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Astronomy genius found his gift here

POSTED: July 25, 2010 1:00 a.m.

One of the first products of the Gainesville school system was said to be Otis Ashmore, who was considered a genius in astronomy. It was at Gainesville College, as the first city school was called, that teachers are said to have discovered his gift.

His uncle, Thomas Ashmore, was the longtime editor of the famous Grier's Almanac. When he died, Otis Ashmore succeeded him and served from 1882 to 1934. During Otis's tenure, however, the almanac went through bankruptcy and was sold on the courthouse steps in Savannah, where Otis Ashmore had moved to become superintendent of Savannah schools.

It is believed that Otis Ashmore began editing Grier's shortly after finishing school in Gainesville. The school board dropped astronomy as a course after Ashmore left. One writer attributed Ashmore's writings in the almanac as at least partly responsible for Gainesville's rise as a health resort.

Otis Ashmore also rose to prominence in state and national education circles and as an author. He served as president of Middle Georgia College in Jonesboro, Georgia director of the National Education Association and was a regular lecturer for the Salt Springs Institute for teachers.

He became president of the Georgia Education Association in the early 1900s. Gov. Hoke Smith appointed him to the board of visitors of the University of Georgia in 1908. "A Manual of Pronunciation" is among the books he wrote.
Otis Ashmore died May 2, 1934, and is buried at the famed Bonaventure Cemetery in Savannah.

Grier's Almanac is in its 204th year of publication. It is noted for its zodiac chart, weather forecasts, farming and gardening tips, trivia and phenomena. Drug stores and feed stores long have been the primary outlets for the popular almanac, which is published in Atlanta and distributed among several states.

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The driving force behind the merger of the east Hall County towns of Lula and Belton was water. Lula had a water system, but Belton didn't. Belton residents were afraid if Lula ran short of water, they would be cut off, so they wanted to become a part of Lula.

They voted to merge in November 1955, and the merger was accomplished the next year. Some suggested the ideal name for the consolidated communities would be LulaBell, but the Belton name was dropped, and the Lula name prevailed.

Jim Chapman, in a history of Lula he compiled, said legend has it that the Lula name came from the daughter of Ferdinand Phinizy, who owned White Sulphur Springs resort at the time. He named the settlement for his daughter, whose name actually was spelled "Lulah." The "h" got dropped for some reason over time.

Belton had been formed in 1872, but incorporated in 1879; Lula originally in 1876. A Lula-Belton School operated in the communities' early days.

Belton isn't to be confused with Belmont in the southern end of Hall County. Lula has its Railroad Days because of its importance as a rail junction. But Belmont also has a railroad history, having been an important stop on the Gainesville Midland Railroad and earlier the Gainesville, Jefferson and Southern Railroad. The community in those days was known as Florence Junction.

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Brenau University's home is Gainesville, but its reach spreads to campuses in Atlanta, Augusta and Camden County. In its early years, Brenau even established a school in Eufaula, Ala. That was in 1903 when A.W. Van Hoose and H.J. Pearce were listed as associate presidents. Whatever that Alabama campus amounted to, it has long since ceased to exist.

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Further footnote on Sylvester Jones, late longtime principal of Chicopee/Jones Elementary School: His daughter, Janie Turner, says Rabbittown got its name from her father's Grandpa Highsmith, who used to raise rabbits and mink on the land. He had bought a large tract of land north of New Holland, and Janie's grandmother and two of her sisters built houses on the land. That was where Sylvester was raised.

His father was Clifford A. Jones, who was an accountant for the mill at New Holland.

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



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