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Wednesday May 6th, 2015 12:32AM

Dahlonega unveils 1875 Chestatee River Diving Bell

By Bill Johnson
GAINESVILLE - A rare piece of gold mining history went on display at Dahlonega's Hancock Park Friday.

A crowd of about 200 gathered as city officials and members of the Lumpkin County Historical Society unveiled the Chestatee River Diving Bell that was used to hold men in dry safety underwater as they searched the depths of the river for gold.

The 6-ton bell is 8-feet high, 15-feet long and 6-feet wide. It was purchased by local inventor Philologus Loud in 1875 and shipped to Gainesville by rail, then on to Dahlonega by wagon. It then was attached to another boat called the Chestatee. Miners would drop anchor over a location where gold was believed to exist and the bell would be lowered.Once seated on the river bed, excess water was forced out by pressurized air.

Miners would descended into the bell through two hatches. An air valve allowed them to regulate the atmospheric pressure. Gravel was shoveled into a vacuum tube, pumped to the boat's deck and washed in a sluice box.

Unfortunately, the bell had a very short life span. The boat sank under mysterious circumstances in 1876 and the bell remained partially submerged until 1997 when Birch River LLC purchased the land along the river to develop a golf course. Suspecting its historical significance, the company hired a metal worker to make repairs and apply protective coating.

In 2010, the bell was donated to the city and restored by Cottrell Industries. Owner Mike Cottrell and his wife held fundraisers to help raise money for the restoration and preservation.

Mayor Gary McCullough said the ceremony was the culmination of three years of work, trying to find another attraction to bring visitors to Dahlonega. McCullogh called the artifact a great fit with the city's gold mining history.

"This is a great example of public-private partnership," he said.

McCullough said the city donated the land and a lot of labor. He also credited Cottrell Industries for their work in restoring and preserving the bell.
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