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Match firm fired up city in the 1880s

POSTED: June 27, 2010 1:00 a.m.

Gainesville has had a variety of industries over time, making everything from ball bearings to chicken pluckers.

Georgia Match Co. on Athens Street was one of the early producers of matches in the United States. Matches had been around for centuries in some form, but they didn't pick up any mass manufacturing momentum in this country until the 1800s.

P.F. Lawshe was one of the principals in the Gainesville plant, which was the only one of any significance in the South in the 1880s. John A. Smith was president, and John C. Lee was superintendent. Forty people worked there in 1884, and employment was expected to double.

The company could produce 500 gross or 72,000 boxes of matches a day. The process consumed 7,000 feet of lumber a day. Wood was sliced into lengthy splinters, which were then cut into match sticks. The sticks were bound together in a block, which then was dipped into the chemicals, including phosphorous, for the match head.

The blocks were air-dried, then allowed to cure for 24 hours before being separated and packed in boxes, both paper and wooden, which also would be manufactured on site. The plant could produce 62 wooden boxes in a minute and 400 paper boxes in a day.

Business was so good at the time that the company stayed behind in its orders. Perhaps the matches were so popular because they were odorless.

"The machinery is all of the most delicate and expensive character," an Atlanta journalist wrote at the time. "... the company is a perfect success ... a credit not only to Gainesville but the whole state."

Mergers of other match companies and perhaps the use of phosphorous in the process apparently eventually spelled the end of the company. In 1910, Diamond Match Co. of Ohio patented the process to eliminate harmful chemicals that had caused sickness among employees. Soon it was making the vast majority of matches in the United States and continues today.

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Gainesville boasted three newspapers in the 1880s: The Eagle, predecessor of today's Times, owned by J.E. Redwine; The Southron, published by P.F. Lawshe and edited by J. Blatz; and the Piedmont Press published by M.H. Smith.

Hotels included the Arlington, run by W.A. Huff; the Richmond, owned by J.C.S. Timberlake; and Gen. James Longstreet's Piedmont Hotel, a part of which has been restored by the Longstreet Society on Maple Street. The Arlington was described as three stories, brick, costing $40,000 to build and "away ahead of the town."

The city also boasted of the Gainesville College with 151 students and the Methodist College for Young Ladies.

Gainesville was in some sort of a boom because the railroad had arrived, and population had increased to about 3,500. The population doubled in the city's first decade, doubled again and was doubling again in the 1880s.

Land prices were escalating as new people moved into the community. City lots brought as much as $300 or $5 per front foot. One resident bought a lot for $200 and in a few days refused an offer of $600. Property outside Gainesville was running at $8 to $10 an acre.

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A first library in Hall County always has been considered the one started by a group of women led by Mrs. J.H. Downey in the basement of Grace Episcopal Church. The 1936 tornado destroyed the church, and in 1937, the library moved to the basement of the old Hall County Courthouse with Ethel Roark of Clermont as librarian.

By the 1940s, Mary Pursell was librarian and set up depositories in a grocery store in Murrayville, Lula's Town Hall, Clermont and a beauty shop in Flowery Branch.

But as early as 1899, Gainesville had a Public Library Association with Miss Lucile Ham as librarian and J.R. Brantley president. The City Council provided a room in its new City Hall to house the library.

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Gainesville and Oakwood once cooperated on a joint telephone company. In 1911, Gainesville had telephone service, but a group of businessmen got together to form a company that would run a line to Oakwood. Among them were G.T. Cook, J.N. Wallis, T.A. Moore, H.W. Glazer, M.J. Williams, N.M. Kennimore, W.F. Scroggs, T.W. McDonald, J.J. Reed, L.I. Hughes, Scott Moore and J.H. Wallace.

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


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