Business has been in full swing at The Smith House for over a century, but one needs to go back even further to understand the history of this North Georgia gem. It all began when a man by the name of Captain Frank Hall purchased an acre of land just east of the Dahlonega town square in 1895 to build a home. But the build didn’t go exactly as planned; construction workers discovered a gold and quartz vein nestled beneath the building and, when Hall requested mining rights, city leaders denied his request, arguing that the proximity of his soon-to-be home would disrupt nearby businesses. The rejection didn’t dissuade Hall, however, and he began digging a mine shaft in secret while construction of his home continued. Hall passed of typhoid fever in 1901 shortly after his home was complete but, unbeknownst to him, the legacy of what he’d built was just beginning.
Room & Board
Henry and Bessie Smith purchased the property from the Hall Estate in 1922 and, in the process of converting the grand home into a boarding house, poured concrete over the gaping hole they’d come across in their basement, assuming it was an old waste receptable that needed patching. Talk of the new boarding house soon spread, and it quickly became a destination in and of itself for travelers passing through, enticing not only boarders but the general public to the on-site restaurant serving up Southern staples. Guests gathered at long communal tables and indulged in home-cooked helpings of buttermilk fried chicken, country ham and fresh vegetables. Business continued as usual until Bessie passed in 1946, and the Fry family took over the helm. Unfamiliar with how to run a restaurant, they outsourced dining operations to a couple by the name of Fred and Thelma Welch, whose cooking soon drew hordes of hungry travelers each day.
“In 1950, popularity of their cooking was becoming famous so they moved into the basement of the home to expand the restaurant,” says Freida Bafile, General Manager of The Smith House. But many years later, in digging up the concrete that had been laid in the basement to further expand the restaurant, workers doing a renovation project for current owners Freddy and Shirley Welch stumbled across something unexpected along the way.
“We found a large opening under the concrete and come to find out that it was the secret mine shaft that Frank Hall discovered in 1899 under his home,” Bafile explains. Mining within city limits remains prohibited, but guests today flock from afar to experience the gold mine shaft that was discovered over a century ago by Hall himself.
A Southern Feast
The legacy of The Smith House has continued throughout the years, but the institution has also evolved to reflect changing times. The communal style of seating serves as one example. Traditionally, diners at The Smith House would share Southern-style meals at communal tables with other parties; today, each party still enjoys the same traditional foods at their own private tables. The influences of food prices and availability have also had an impact; whereas the restaurant previously operated on an all-you-can eat model, helpings are no longer unlimited. Still, the portions are more than substantial, and to-go boxes are offered to those who want to take their leftovers home.
The menu varies day to day, but signature southern cooking is served piping hot six days a week. Lunch options include fried chicken, a meat special of sorts, fried okra, green beans, mashed potatoes, creamed gravy, collard greens, creamed corn, homemade yeast rolls and cornbread for twenty dollars. Dinner menus vary depending on the day, but every meal will at least include fried chicken, fried okra, green beans, creamed gravy, macaroni and cheese, creamed corn, collards upon request, and homemade yeast rolls for twenty-five dollars. Bafile suggests sampling the fried chicken and cornbread for starters. (But be sure to save room for at least a bite from each bowl!)
For those looking for more than a meal, several accommodation options are available to book. The Smith House Historic Inn has sixteen rooms of varying configurations available to guests, and the relatively recent addition of The Smith House Lodge in March 2020 offers an additional twenty-four rooms. Those interested in an extended stay can also book the many villas and cottages available for rent, and several private rooms are also available to rent for special occasions.
For More Information
The Smith House Restaurant is open Tuesdays through Fridays for lunch and Fridays through Sundays for lunch and dinner. No reservations required.
84 S. Chestatee St.
Sidebar: Dahlonega’s Old Fashioned Christmas Celebration
Plan your visit to The Smith House this season to coincide with Dahlonega’s Old Fashioned Christmas Celebration, which runs until the end of the year and offers family-friendly activities sure to get even the grouchiest grinch in the holiday spirit. Attendees can expect carriage rides, food trucks, musicals, shopping, a tree and lights display, and even the opportunity to see Santa on the square on select dates. Those interested in visiting, sponsoring or volunteering for this year’s Old Fashioned Christmas Celebration can visit dahlonegachristmas.com for more information.