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History of the Diving Bell in Lumpkin County

by Christopher Worick

The use of diving bells can be dated to antiquity.  The idea of placing men in an submersible craft with a limited amount of oxygen for work underwater, had many potential applications.  Simple underwater observation, recovery of sunken vessels and the construction of bridges and foundations are just a few ways that diving bells were being used into the nineteenth century.  Lacking any real sophistication, most diving bells were nothing more than an iron or wooden reinforced box that was lowered from a boat by a rope or chain.  Early diving bells offered no communication with the surface and the men inside.  Breathable oxygen was supplied by a crude pump or bellows on the surface through a leather or later gutta percha tube. 
 
How miners first came up with the idea of using a diving bell to mine for gold underwater is unknown, however, in 1833 an unknown type of diving bell was briefly mentioned in three seperate articles of the Auraria, Georgia newspaper, The Western Herald.
 
In the April 9th edition, a boat (of unknown design and size,) is described as being launched in the Chestatee River with a machine for "raising grit" from the bed of the river attached to it.  Mr. McCollum recently arrived from Tennessee is credited with the boat and diving bell idea.
 
The following week, a correction is printed which states that the person responsible for the idea of using a diving bell for mining gold underwater, is Judge Jacob Peck from Tennessee, a man of science and ingenuity, not Mr. McCollum as was previously written.  Census records reflect that McCollum was only 21 years old in 1833 and a farmer by occupation.  
 
The last mention of the this diving bell is an obscure reference in a poem published by "Billy the Poet" from Auraria in the Western Herald, May 1833.
 
Excerpt: 
"Wend you to the mines and see,
The various things for your temptation.
Stand on the banks of the Chestatee,
Where the diving bell's in operation."
 
No further mention of the diving bell or apparatus appears in the Western Herald.  Deed records at the Lumpkin County Courthouse have also not yielded any clues concerning this operation.
 
The first successful use of submarine gold mining, utilizing a diving bell, occurs more than 20 years later during the California Gold Rush. Several documented accounts record that diving bells were being used in the San Joaquin River ( 1850's) and off the California coast (1872) to mine for submerged gold.
 
Strangely enough, it was well known that much gold could be found in the deep waters of the Chestatee and Etowah Rivers but no one attempted to exploit this theory until well after the Civil War.  Much had to do with available resources and finances on something which was untried.
PH Loud Oct. 6, 1824 - Dec. 14, 1905

In May 1875, the Dahlonega, Mountain Signal newspaper reported that Messrs. Loud, Cook and Seiclen from New York, were looking over the mining interests along the river.  The newspaper did not ascertain what the visitors intentions were, but they hope to hear more from them in the future.  The next reference doesn't occur until August.  By that time, deed records reflect that Charles Loud and his father "Major" P.H. Loud, began leasing properties along the Chestatee River with ambitions to mine the riverbed for gold using a caisson or diving bell.  From August through November 1875, P.H. Loud began building a "Monster Boat" and assembling the necessary equipment to operate it.  The boat which was named the "Chestatee," was the first steam powered boat ever built and operated on the Chestatee River.  The "Chestatee," would be the platform which would carry, transport, raise and lower the diving bell through a well in the center of the deck. The idea of placing men underwater in an airtight compartment was revolutionary and the prospects for success were high.  One newspaper account stated that fifty thousand dollars were to be spent on the operation.  It is theorized that Mr. Loud had to get backing from people in New York to finance his grand scheme.  
 
It should be noted that the boat was a radically new design which made it even more curious.  Diving bells had traditionally used a crane for raising and lowering over the side, stern or bow of a ship.  In 1867, John Johnson of Saco, Maine patented a new boat design and method for mining in the beds of rivers.  Johnson's invention utilized an open well or chamber in the center of the deck in which the diving bell could be lowered through.  This design was more practical for the tight confines of narrow river channels.  P.H. Loud adapted Johnson's design for his own use in the Chestatee River.  John Johnson's patents can be viewed online.  See patent 60,898 and 60,899 both dated Jan 1st, 1867.                               
 
Possible Method of Bell transport from 1899
By September 1875, machinery began arriving at the depot in Gainesville, Georgia and transported by wagon to the river to be loaded on the 50 x 17 foot "Chestatee." In November, Mr. Loud took the inaugural descent inside the diving bell to ensure everything was in working order.  The newspaper accounts regarding the progress of the Loud, Cook and Co. operation then go silent until 1876. 
 
During the winter of 1875-76, incessent rain fell which amounted to some significant flooding.  Several newspaper articles describe some of the mining operations close to Yahoola Creek as being totally destroyed or swept away.  This may indicate that Loud's mining boat may also have become a victim of the fast moving water.  Clues to the boat being damaged during this time are recorded in the article describing the sinking of the Loud Boat.  A deed record in the Lumpkin County courthouse, reflects that in March 1876, Noble and Griffin (boilermaker and iron works) of Atlanta, sent two workmen with repair parts to Gainesville by train for 15 days to repair the diving bell, boat, or both. 
 
The prospects to make a profit from the mining operation never materialize.  Since the boat had been idle for so long, the miners hadn't been getting paid and there was nothing to show in terms of gold being found.  A worker's lien was taken out against the Loud Mining Company inApril 1876 and the boat with all appurtances was to be sold at auction on July 4th, 1876. 
 
At this point it is unclear why the Loud's were still in possesion of the boat after the auction.  What is known however, is that on October 21st, 1876, the boat with diving bell, was intentionally sunk by a person or persons unknown.  The mining operation was then abandoned and the diving bell boat forgotten for over 125 years where it remained buried in the sands of the Chestatee.



Originally posted 3 April 2012
Added image of boiler transport 6 Jun 2012.
Replaced boiler transport image with rock crusher 3 Sep. 2015.

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