Feb13

Hall's Block: Putting the Cart Before the (Iron) Horse

by Chris Worick Categories // History & Heritage

Hall's Block: Putting the Cart Before the (Iron) Horse

On the Northwest corner of the Dahlonega Public Square are three of the oldest buildings in the city.  Built in the 1880's for Frank W. Hall, these three buildings were constructed to be the showpieces of the new Dahlonega, in anticipation of a railroad which never happened.

Almost a decade after the end of the Civil War, the gold mining outlook for Lumpkin County was finally starting to improve. Although no battles had been fought around Dahlonega, the economy of the area was in need of investors to create jobs and put men back to work. With new methods of mining being introduced, northern speculators with financial backing began to look to Dahlonega for new opportunities.

Frank W. Hall was a mining engineer who arrived in Dahlonega in the early 1870's. Originally from Winooski, Vermont, Frank Hall was very practical and efficient when it came to making a gold mine profitable. After only a few years in Dahlonega, he had not only organized many new gold mining ventures, but also made a sizable fortune in doing so. Hall believed in the potential of what the gold mines of Lumpkin County offered. However, in order to attract more investors to the Dahlonega area, the town needed to modernize. One of the main problems which had always plagued Dahlonega was the lack of a railroad. The closest rail line was more than 25 miles away in Gainesville. Heavy mining equipment would take days to arrive from the Gainesville depot via teams of horse drawn wagons.

The idea of a railroad coming to Dahlonega was not a new one. As early as the 1840's, many attempts had been proposed but failed due to lack of funding. By the late 1870's, things were different. Frank Hall and many other Dahlonega businessmen recognized what a railroad line between Gainesville and Dahlonega could mean. With enough investors on board with the idea, articles of incorporation for the Gainesville and Dahlonega Railroad were put in motion.

As the route for the G & D route was laid out, Frank Hall began construction of his own. In 1881, the Hall House and later a small office were built on the Public Square for the benefit of hosting potential mining investors to the area. As the tracks were being laid for the railroad, each week brought glowing reports on the progress of the G & D Line.

The proposed location for the depot in Dahlonega was going to be as close to the public square as possible. To compliment the Hall House hotel, Frank Hall now focused on constructing a large mercantile building. On September 15th, 1882, Hall broke ground on what would become the Hall's Block. On the same day, the Dahlonega Signal featured an announcement of the incorporation of the Frank W. Hall Merchandise Company with stock in excess of $50,000. Quite a bold gamble considering the railroad hadn't yet arrived. Within a few months Hall's three story fire proof brick building was complete. Another innovation which Hall installed inside his mercantile was a freight elevator. Operated by a series of ropes and pulleys, the elevator was used to move supplies and equipment between the different levels of the building. For small town Dahlonega, an elevator was something unheard of.

Wanting a modern look for his mercantile business, Hall chose an unusual architectural design. Wanting something unique and artistic which stood out the Hall's Block was crafted in the Victorian Italianate style. Although unattractive, bars on the windows provided an extra measure of security to prevent theft. To add to the overall aesthetic, trees were planted along the front of the buildings for shade and beauty. Truly, Dahlonega was fast becoming a railroad town.

Not everyone was as optimistic as Frank Hall. Even as preparations were being made to welcome the new era of prosperity and modernization to Dahlonega, things began to unravel. The track which had been laid as far as the Chestatee River in Hall County, never made it across. Both support from the citizens of Lumpkin County and money needed to complete the project both dwindled. The final leg of the route to Dahlonega was never completed and by 1890, the Gainesville and Dahlonega Railroad, was sold off at auction.

Although the dream of a railroad in Dahlonega never came to fruition, Frank Hall left a lasting legacy for both residents and visitors to enjoy in the buildings he constructed which gives Dahloneg's Public Square its unique historical appearance.

It should be noted that Frank W. Hall was also responsible for the construction of two other historic buildings in Dahlonega. The Smith House Restaurant, was originally built as Frank Hall's private residence. Finally, the 1884 Old Lumpkin County Jail, now a museum, was designed (also in Italianate style) by Frank Hall in 1884.

 

About the Author

Chris Worick

Chris Worick

Chris Worick has lived in Dahlonega since 2001 and spends much of his free time researching the history of Lumpkin County and the 1829 Gold Rush. Chris is an active member of the Lumpkin County Historical Society and regularly writes articles of historical interest for the Dahlonega Nugget.

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