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Park Hall has strong link to Gainesville

POSTED: July 11, 2010 1:00 a.m.

Generations of Gainesville and Hall County students, not to mention the rest of Northeast Georgia, have either had classes in or walked by Park Hall numerous times on the main campus of the University of Georgia in Athens.

Probably few realized that the building was named for a former Gainesvillian, the first superintendent of Gainesville schools, Robert Emory Park. He filled that position when what was then called Gainesville College served as the local high school in 1894. Park led the school till 1895 when he became an English literature professor at Georgia. There he became a storied teacher, admired by students and colleagues alike.

Park went on to head the university's English department for 42 years, serving until retiring just months before his death in 1942. Despite his failing health, he continued to be in the classroom even the last week before he died. Park was 72 years old when he died and was one of the longest-serving faculty members at the time.
A native of Tuskegee, Ala., he graduated from the U.S. Military Academy and the University of Alabama and did further study at the University of Chicago and Oxford. His first teaching job was in Gainesville.

The Gainesville Eagle wrote of him, "Dr. Park was a great soul. For years he was the most popular member of the faculty at the University. Undergraduates, post-graduates and alumni went to him before all others when they needed help ... When the student could not come to him, Dr. Park wrote ... His letters and his words always and unfailingly pointed in the right direction."

Edgar B. Dunlap wrote in the Gainesville News: "No person who has come and gone from Gainesville has been more respected and more loved. ... Particularly were his heart strings attuned to the Hall County boys. ... when a boy was downhearted, he encouraged him; when a boy was broke, he advanced him money; when a boy was unruly, he fairly reprimanded him, all to the end of making a better man and a finer citizen."

Park married Belle Whelchel of Gainesville. Mary Belle Whelchel had given the graduating essay at that first Gainesville High School graduation in 1894 when 13 students received diplomas.
Park is buried at Alta Vista Cemetery in Gainesville.

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Plenty of airplanes were scheduled to be flying around Lee Gilmer Memorial Airport this weekend for the 42nd annual Cracker Fly-In. It's an exhibition of the Experimental Aircraft Association.

The skies over Gainesville were fairly filled, too, in the 1920s when flying was in its infancy. The Gainesville airport got its official start in 1920 when the Northeast Georgia Fair Association leased it to the city. The field had been used by pilots, but also was a part of the fairgrounds, which at the time were located there.

The area designated for the airport was at the time only 70 feet by 400 feet, but another 500 feet was added.

Local aviators already were using the field, among them W. Henry Smith and George Haldman, who had been distributing advertising fliers throughout the area. Just as the case this weekend, back then flying exhibitions were quite an attraction.

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If Hawkins kin seem to be all over these parts, there's some explanation.

James B. Hawkins was a pioneer resident of the area, having been born at 1833 in the Glades area of what would now be east Hall County. He married Sarah Martin in 1852, and they had three children, John Matt, J.B.A "Cap" and Matilda.

All three of those children married and had 10 children each. John's wife and Matilda each had nine boys and one girl. Cap's wife had nine girls and one boy. That made 30 children, but one infant in each family died.
At age 28, James B. Hawkins was one of the youngest Confederate captains during the Civil War. He died early in the war, and three months later, the last of his children, "Cap," was born. People began calling him "Captain" after his late officer father, the nickname stuck, but was shortened to "Cap." That was how he was known until he died in 1948 at the age of 88.

More than 40 Hawkins were listed in a recent telephone directory.

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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