DAWSONVILLE, Ga. —
Today, cars on Georgia 9 slow for school zones on their way through Silver City and Coal Mountain — two of the smallest communities from Dawsonville to Atlanta — and the suburbs of Cumming, Alpharetta and Roswell farther south.
Inside the distillery are plenty of reminders of the days when moonshine was made in the surrounding foothills.
Entrepreneur Cheryl “Happy” Wood points with pride to a portrait of her grandfather, Simmie Free, hanging on one wall.
“Mama said, ‘When you get this going, I want you to hang this up,” Wood said.
Free learned how to make moonshine from his father, who learned it from his father generations ago, she said.
“We grew up around it, and it was our medicine,” Wood said. Cough medicine was among its medicinal uses, she said.
Bearden, 56, recalls how extra income from his family’s moonshining helped feed him as a child, and often meant a better Christmas if sales were good.
There are a handful of other moonshine distilleries in Southern states such as North Carolina, but officials from state and national groups say they aren’t aware of any operating in a city hall.
“That’s a new one for me,” said Gregory Minchak, a spokesman for the National League of Cities.
J. Katie McConnell, senior associate for economic development at the League of Cities, has been studying the craft beer industry in recent months, and how small breweries and distilleries have sprung up and expanded in many communities. In Washington, D.C., for instance, the city’s first gin distillery in more than a century opened this year, she said.
Wood has been planning the distillery for about five years. As she searched for a site, she and city officials began to realize that city hall would be an ideal spot, Dawsonville Mayor W. James Grogan said. The idea was that the distillery would tie into the city’s history since it would be right next-door to the Georgia Racing Hall of Fame Museum, Grogan said.