Mt. Hope Cemetery
by Christopher Worick
Dahlonega was established in 1833. It naturally followed that a suitable place would be needed for a city cemetery. “When this town was first started, of course, there were few people here, and the present cemetery was just an old pine thicket, and when anyone died, a homemade coffin was made and the corpse was put in it, and hauled out to the pine thicket and buried;” according to a Nugget article on Sept 24th, 1937. There were no undertakers or funeral homes so people had to also make their own headstones. Soapstone was in great abundance in several places, one being located on present day Dry Hollow Rd. near Long Branch Rd. Many of our cemeteries throughout the county have headstones which came from this soapstone quarry. Marble and granite were expensive and would have had to be transported from somewhere else.
The first known burial recorded on a headstone is that of Samuel Darter who died in 1833, the same year Dahlonega was established, and his infant son Hendrick Darter, who died in 1834. The Historic section of Mt. Hope Cemetery doesn’t seem to have a consistent plan or layout for burials with established rows. This may indicate that if the cemetery was just “an old pine thicket,” burials were initially clustered in clearings where the trees may not have been so numerous. Veterans from every American war dating back to the Revolutionary War, are buried in Mt. Hope and the flag markers reflect a long tradition of honoring residents who have served our country. Not well known, but nonetheless important, is the African-American section. Separated by the interior loop road, the black section is located on the western side of the road near the crest of the hill which slopes down towards Morrison Moore Parkway.
In 1866, just one year after the end of the Civil War, Dahlonega became one of the first towns in the south to observe “Decoration Day” as a way to honor the memory of the men who had died during the war. Patriotic speeches were made, a solemn procession led by veterans and widows made its way to the cemetery with flowers placed on the graves of the fallen.
At the base of Mt. Hope, near present day Morrison Moore Bypass traffic light, there was a spring which provided the town with drinking water. For some time in the 1890’s, the Dahlonega Nugget published a series of articles which complained about the quality of the drinking water. The spring, being in close proximity to the cemetery, was suspected as harmful to public health because many people had died from unknown diseases and ailments over the years. So in essence, the ground water might contain traces of the dearly departed remains.
As Dahlonega grew, so did the need for not only cemetery improvements but also additional burial space. In 1884, the Dahlonega City Council passed a new comprehensive cemetery ordinance to address many of these issues. Records of burials were to be kept, a descriptive map of the cemetery would be drawn up and “squares” of 20 x 25 feet would be marked off to be sold. Most importantly, in 1884, the cemetery which had been referred to as the City of the Dead or the Gold City Cemetery, was given the official designation of Mt. Hope Cemetery. Today, the City of Dahlonega continues the effort to maintain its deed and burial records current. If you have information please contact the City.
By the turn of the century, the city deemed it necessary to establish a cemetery committee whose job it would be to raise funds for the grading and paving of the road to the entrance of Mt. Hope. In 1903, the sidewalk was graveled from the college to the cemetery but the entrance road remained muddy and dusty depending on the time of year. Also that year, a wire fence to enclose the cemetery was suggested to keep livestock from straying into the cemetery. Apparently that fence was never built.
As burials increased the cemetery grew bigger by creating new sections with paved connector roads. Mt. Hope is unique because it tells the individual story of our town’s history, one headstone at a time, of those who helped to grow Dahlonega from a rough and tumble gold mining town into a major university town tucked away in the North Georgia mountains.
Posted 16 August 2019 by Manny Carvalho.
Photos by Chris Worick