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Spelling bee words not as tough in 1875

POSTED: May 16, 2010 1:00 a.m.

The 19th annual Spelling Bee to benefit the Alliance for Literacy was held a few days ago at Brenau University's Pearce Auditorium in Gainesville.

The Bee was the brainchild of the late Jean and Lou Fockele, former publisher of The Times. The Alliance for Literacy and The Times put the Bee together almost two decades ago, and it has had a successful run raising thousands of dollars to promote literacy in the community.

But the very first spelling bee ever held in the county was back in 1875, according to an article in an Atlanta newspaper of that day. It was quite different from today's version.

Back then, they had a dunce chair where they would sit the speller who had just missed a word. A Dr. Adair was the first to miss, misspelling the word "cedar." G.A. Prior missed "beggary" and followed the good doctor in the dunce chair. While some of the words were tricky, they don't seem as difficult as those used in the most recent spelling bees here.

For instance, in the 1875 bee, some of the words were "pomegranate," "pansy," "excoriate," "diaphragm" and "nucleus." One contestant spelled "knob," g-n-o-b.

Apparently, the audience and spellers had a lot of fun in that first bee, just as they do in today's competition. They gave Dr. Adair a spelling book for being the worst speller, and W.W. Ramsey won a book of poems for being the best speller. The bee was to raise money for the Baptist Church.

Today's spelling bee features teams sponsored by various organizations or companies, and they usually start the proceedings with a humorous skit. Members of the audience also participate by trying to spell a list of words that are called out. Some of the mindbenders in recent bees included "troglodyte," "philogyny" and "regisseur."

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A Gainesville baseball team gave the undefeated Atlanta Athletic Club its first loss in Ponce de Leon Park in Atlanta the summer of 1908, according to the Atlanta Georgian and News. Howell Smith was the star for the Gainesville team, which won 3-0. Smith, just 19 years old, allowed no hits, struck out 13, hit one batter and walked five. He also got two hits. His pitching record to that point was 13-2.

But he had a hard time with the first baseman for Atlanta, Rainwater, who walked every time he batted. Apparently, working the pitcher for walks was his specialty.

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Railroads were a hot item in Hall County in the late 1800s and early 1900s. At one time, three different trains came through Gainesville. The Gainesville Midland ran through Jefferson to Athens, and the Gainesville and Northwestern ran to Helen.

In 1916, you could ride on the Southern Railroad from Gainesville to Savannah roundtrip for $10.75.
Another line was planned from Gainesville to Dahlonega, and track even laid, but it never was finished. The first spike in the rails for that line was driven Aug. 3, 1882, by Sallie Price, daughter of W.P. Price, a prominent Lumpkin County go-getter and president of the railroad. John W. Miller served champagne to those attending, and "Col. Candler and 40 hands" began laying the rail.

Still another railroad was planned from Gainesville to Rome or to Dalton, but it never panned out either. George P. Estes, who started the long-running Estes department store on Gainesville's downtown square, lawyer H.H. Dean and J.W. Jones were the principals behind that idea.

The line was to run through Floyd, Bartow, Cherokee and Forsyth counties, connecting to Hall County. Forsyth at the time was the only one of those counties without rail service.

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Aaron S. Watkins of Ohio was a vice presidential candidate on the Prohibition Party ticket in 1908. He came to Gainesville for a stump speech.

An Atlanta newspaper writer commented, "Why he should have chosen Gainesville, which is probably the driest prohibition town in this section, is not known. There's nothing of a wet nature dispensed in the Queen City except ‘near beer.' Some declare it should be called ‘far-away beer.'"

Watkins and the Prohibition Party's presidential candidate Eugene Wilder Chafin polled only 1.7 percent of the vote as Republican William Howard Taft won with 51 percent over the Democrats' Williams Jennings Bryan.

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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