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Part II Dawson's Gold

Digging and renovation begin after a strong wind partially tumbles the old shed behind the main house. Outside help is brought in to repair the damage, and with it comes an interesting story. Homer looks on with awe as Faded Glory Farm yields another of her nearly century-old secrets. The Farm and its owners have been witness to two major wars and The Great Depression, but this new facet of Faded Glory's history was completely unexpected.

We all watched as Micah began to unpack the wooden box, and I couldn't help but wonder why someone would go to such trouble to "crate up" used motor oil for disposal. You folks sometimes do the strangest things, but this particular scenario was 'off the charts' of human behavior, in my humble opinion.

Fortunately, it was a sunny day because when Micah finally lifted the first of the jars out of the protective confines of the box, the sun immediately started to reflect on some kind of metallic material that was pressed up against the sides of the jar; material with round reeded edges that looked remarkably like gold coin!

Usually, tales of hidden treasure emanate from the stories of pirate ships and merchant vessels sunk at sea. Stagecoach robbers in the wild west, Egyptian kings, and even James Bond have contributed to the mystique of finding gold bullion, but here in the mountains of Appalachia, stories about the discovery of treasure are pretty few and far between.

Neither Isabel nor Micah were mentally prepared for the unexpected windfall that this humble shed at Faded Glory would soon surrender. Hank volunteered the use of his pickup truck, and he and Micah lifted the heavy cypress box onto the tailgate and transported it down to the Inn's portico where Micah hastily set up a sturdy metal folding table. Since it soon became obvious that very little work was going to get done at Faded Glory that day, Jamie gave his masons the choice of continuing their job or watching the current scenario unfold. Mike and Tim Kendall, his block masons, predictably, stopped their work and chose to watch.

Without further ceremony, Micah immediately began the process of opening the first of the four jars. For awhile it seemed that the top of the first jar was rusted shut, but after Hank came up with a piece of old innertube and established a good grip on the top, it loosened, unscrewed, and was removed easily. Louella brought out a huge roasting pan from the kitchen and Micah carefully tipped the contents of the jar into it for inspection. As the huge gold coins oozed out and settled into the thick sticky liquid that emerged with them, they glistened and sparkled in the sunlight as if they were new. Micah excitedly chose a coin and attempted to use a towel to clean it, but the liquid proved to be so dense and sticky that the coin adhered to the towel as if it had been coated with glue. Turns out, the dense liquid with the jars was determined to be pure honey, not motoroil as previously thought. Honey; how strange!

Submersed and cleaned in a plastic tub of warm soapy water, the coins were counted, examined and passed around among the Inn's staff and the three remaining guests in an almost party-like atmosphere. Most of the coins were twenty-dollar Double Eagles with mint dates ranging from 1850 to 1932. All in all, there was $2,910 (face value) in gold coins contained in the first jar that Micah opened. The last three jars yielded an additional $5,555 in uncirculated Liberty Head Double Eagle $20 gold pieces (dated 1849-1907), and Saint-Gaudens Double Eagle $20 coins (dated 1907-1933), with a smattering of $10 and $5 gold coins included in the mix. Certainly, by 1985 standards, the discovery of $8,465 in U.S. currency might not be considered a big deal, but as Micah later remarked, "when it's in vintage uncirculated gold coinage, it is a very big deal!" In all, there were 375 Double Eagle $20 gold pieces, 90 $10 gold eagles, and 13 $5 gold coins for a hefty total of 478 individual gold coins, most of which are in mint, uncirculated condition.

The discovery of the coins was, for all of us, very exciting, but the question as to where they came from, and how they got buried in the shed in the first place, was even more fascinating for Isabel and Micah. Isabel redalled that the Farm had been in the hands of the Tate family from it's very beginning right up until the time that an acquaintance of Ray's bought it in 1945. The property lay vacant until Isabel and Ray later bought it from Ray's aquaintance in the early 1970s. Isabel also surmised that the money must have been buried by some member of the Tate family sometime in the early 1930s. She also came to accept the fact that some 'due diligence' would become necessary in order to probe back into the Tate family history to make some sense of this puzzle.

Two days later, a visit to the Fannin County Historical Society almost immediately unearthed a virtual motherlode of information regarding the Tates and their nearly half-century of family history in Fannin County, GA.

