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Johnny Vardeman: New Gainesville city hall was over estimate, yet was a bargain in 1900

POSTED: April 16, 2017 1:00 a.m.

When Gainesville Mayor J.B. Gaston was leaving office in January 1900, he boasted the city was spending no more than $9,600 on the new city hall, which was in a block just south of the downtown square.

That sounds like a paltry amount compared to today’s building costs. But, the mayor said, “This is a much larger amount than we first contemplated.” Original estimate for the building was $5,000. The mayor said, however, he was proud the cost was less than $10,000.

The new mayor coming in that year was R.D. Mitchell. The pay for city employees also seems mighty measly when considering today’s payroll. The police chief, T.S. Waters, would get a hefty $400 a year (yes, that’s per year). The city attorney, H.H. Dean, would earn $40 per year (don’t you believe that), and the city physician, Dr. K.A. Smith, would receive 70 cents per visit and furnish his own medicine.

There apparently was some dissension on that 1900 incoming council. They called members “aldermen” in those days, and Alderman J.G. Hynds had just been elected for a two-year term from the third ward. He was appointed temporary clerk at that first meeting of the year. Yet Hynds chose not to serve his term. He resigned, declaring, “As ‘four’ is a working majority (meaning the other four aldermen), I do not see that I could be of any more service than a wagon with five wheels.”

Hynds apparently believed the other four aldermen were in cahoots, and his vote on issues before them wouldn’t matter.

Council members took umbrage at his remarks and pretty much demanded he appear at the next council meeting to explain himself. Apparently no more came of the tempest, Hynds really did resign, and eventually John H. Martin was unopposed in a special election to replace him.

Hynds operated a large shoe manufacturing industry for many years.

• • •

Mayor R.D. Mitchell and his family were active Gainesville citizens for many years. The Mitchells’ son, Byron, married Mary John Dunlap in February 1900. Though their friends knew the two had been courting, their marriage was somewhat of a surprise. Telling only a handful of close friends and immediate family, the couple met at the home of the J.M. Olivers. Mrs. Oliver didn’t even know a wedding ceremony was taking place until the minister, the Rev. L.A. Simpson of First Presbyterian Church, showed up.

Mary John was the daughter of Mr. and Mrs. S.C. Dunlap. Sam Dunlap was a Gainesville mover and shaker, twice mayor and organized Gainesville National Bank. The Dunlaps’ son, Edgar, became a larger player in local, state and even national politics. Edgar’s sons, James (Bubba) and Ed Jr., were also prominent in local and state politics.

The Rotary Tree in the triangle between E.E. Butler Parkway and Green Street in front of the Greater Hall Chamber of Commerce actually was dedicated to Mary John Mitchell, who was active in garden club and other local social activities.

She and her husband Byron lived just up Green Street in the vicinity of the present post office. He served on the city council and city school board and operated a successful meat market on Bradford Street downtown for many years. He specialized in steaks, fish, oysters and “pure lard,” but advertised, “Byron Mitchell wants all the rabbits that come to town.”

Their son, Byron Jr., also operated a meat market downtown and later the Red Steer Restaurant, which was near the present Collegiate Grill on Main Street.

• • •

Gainesville residents in the early 1900s were more interested in “slingshot control” than gun control. At that time Gainesville banned slingshots and air rifles within the city limits — lethal weapons, perhaps, in certain situations. Consider David and Goliath. Apparently that law was repealed as nobody lately has been put in the pokey for firing a slingshot, and air rifles are fairly common.

• • •

Rainey Street in Gainesville branches off Oak Street and down the hill to the main entrance of Gainesville High School. It was first built in 1900 to connect Oak Street with Washington Street. Residents of Oak Street petitioned the city council to name it “Rainey Street,” but didn’t specify why or for whom the street was named.

Johnny Vardeman is retired editor of The Times.



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