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Hall County catered to tourists, well and ill

POSTED: May 9, 2010 1:00 a.m.

Hall County, somewhat of a health resort in the 1800s and early 1900s, at the time had one of the lowest death rates in the United States.

"The air and water are too pure for any contagious disease to propagate itself," a book promoting Gainesville proclaimed in 1888.

White Sulphur Resort, off what is known today as Old Cornelia Highway, was foremost among several lodging places that sprang up around mineral springs. It had its origins before the Civil War. Atlanta and local newspapers published names of those staying at White Sulphur and other local resort hotels.

When the railroad came through Gainesville in the 1870s, it was akin to today's interstate highways, which bring more traffic, and therefore, business to an area.

In 1894, W.P. Rivers, a pioneer resident, reminisced about earlier days of Gainesville as a tourist town. He wrote about hotels at each corner of the downtown square with high posts at the doors and old-fashioned signs creaking in the wind. "The hosts of these old-time inns were usually fat, clever and accommodating — themselves good advertisements of the good fare and wholesome cheer offered to their patrons," he said.

Proprietors of some lodging places, who catered to those looking for the healing waters of the nearby springs, included Simmons, Ripley, Sledge, Thomas, Gower, Cleveland, Merck and Mrs. Holland. Gower Springs was an inn in the vicinity of today's Green Street Circle in Gainesville.

Because of the health of the climate, Rivers wrote, there was little demand for the town's doctors because of less serious illness. "People managed to get along comfortably well, with the skill and experience of old women for certain anxious occasions, and with whisky bitters of barks, and herbs and roots for other cases," he said.

Dr. Richard Banks was a distinguished surgeon who with his descendants became an important part of Hall County's history. People came from all over the state to avail themselves of his services, and he treated poor and rich alike. Other early physicians included Underwood, Allen, Sledge, Branham and Rivers.

The healthy reputation inspired a variety of health-related businesses. Some of them would be considered far-out in today's world. They advertised in the Atlanta newspapers, hoping to attract business from the big city to the rural area of Hall and surrounding counties.

One even boldly proclaimed it had a cure for cancer. Whelchel's Never Say Die potion claimed "a certain cure for cancers and consumption." It also was good for rheumatism, syphilis, ringworm, sore eyes, paralysis and "all secret diseases."

J.A. Lathem was the Gainesville agent for the medicine, and he promised a full refund if it didn't live up to its claim. You could buy the stuff in amounts from 50 cents to $5. Among those testifying to the success of the drug were James S. Lathem, Hall County justice of the peace, Ordinary J.B.M. Winburn, Chief Marshal T.N. Hanie and a number of merchants.

Person Cody of Dahlonega wrote that he was paralyzed in bed for seven weeks, and doctors couldn't help him until he took Whelchel's Never Say Die medicine.

(Incidentally, Whelchel's, the ad stated, was pronounced "Wilkie's." Would that be the origin of the name of Wilkie's Bridge, which crossed the Chestatee River and now crosses that arm of Lake Lanier?)

Gainesville also was home to the "Eclectic Institute for All Chronic Diseases" during the health resorts' heyday in the 1870s and beyond.

Dr. A.B. Dunagan operated the institute and advertised as a specialty "the treatment and cure of all female diseases." Get on the Airline Railroad to Gainesville, and the institute would meet you at the depot, Dr. Dunagan advertised. Dr. Dunagan also published the Eclectic and Surgical Journal.

Whiskey distillers also got into the act. But these apparently weren't of the illegal variety that permeated Northeast Georgia's nooks and crannies. James A. and W.W. Findley advertised in an Atlanta newspaper that their whiskey was the "pride of Georgia" and warranted it as "pure copper distilled."

So whatever ailed you, a visit to Hall County during that period was a sure cure. The area's reputation as a health center is more enhanced today, minus the snake oil and miracle medicine.

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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