11 percent
Cost of living: 0.3 percent below the U.S. average
Maximum state income tax: 6 percent
State sales tax: 4 percent
With Emily Brandon
This story appears in the June 11, 2007 print edition of U.S. News & World Report.