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Electricity was slow to arrive in parts of Hall

POSTED: April 11, 2010 11:47 a.m.

Gainesville was one of the first towns in the South to have electricity, courtesy of Gen. A.J. Warner and others who built a hydroelectric plant on the Chestatee River between Gainesville and Dahlonega and later Dunlap Dam on the Chattahoochee River near the site of today's American Legion Post 7.

The city is said to have been the first to have electric street lights south of Baltimore, Md. The electric power system that originated in the Gainesville area eventually became today's Georgia Power Co.

Though all this electric power activity was spreading in Gainesville, it was slow to arrive in other nearby communities. For instance, it wasn't until 1924 that electricity came to Flowery Branch, according to the Gainesville News of that era. And it seemed a happy day that was.

Seventy-five households signed up for the service, in addition to Chattahoochee Furniture Co. and later Farmers and Citizens Gin Co.

Announcing the milestone, the News wrote, "Our enterprising sister city of Flowery Branch has become modernized and is now in the swim. The housewife has for the last time rubbed up the rusty old lamp and gathered her brood around her to read the evening paper and ‘Pilgrim's Progress', scared stiff all the time with the fear the rusty old lamp will take a notion to bust. Instead ... she will reach up and turn on a flood of pure white light, and all the household will sit down in safety and comfort."

The railroad already had been running through Flowery Branch for years, and the step up to electricity bode well for the community's future. At the time the town was home to 500 people.

Street lights were installed at the same time. The power came from one of Georgia Power's main lines that had been installed a couple of miles away to serve some parts of Atlanta.

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Whether Spanish explorer Hernando de Soto visited North Georgia has been a topic of debate for more than a couple of centuries. Most recently, Emory Jones, in his book "Distant Voices: The Story of the Nacoochee Valley Indian Mound," cast further doubt that his wanderings ever brought him to this area. He based this on several interviews with historians, other experts and various writings over the years.

In 1924, a Yale University history professor translated into English a diary written by a Spaniard named Ranjel, who supposedly was the explorer's private secretary. It caused some in Gainesville to believe de Soto had indeed visited North Georgia, specifically what is now Hall County.

The diary mentioned an Indian town named Xuallla, which some believed must have been Gainesville. Jones' book and others have written of Gauxule, another Indian village that some said was in White County. The Nacoochee Valley historical marker states flatly that de Soto visited there in 1540. Jones' account, however, suggests that Gauxule was in the Asheville, N.C., area.

Whatever, some in the 1920s seemed to be trying to support the theory that Hernando and his hordes never crossed the Chattahoochee River to its north, but hung out around what is now Gainesville. They believed the man could see the Blue Ridge mountains in the distance and opted not to try to cross them with all the baggage he had with him.

They conjectured that he camped on Camp Creek near Gainesville for several days. Then he turned west over a high ridge that people in the 1920s called Soapstone Ridge west of Gainesville, crossing the river at what was known as Shallow Ford. That would make sense, those at the time speculated, as his expedition included 600 men, several hundred horses and a drove of hogs.

From Xualla, whether that was what is now Gainesville or not, the Spaniard's diary was interpreted to say de Soto either went to where Rome is today or Columbus, farther south on the Chattahoochee River.

Historian M.T. Thompson said the explorer visited southwest Georgia and surrounding states, but doesn't mention North Georgia. Yet, he said de Soto named the Appalachian Mountains after Florida's Apalachee Indians, who, ironically, had resisted him.

Emory Jones of White County will talk about his book, "Distant Voices," at the Northeast Georgia History Center forum at 7 p.m. April 13.

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



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