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Star-crossed boat too big for bridges

POSTED: October 25, 2009 1:00 a.m.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is releasing more water through Buford Dam because Lake Lanier’s level is higher than it is supposed to be this time of year. The corps is afraid there won’t be enough room to store water expected from winter rains.

Many lake level watchers prefer the level not be lowered in view of drastically low levels the past few years.

But there have been other times the corps has been asked to release more water. One was an unusual request involving the saga of the Georgia Star, a 150-ton boat that seemed star-crossed from its beginning. The corps wouldn’t allow the ship to be built on the lake, so its investors had it built on private property and rolled into the lake.

Problem was the 135-foot-long vessel was too tall to get under bridges and into the main part of the lake. It had been intended to roam the lake as a tourist attraction, perhaps a venue for parties or just touring passengers on sight-seeing trips.

The Georgia Star sat in the lake waiting for the waters to go down enough to move it to another location. Its owners had wanted to work a deal with Lake Lanier Islands and dock it there.

According to Ed Dunlap, his brother, the late James A. (Bubba) Dunlap, called his friend, Howard (Bo) Callaway, Secretary of the Army in the mid-1970s, to ask him to have the corps lower the level of Lake Lanier enough to allow the Georgia Star passage under the bridges. Ed Dunlap says Callaway cooperated, and the lake level went down 10 feet.

That was before former corps’ project manager Erwin Topper was assigned to Buford Dam. But his recollection is that the level did fall by a couple of feet to accommodate the Georgia Star. Whatever the case, it didn’t seem to help as the boat continued to languish, much of the time sitting partly on dry land. It became dilapidated and an eyesore until another group of investors tried to resurrect it, spending thousands to restore it.

It was a good idea, but one that never really floated. Eventually, Topper said, the corps hired a contractor to dismantle the boat and its parts sold for scrap in the late 1980s.

• • •

Clearing up some confusion from last Sunday’s column: Thompson Bridge wasn’t among those destroyed in the January 1946 floods. Actually, the wooden bridge burned Nov. 25 the previous fall, attracting a large crowd as flames consumed the structure within about two hours. The original covered bridge had opened in May 1873, having been built by Ovid Brown Thompson and Guilford G. Thompson, from the pioneer Hall County family, Mr. and Mrs. Andrew Thompson.

Ovid Thompson was the great-grandfather of Marian Hosch of Gainesville and Janice Braselton of Braselton. They are sixth generation Hall Countians. Their grandmother was Mrs. Charles Martin, who was Rowena Thompson, daughter of Ovid Thompson. The Thompson homeplace was on both sides of Thompson Bridge Road and where Chattahoochee Country Club is today.

Both the burned Thompson Bridge and the flooded Brown’s Bridge were replaced by portable temporary one-lane Bailey Bridges in 1946 before Buford Dam backed up the Chattahoochee River to form Lake Lanier a decade later.

The 1945-46 winter must have been one of the worst in North Georgia. A sleet storm Christmas Day had closed roads, downed trees and shut down electric power for days. Temperatures fell into the single digits.

Then the historic floods struck in January. More than 5 inches of rain fell Jan. 5-8. Other than Brown’s Bridge, Iron Bridge on Shallowford Road, Browning Bridge and eight other bridges on Little River and Wahoo Creek washed away. One person drowned as Hightower River Bridge on U.S. 19 in Dawson County collapsed under the flooding waters.

Water covered the bridge on the Gainesville-Dawsonville highway, but it survived, as did Longstreet Bridge on Cleveland Road, though its approaches were damaged. Likewise, Clark’s, Keith and Davis bridges suffered damage.

Damage to cropland and poultry amounted to more than $750,000.

Johnny Vardeman is retired editor of The Times and can be reached at 2183 Pinetree Circle N.E., Gainesville, GA 30501. His column appears Sundays and on gainesvilletimes.com.



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