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Hall County was feeling its oats in 1920s

POSTED: July 5, 2009 1:00 a.m.

Even when it was tiny with mostly volunteer staff, the chamber of commerce for Gainesville and Hall County was aggressive in promoting the area.

The community today has much more to offer prospective industries, businesses, residents and visitors. One might wonder what the attractions might have been in the Roaring '20s when the downtown square was the only business center and the county population was just approaching 30,000.

Actually that era was one of the most productive with the economy perking along under strong leadership just before the Great Depression.

What the community had to offer, the chamber wasn't bashful about tooting its horn. Several hotels and improved roads to the nearby mountains had made Gainesville as a convention destination for state and national organizations. In addition, Hall County received considerable publicity because of the location of Johnson & Johnson's Chicopee Mills, a model village that coveted by numerous other cities.

Having picked that plum, the Gainesville Chamber of Commerce, as it was called then, set out to harvest more industries. It put together a high-powered committee to compile the community's advantages. It included such local luminaries as Riverside Military Academy's Sandy Beaver, prominent lawyer H.H. Dean, Brenau College's H.J. Pearce, merchant H.H. Estes, publisher A.S. Hardy, pharmacist J.W. Jacobs and city officials.

One of the committee's targets was the Woodmen of the World, which was considering locating its national insurance headquarters in Gainesville.

A promotional brochure touted Gainesville as a transportation center with 20 trains daily on Southern Railway's main line, eight daily trains on the Gainesville Midland Railroad and five mail trains on the Gainesville Northwestern Railway.

"Gainesville is also on the proposed air mail route between New York and Atlanta and New Orleans," the committee boasted. "With the inauguration of this service, letters mailed as late as 6 o'clock in the evening will be in New York, Chicago, Miami and Texas for the first morning delivery."

Six designated national highways and public roads ran through Gainesville, "as many as any city in Georgia outside of Atlanta ... the stream of tourists traversing our borders is steadily increasing ... "

In the 1920s, Gainesville had four banks with deposits of $2.6 million. "We have never had a bank failure and not a serious business failure in many years," the chamber committee reported.

The 1926 city tax rate was $1.40 on $1,000 assessed property value, and the county tax rate was $1.75. The county's only debt at the time was $320,000 from a 1918 bond issue. "No county in Georgia is better managed or can offer you greater security from any sort of tax burden," wrote the committee. "The people here believe in the system of ‘pay as you go.'"

Textile mills in the 1920s were operating 140,000 spindles after Chicopee started up. Five thousand people lived in mill villages with 1,600 working in the plants. Hall County also had a furniture manufacturer, two overall plants, underwear and mattress makers, two planing mills, an ice plant, corn and flour mills, two candy and two ice cream companies and an asbestos grinding operation.

Other attributes the chamber of commerce listed to lure companies and people included:

Health: The "celebrated" Downey Hospital had the highest rating of the American Medical Society. Gainesville's altitude was the highest of any city of more than 5,000 population on the rail lines between Washington and New Orleans. "This high altitude, with perfect drainage, guarantees no malaria and no mosquitoes. Our spring water is absolutely pure ... Gainesville has the third lowest death rate of any city its size ... we have a rarified atmosphere that is not subjected to sudden changes, a condition which is of tremendous importance to brain-workers," a reference to Brenau College and Riverside Military Academy, examples of an emphasis on education.

Religion: More than $200,000 had been invested in churches.

Recreation: Besides the nearby mountains, there were Lake Warner on the Chattahoochee River and its neighbor, Chattahoochee Golf Club.

Despite Hall County's appeal, Woodmen of the World retained its national headquarters in Omaha, Neb., where it was founded and remains today. But, for sure, the chamber's promotion at that time didn't go to waste as the community progressed over the years.

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



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