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September 1st, 2014 03:00 p.m.




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First Lady’s funeral train stopped here 95 years ago

POSTED: March 15, 2009 1:00 a.m.

When President Woodrow Wilson's first wife, Ellen Louise Axson Wilson, died in June 1914, the train carrying her body stopped in Gainesville. Mrs. Wilson had spent considerable time in Gainesville, along with her husband. Two of her children were born in Gainesville.

The special train was enroute to Rome, where Mrs. Wilson had grown up and was to be buried.

The funeral train was draped in black. Numerous Gainesville residents met it at the Southern Railroad depot, bowing their heads out of respect.

S.H. Hardwick, Southern traffic manager, who at the time was staying in Gainesville, made the arrangements for the train to stop briefly. President Wilson was on the train, but didn't appear. He sent a message to Gainesville officials, expressing his gratitude for their citizens' show of sympathy. Many who met the train brought floral offerings. The president's secretary got off the train to accept resolutions adopted by city and county governments.

Mrs. Wilson was related to the Palmour, Evans and Brown families in Gainesville. The Wilsons often stayed at the Piedmont Hotel while in Gainesville. It once was operated by Confederate Gen. James Longstreet. One of the Wilson children was born there. Part of the original hotel on Maple Street in south Gainesville has been restored by the Longstreet Society.

• • •

Hall County school system seems in a constant building mode as population increases in the county. Gainesville schools' enrollment also has increased over the past few years, requiring the building of a new middle school and two new elementary schools.

At one time, Gainesville planned an elementary school in the northwest part of town, now a heavily populated residential area.

The city commission, as it was called at the time, bought a site at the corner of Wessel Road and Holly Drive in 1957. The idea was to have the school open for the 1958-59 school year.

Perhaps school desegregation rerouted those plans, but nothing was ever built on the property, which cost $27,500. Probably a good thing because the wooded area now provides a park. Lighted tennis courts, basketball goals and picnic tables are among amenities at Wessel Park.

Even at the time of the purchase, city school officials weren't sure if they would need added classroom space. Supt. L.H. Battle said there were no specific plans at the time. But Commissioner Charles Thurmond said that site and others probably would be needed for future growth.

• • •

Many believe Hall County's poultry industry didn't emerge until the 1950s. It did blossom then, but its beginnings date back much further.

Farmers throughout North Georgia grew chickens for sale, as well as eggs. They brought them to market in wagons to Gainesville on Saturdays when people from all around crowded into the business center to make their purchases. Stores springing up around Gainesville also provided a market for the farmers' poultry products.

Even in the early 1900s, Gainesville was getting a reputation for its poultry production. Wrote the Gainesville News, "Some one has called Gainesville the ‘chicken house of Georgia.' This is true in a large measure for we ship chickens not only all over Georgia, but to other states as well. Our chicken and egg business amounts to more than half a million dollars annually."

Of course, J.D. Jewell's innovative approaches to poultry farming and processing really got the ball rolling in the 1930s, and others in the business put the area on the map with new products, methods and wider national distribution in the years after World War II. The industry spread throughout Georgia and other states.

In Georgia alone, 24.6 million pounds of chickens and 14 million eggs are produced on an average day to make the industry a $13.5 billion annual enterprise.

• • •

While Hall County has become a successful poultry capital, it never quite made it as a tobacco center.

Tobacco has been grown in this area, and at one time a cigar manufacturing company operated. It was called Gainesville Cigar Manufacturing and made 1,000 cigars a day. In 1913 it advertised La Cederosa cigars for a dime each or $70 per thousand; Capital for a nickel or $37.50 per thousand, and Havana Smoker, a nickel or $35 per thousand.

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



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