Born into a well-known Atlanta banking family, Matthew Gamble Tate left the big city behind and moved to Fannin County in July of 1893 at the age of twenty seven. By 1896, by the age of thirty, he had founded the First Bank of Blue Ridge and was considered to be one of the most "up and coming young entrepreneurs" living in the county at that time. Later, in 1896, Matthew Tate married Judith Holt, a local girl, and began construction on the farm that would later be known as Faded Glory Farm. In 1899, Matthew and Judith Tate announced the birth of their son, Dawson Paul Tate. Over the next thirty years, First Bank of Blue Ridge prospered, as did the Tate family.

When Matthew Tate, Sr. died unexpectedly in 1928 at the age of 62, his only son, Dawson Paul, assumed his position of president of the bank, with a mandate to steer the bank through the murky times ahead. Those times were about to become much harder with the advent of the Great Depression starting in 1929.

Although no written documents or family records were ever found to substantiate the Tate's mysterious gold hoard, Isabel and Micah's endless digging and diligent research uncovered enough circumstantial fact to support the following conclusion:

By 1930, after the death of his father and mother, young Tate had become the sole owner of the estate and was principal stockholder and president of First Bank of Blue Ridge. When President Roosevelt's Emergency Banking Act of March, 1933, started to take shape as a viable piece of pending legislation, Dawson Tate evidently saw the 'writing on the wall' and realized that if the legislation went through, Americans would no longer have the right to own gold currency and gold bank notes. Obviously, Dawson Tate disagreed with the proposed new law and decided to keep his personal assets in the form of gold.

St. Gaudens $20 Gold Piece

President Roosevelt's Emergency Banking Act quickly morphed into "Executive Order #6102, which specifically prohibited American citizens from owning more than $100 in gold notes or coins; and, in another paragraph, it also exempted gold for "customary use in industry, profession or art" - a provision that protected jewelers, dentists, artists and other professionals who used gold routinely in their occupations. That same paragraph also exempted "gold coins having recognized special value to collectors of rare and unusual coins." This clause protected gold coin collections from legal seizure and subsequent melting. Executive order #6102 finally became law on May 1, 1933, and all American citizens were forced to comply with the new mandate and surrender their gold, gold currency, and gold bank notes.

Liberty Head Double Eagle gold piece..

As a small-town banker prior to the final ratification of the new law, Dawson Tate was in a prime position to take advantage of this short window of opportunity and convert his available savings into gold currency, and he decided to do so. By May of 1933, Dawson had withdrawn and stashed away a total of $8,465 in uncirculated gold currency. Isabel and Micah firmly believe Dawson Tate to be the person who buried the gold in a shallow hole beneath the dirt floor of his own carriage shed at what is now Faded Glory Farm.

Dawson Tate later suffered a stroke while at work at his bank at age 45 in April of 1944 during the height of WWII. He never regained consciousness and was pronounced dead at the scene. Sadly, he had no successor to his position at the bank, and First Bank of Blue Ridge later became insolvent and was purchased by another regional bank out of Atlanta in December, 1945. Tate's widow, Angela Pennington Tate, sold the farm to a local business owner that same year and moved away from the area shortly thereafter. The Tates had no children.

At first, Isabel feared that her possession of the gold hoard found in the shed at Faded Glory would prove to be in violation of the 1933 Law, but she was relieved to discover that the ban on owning gold was officially lifted in 1975, and whatever gold coins that still remained in public hands began returning to the United States from privately-held safety deposit boxes all over the world.

In a small county where it is very difficult to keep anything secret, amazingly enough, word of Isabel's 'find' has not really gotten around.

Isabel and Micah took the collection to Hiawassee where Isabel rented a safety deposit box at Ed Hightower's bank. Ed then helped Isabel locate and retain an appraiser in Atlanta who later drove up to Hiawassee to examine the collection. All except forty of the (478) coins were determined to be in "uncirculated condition," and the entire collection appraised conservatively at $275,000. Isabel, of course, was overjoyed at her good fortune and she immediately made a decision to keep the coins as a "hedge against inflation," and "wait to see if gold prices might rise in the future."

All of the improvements to the old shed have been finished, the termite infestation is gone, and except for the new concrete floor and fresh block foundation, the old shed looks just as natural as it looked 90 years ago.

If Ray were still alive, he wouldn't believe it. Looks like Faded Glory Farm still retains some secrets yet to tell. I just hope that I'm still around to listen!

© 2010-2011 David Johnson, All Rights Reserved