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Plaque honors local veterans of Spanish War

POSTED: February 1, 2009 1:00 a.m.

Gainesville has numerous monuments around honoring presidents, local war veterans, Confederate soldiers and other figures in the county's history.

One of the most prominent, but perhaps less noticed because it's been there so long, is the granite marker dedicated to Spanish-American War veterans. It sits between the old and new courthouses near the intersection of Spring and Green streets.

The marker was dedicated in May 1938 when the state convention of Spanish War Veterans met in Gainesville. The plaque is called "The Hiker," the volunteer of 1898, who fought in the war. The ship in the background of the bronze plaque is the U.S. battleship Maine. A uniformed soldier is in front, along with words by President William McKinley: "You triumphed over obstacles which would have overcome men less brave and determined."

"Remember the Maine" became the battle cry of Americans during the war after the ship exploded in Havana harbor, killing 260 crew members. The U.S. blamed the Spanish in Cuba for the disaster, but the Spanish said the explosion originated within the ship.

Nevertheless, a war resulted with the president calling for 125,000 volunteers to fight in Cuba, which was then a Spanish possession. Among the first was Theodore Roosevelt, who organized his "Rough Riders" and helped swing the tide of battle to the Americans. His service in the war propelled him to become vice president, and later president when McKinley was assassinated in 1901.

The Spanish-American War veterans convention attracted about 250 veterans and auxiliary members to Gainesville. Mayor P.F. Brown accepted the monument on behalf of the city, and attorney J.E. Palmour Jr. for the county. G.E. Pilgrim was commander of the local veterans chapter and Mrs. E.H. Dent the auxiliary.

•  •  •

Some might remember the old Dunlap Dam on the Chattahoochee River near the current American Legion home between Longstreet Bridge and Thompson Bridge over Lake Lanier.

It backed up Lake Warner, which was for many years the playground for Hall Countians and other North Georgians. The old pavilion that overlooked the lake still stands in what is now the park that the American Legion owns.

It is said that Georgia Power Co. had its origins in Gainesville because of the dam. The Gainesville Eagle related its history in an article in April 1933.

Col. A.J. Warner got some partners together in 1902 to build a dam on the Chestatee River 15 miles north of Gainesville. This hydroelectric plant was the first in the state and was designed to provide electric power to Gainesville. The businessmen also had in mind an electric-powered railroad from Gainesville to Dahlonega. They even laid some track, but the project never was completed.

However, the second dam in Georgia to generate electric power was built in 1904 with Warner and H.H. Dean the principals. Two years later they connected the Dunlap plant to a transmission line that carried 11,000 volts of electricity 53 miles south to Atlanta's Boulevard substation.

That was said to be the first instance in Georgia of long-distance transmission of electric energy and only the second in the U.S. Other plants and transmission lines followed the Gainesville men's pioneering achievements, and all of that became Georgia Power Co.

Georgia Power, now part of the Southern Company, expanded quickly to provide much of the state's electricity before the Rural Electrification Administration was created under the Franklin D. Roosevelt administration in the 1930s.

Georgia Power's history on its Web site pays less attention to the local version of how the company started. It says a company named Georgia Electric and Light Co. started in 1883 to light Atlanta and provide electricity for street cars. It became the Georgia Railway and Electric Co. in 1902, and two years later bought Morgan Smith's Atlanta Water and Electric Power Co., which had a hydroelectric power plant on Morgan Falls in the Chattahoochee River. That was the same year Dunlap Dam opened.

The Tallulah Falls hydroelectric plant sent current to Atlanta in 1912, the second steel electric transmission line to be built in the state.

All of this became Georgia Power in 1926 with electric companies in Athens, Rome and other parts of the state merging into it in later years. Some municipalities around the state still operate their own electric companies just as many have their own water and sewer utilities.

Johnny Vardeman is retired editor of The Times. His column appears Sundays and on gainesvilletimes.com.



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