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Johnny Vardeman: Thanks go to those who help preserve our area’s history

POSTED: April 30, 2017 1:00 a.m.

There are too many people to name who have contributed to the preservation of history in Hall County.

They date back further than the Hosches, especially William, who wrote a history of the county in the early 1900s. And Lester, bless his heart, whose attic in his house at the corner of Green Street and Ridgewood Avenue, where the Hall County school offices are today, was a virtual archives. Stacks of books, crumbling yellowed newspapers, Rotary Club programs and other memorabilia filled the space above his living area.

Then there was Sybil McRay, who researched history and genealogy, scoured every cemetery in the county and wrote tomes about local people from the past, organizations and events. She was the county’s unofficial unpaid volunteer historian for many years. Ruth Waters, a school teacher from Blackshear Place, emphasized local history in the classroom and collected tons of information about prominent historical figures.

Others, including Gordon Sawyer and W.L. Norton, wrote books or papers on history and were forces behind such organizations as the Northeast Georgia History Center at Brenau University or the Hall County Historical Society.

James Dorsey, who died recently, was one of the most prolific contributors to preserving the history of Hall and other counties in the state. Dorsey, who was director of Hall County Library in the 1980s and early 1990s, in all put together 20 books on history. They included writings about Emmanuel, Montgomery, Lincoln, Jefferson and Tattnall counties, as well as other communities in the state.

Most important were histories of Hall County, including those covering the periods from 1900 to 1945 and later. He also published “Windows of Memory, the Hall County That Was,” photographs from the past.

Dorsey was meticulous in his research and documentation, digging through old newspapers and spending hours staring into microfilm copies of periodicals and other documents.

Most of his works are available at or through the Hall County Library System.

• • 

How many times have you heard “we didn’t have much winter this year”? Well, we didn’t as far as past winters are compared. Unofficially, Gainesville recorded only one temperature in the teens, an 18 in January. The lowest temperature in February was 28, a 24 was recorded in March, a 25 in December 2016 and a 32 last November.

Every now and then, Northeast Georgians shiver under single-digit temperatures, but not so much in recent years. In 1970, Hall County suffered back-to-back days of unusual cold. In January, it was zero or below for two days, with 3 inches of snow and schools closed for days. It was well below zero in the mountains.

It was during some of this coldest weather that residents in Murrayville and Lumpkin County went without heat.

One of the county’s coldest temperatures was minus-8 on Jan. 30, 1966, and it was minus-1 on Jan. 24, 1963.

During one of these cold snaps, Toy Minor’s Beehive Market burned. At the time it was located on the road to Holly Park off Thompson Bridge Road. Before that, the market was a landmark at the corner of Brenau Avenue and North Bradford Street a block off Gainesville’s square.

• • •

Wells for drinking water are not as common today as they once were because of the extension of municipal water lines into rural areas. But there remain many residential and commercial properties that still use wells as their main source or supplemental water source.

However, even as late as the 1970s some folks without “city” water had to haul water from wells. That was particularly true off the Gainesville-Athens Highway. Wells in the Floyd and Gaines Mill roads area were scarce or not working. That caused some residents to find a working well 100 yards away, sometimes having to make the trip to and from a good well four times a day.

Some would head into Gainesville and fill 25-gallon containers of water to keep themselves supplied.

As development progressed, water lines slowly made their way into unserved or underserved areas.

• • •

Gainesville once had a cavalry troop ready and able to serve the federal military. Capt. Thomas Holland reported in 1836 his Gainesville Dragoons consisted of 75 men, including 61 privates “ready to march at a moment’s notice.”

Johnny Vardeman is retired editor of The Times.



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