From new restaurants and businesses to local government and education, a lot happened in Dawson County in the past year. As we head full-speed into 2022 and everything the new year will bring with it, here’s a look back at some of the headlines, both good and bad, that sum up some of the highlights of what happened in Dawson this year.
New restaurants brought flavor options to the county
Kajun Seafood opened in downtown Dawsonville at the very end of 2020 and began drawing crowds in 2021 with its wide selection of seafood options and cajun food classics. The family-run business offers unique and bold flavors unlike anything Dawson has had before, and response from the community upon the restaurant’s opening was overwhelmingly positive, restaurant owners said.
Big Red’s Biscuits and Deli opened in May with inventive new recipes and twists on sub-shop classics. Local man Greg Stotler opened the restaurant after losing his job due to COVID-19, a tragedy that he turned into success by choosing to use the chance to fulfill his lifelong dream of opening his own restaurant. The restaurant’s main focus is on different types of sandwiches, but also offers freshly made donuts and cinnamon rolls and a rotating selection of soups and salads.
Sweet Charlie’s dessert shop opened at the end of June, bringing rolled ice cream, cookies, milkshakes and more to Dawson County. The rolled ice cream is made fresh directly in front of each customer, a visual show that adds to the overall experience, according to shop owner Pinkesh Patel. Several of the shop’s most popular flavor options are staples on the menu as the shop’s standards, but everything is completely customizable too, allowing customers to create their own flavor combinations.
Crave Hot Dogs and BBQ added a new self-serve beer wall in July, allowing customers to pour themselves different types of beers and other alcoholic drinks from across the country. Customers come into the restaurant and give an ID and credit card to the cashier, who in return gives the customer a card to activate the beer taps and a pint glass to drink from. The customer can then swipe the card to activate any of the taps on the wall to sample from up to 18 beer, wine, cider and other alcoholic beverage options.
Miller’s Ale House, the county’s newest restaurant and sports bar, opened in October. The restaurant features a range of food options from chicken to burgers to steaks, as well as a full bar. The restaurant is lined with televisions playing all types of sports coverage, and a second section to the building includes garage-type doors that raise up to allow it to feel like an outside patio.
New businesses opened throughout the county
The Place of Forsyth County expanded into Dawson County in the first part of 2021, merging with RIC-Rack Food Bank. The merger was beneficial to both organizations as well as the community in general, allowing the nonprofits to work together to fill in gaps and offer services that RIC-Rack couldn't previously offer by itself.
No Longer Bound Thrift Store opened in the spring, offering furniture, clothing and housewares to the community. The thrift store is the third thrift store location owned by the nonprofit, and includes a large area to drop off donations at the front of the store. Money raised through the thrift store helps to offset the costs of putting men through the No Longer Bound program, a 12-month rehabilitation program aimed at breaking addictions and restoring families.
Agape Acres opened in February of 2021, bringing a new event center to Dawson County. Owners David and Cindy Bagley had both been part of the corporate world for years when they decided to give their dreams a chance, and together they worked to transform the old barn on their property into a usable event venue, which includes both outdoor and indoor ceremony spaces for about 150 to 250 guests. All of the wood used to build up the venue was harvested from the Bagleys’ land, thus preserving the land itself and the feeling of being in nature.
Studio 28 Skin and Brows opened in mid-July in the downtown Dawsonville square. The studio offers facials, eyebrow waxing and tinting, and at the time of opening owner Courtney Waters said she hoped to add microblading and sugaring to her services in the near future.
Broad Essentials, a new business specializing in CBD-infused aromatherapy, opened in the North Georgia Premium Outlets in the beginning of October. Owners Lauren and Chris Cope, who moved to Georgia three years ago from California where they owned one of the most successful cannabis dispensaries in the bay area, create every product personally, from CBD-infused essential oils and lotions to candles and bath soaks.
La Rue 21, a new vintage boutique, opened off of the Dawsonville square at the end of October. The boutique includes vintage housewares, decorations, clothing and furniture, as well as wares from other local businesses including Sweet Sassafras Boutique and Ten Point Boutique.
FOXERS, a worldwide lingerie and loungewear brand, opened its first-ever anchor store in the beginning of December. The store offers an array of women’s and men’s intimate wear and loungewear, accessory items and other clothing, and the brand also generates business through its website.
The City of Dawsonville held council elections and celebrated additions to Main Street Park
Will Illg and Mark French were re-elected to their respective council seats in November. Illg was first appointed to the council in May to replace the Post 2 seat vacated by Steve Tolson and was re-elected to the seat in November, defeating competitor Mike Sosebee by 28 votes, 186 to 158. Incumbent Mark French was also re-elected to another term as the Post 4 council member, defeating competitor Jamie McCracken by 25 votes, 185 to 160.
The city added several additions to Main Street Park, including a skate park and a dog park. The skate park officially opened in September, drawing crowds to enjoy the grand opening ceremony in conjunction with the city’s food truck Fridays. The “Heart of the Dog” dog park also opened this year, offering two fenced-in areas, benches, pet waste stations and a water spigot.
