After gold was discovered near Dahlonega in 1828, the Native American Cherokee Indians were expelled from North Georgia on the infamous Trail of Tears in 1839. The State of Georgia arbitrarily carved the Cherokee Indian’s land into counties and Dawson County was created in 1857. The influx of miners into the region was accompanied by violence and anarchy so the first buildings constructed at the site of Dawsonville were a courthouse and a jail. A small community soon developed around the courthouse and Dawsonville was incorporated as a city on December 10, 1859.
Dawsonville’s original courthouse and jail that were built during the early 1800’s were destroyed by a fire. The courthouse was rebuilt in 1860, the jail was rebuilt in 1881, and both buildings are now listed in the National Register of Historic Places. Instead of housing prisoners, the historic jail building is now home to the Dawson County/Dawsonville Welcome Center.
Both Dawsonville and Dawson County were named after William Crosby Dawson, a lawyer, judge, soldier and politician who was born in Greensboro, Georgia, in 1798. William Crosby Dawson was in favor of slavery and state’s rights over federal rights. From 1821 through 1833, he served as Clerk of the Georgia House of Representatives and then he was a Georgia State Senator for one year from 1834 to 1835. Next he served as one of Georgia’s representatives in the U.S. House of Representatives from 1836 to 1841 and as a U.S. Senator from 1849 to 1855.
Before and after the Civil War, Dawsonville’s economy was agrarian based and it crashed into depression along with the rest of Georgia from the post-Civil War Reconstruction period through World War II. Economic growth in Dawsonville stagnated until the 38,000 acre Lake Lanier was created near Dawsonville after Buford Dam was constructed by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers on the Chattahoochee River in 1956. Blocking the Chattahoochee River with Buford Dam filled up the valleys and created a gorgeous lake with 692 miles of thickly forested shoreline. Lake Lanier has evolved into a resort area that attracts 7.5 million visitors annually with a wide variety of recreational activities such as camping, fishing, boating, swimming, picnicking and sightseeing.
In 1957, a new entrance to the Appalachian Trail was created in Amicalola Falls State Park near Dawsonville. After Highway 400 from Atlanta was completed, people were able to easily reach Lake Lanier and Amicalola Falls State Park, and Dawsonville profited from the increase in tourism. During the 1990’s, a significant amount of upscale residential development occurred that enabled Dawsonville to become a thriving modern community.