DAHLONEGA - One of the South's oldest music halls is preparing to reopen after a major renovation to shore up its floor, revamp its concert hall and make other improvements.
The building that houses the Crimson Moon Cafe was constructed around 1858, after gold miners helped carve Dahlonega from the north Georgia mountain landscape.
"It is the oldest surviving commercial building on the square," said Isabella Lynn, 86, who has researched its history.
Its owners closed the building and canceled some concerts earlier this month so they could repair the floor and renovate other areas. Now, as they prepare to reopen later this month, they will add a catering and event business and will continue with music in the concert hall known for its acoustics and intimate atmosphere.
The venue attracts touring musicians from across the country, many of whom love the sound.
"The building itself is kind of like a musical instrument," said Bogy Patton, who is helping owner Dana LaChance with the renovations. The old building's wooden interior resonates with the music, just as the wood of a vintage instrument shapes its sound, he says.
"It's an old space and it has a really good spirit to it," said Elizabeth Elkins, a musician whose band Granville Automatic has played there. "The sound is just really cool in that room."
Before this month's renovation, the Crimson Moon's maximum capacity for shows was about 110 people, production manager Jason Spencer said. When it reopens, the capacity will be around 85, allowing for some more elbow room for customers and giving the concert hall an even more intimate feeling, he said.
The goal is to have the renovations done in time for a Jan. 25 show featuring singer-songwriters Amy Ray and Hannah Thomas, and one the next night by Jonathan Byrd.
Historians say they're thrilled about the work.
"We always love it when buildings are preserved," said Robbie Niles, secretary of the Lumpkin County Historical Society.
It was built as a general store by John Parker around 1858, though the precise date isn't known, Lynn said.
By then, Dahlonega had already grown into a busy center of commerce to support gold mining around nearby Auraria, which is now a ghost town, after the Georgia gold rush began in 1828.
The building's owners over the years include Nelson Nix, who purchased it in 1936 and ran a grocery store for the next 46 years. It became known as the Parker-Nix Storehouse after those two early owners.
Townspeople say the building once housed a brothel.
"That's one of the favorite lies about the building," Lynn said. "People in Lumpkin County love to tell stories and they don't want to disappoint anybody."
There were living quarters in the upstairs, "but that was not for that purpose, as far as I know," Lynn said. "It could have been, but we don't have any documentation on that, shall we say."