The Dawsonville City Council approved the final plat of the Thunder Ridge Phase 1 development in January, allowing for the construction of 67 new homes. The project has been underway since 2017, when LCG Residential LLC purchased a total of 137.42 acres of land, equaling 217 residential lots within the city limits. LCG Residential agreed to a density of 1.58 units per acre and a proposed house site of 1600 square feet.
The city also named Cindy Elliott as the new director for the Georgia Racing Hall of Fame in February, and she hit the ground running to improve the museum in every way possible. The museum unveiled a new Chase Elliott exhibit in the beginning of February, and in October the museum hosted its inaugural Ghost Walk. According to an end-of-year report by Elliott to the city council the museum brought in over $100,000 this year in ticket sales alone.
Dawson County added a new fire station and a ladder truck
SPLOST VII was approved by voters in March. The $60 million, six-year Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax will fund dozens of county and city projects that will take place over the next six years.
Fire Station 8 opened in early March with a ribbon-cutting and a ceremonial “push-in” of Fire Engine 8 into the station’s new bay. The SPLOST VI-funded project provides much-needed emergency coverage to the county near Sweetwater Juno Road, which was previously under-covered by the county’s previously existing fire stations.
The county celebrated the addition of a new ladder fire truck to its fleet at the beginning of the year. Dawson County firefighters began training on the truck at the end of January, and community members helped celebrate with a ceremonial wet down and push-in ceremony in March. The new truck, with its long ladder and large water capacity, helped the Dawson County Fire Department become no longer reliant on other departments in case of a larger fire.
The Dawson County School System celebrated successes and announced retirements
Taylor Cole was announced as the new assistant principal of Dawson County Junior High School in February, and Kim White was named as the new principal of Dawson County Middle School in March. Cole transitioned to his new position from his previous role teaching sixth grade at Dawson County Middle School, before which he taught agriculture in Forsyth County. White spent 11 years teaching middle school and another six years as the DCMS assistant principal before stepping into her new role this year.
Both Superintendent Damon Gibbs and Chief Financial Officer Jamie Ulrich announced that they will be retiring from their respective positions in the first part of 2022. Gibbs, who has served as the school system’s superintendent for the last eight years, announced in November that he will retire at the end of the 2021-22 school year, effective in May of 2022. The Board of Education is expected to approve a new superintendent at the first board meeting of 2022. Ulrich served for over 20 years in the district before announcing in August that she will retire in early 2022.
The Board of Education experienced a great loss with the passing of board member Roger Slaton, a pillar of both the board and the community, in the beginning of June. Slaton had served on the Board of Education since the 1970s, and his passing left a huge hole in the board, fellow board members said. In September, the board approved Slaton’s son, Barry Slaton, to fill his seat on the board.
Riverview Elementary School was awarded a Title I recognition in July and recognized as a Blue Ribbon School in September. The Title I Distinguished School award is awarded to the top five percent of Title I schools in Georgia for having the highest overall student performance in the state. Likewise, the Blue Ribbon School Award is given to schools based on their overall academic excellence, and Riverview is only one of nine schools in the state and one of 325 schools in the country to have received the designation.
Courts held trials for defendants in the Hannah Bender case, hearings in Roberts case
In November and December, Austin Stryker and Jerry Harper were convicted and sentenced in the 2019 murder of Hannah Bender. 24-year-old Stryker was convicted on all charges and received a sentence of life without the possibility of parole for murdering Bender, as well as 20 years for aggravated battery, five years for each of his weapons possession counts and another 10 years for concealing the death of another. 79-year-old Harper was sentenced to 20 years in prison and 10 years of probation for his part in Bender’s death.
In July, 20-year-old Daniel Lee Roberts allegedly cause the death of 19-year-old Kaleb Duckworth because of a fight at the Dawson County Applebee’s restaurant. Roberts was held in the Dawson County Detention Center and officially indicted in the case in early October. In December, Roberts was granted a bond set at $100,000 for both the alleged murder case as well as another case from 2019 which led to charges on two counts of aggravated assault, possession of a firearm during commission of a crime and carrying a concealed weapon and reckless driving. The case is ongoing, and a trial date has not yet been set.
The Moonshine Festival, Tree Lighting and other events drew crowds
The 54th annual Mountain Moonshine Festival took place from Oct. 22 to 24, drawing in hundreds of people to browse the vendors’ booths, look at the classic cars, and watch the parade. Local legend Gordon Pirkle led off the parade as this year’s Grand Marshal, and dozens of vendors sold unique merchandise to shoppers. Thanks to the money raised through the event, local nonprofit K.A.R.E. for Kids will be able to help at least 700 celebrate Christmas by providing them with presents.
The City of Dawsonville’s ninth annual Tree Lighting and Christmas Parade was a huge success on December 4. The event kicked off with the Christmas parade, featuring floats by dozens of groups, businesses and individuals. Shoppers browsed the booths set up in front of City Hall as part of the Chamber of Commerce Jingle Market, and at dark attendees gathered in front of the city’s giant Christmas tree for the official tree lighting ceremony.
The seventh annual Feed the Hungry event distributed hot meals to 1200 people on Christmas Day. Volunteers cooked and boxed hot meals from the space at the Dawsonville Pool Room and delivered them to people throughout Dawson and its surrounding counties. People also came in person to get a meal and to visit with the volunteers there.