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It was a decisive time in North Ga. 50 years ago

POSTED: December 5, 2010 12:30 a.m.

This time of year 50 years ago was indeed a significant period in North Georgia's history, particularly Gainesville and Hall County.

John F. Kennedy had defeated Richard Nixon for president, sweeping Hall County with 6,300 votes to Nixon's 2,905. Jackie Kennedy would give birth a few days later to John Jr.

Just as Democrats lost heavily in recent elections, Republicans locally and statewide were almost an afterthought back then. But they were good sports. A picture of local Republicans around a telephone booth ran on the front page of the Daily Times, as the newspaper was called. Democrats had kidded them they could all fit into a phone booth.

Poll workers in Hall County got $1 an hour compared to $7 to $8 today.

The presidential election wasn't the only one in that pivotal year of 1960. Hall County voters decided to elect school board members rather than have them appointed by the grand jury. Before the first of the year, they elected Aubrey Roberts, James Ed Hulsey, Delmar Lee, Charles Propes and L.G. Bowen to the board.

In Gainesville, it was an unusually intense race for city commission, as the governing body was called then. Poultryman John Cromartie ousted Ray Knickerbocker from the commission, and car dealer Harold DeLong defeated incumbent Pete Tankersley. The other member of the three-person commission was Charles Thurmond.

In Cornelia, Hubert Ritchie earned the mayor's post over former Mayor Ben Crow, and Royce Brown became Flowery Branch mayor, defeating H.B. Reed. Amilee Graves, among the few female mayors in Georgia at the time, won re-election in Clarkesville without opposition. Adger Lewallen succeeded himself as mayor of Baldwin, Tom Crow was re-elected mayor of Jefferson, and G.M. Sullivan became Demorest's mayor.

Six years after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled school segregation unconstitutional, Gainesville's school board was acquiring property for what it called a "new Negro high school" to replace Fair Street High School. The new school would be built on Athens Highway and named in honor of E.E. Butler, a black Gainesville doctor.

Construction was under way that year on McEver Road, and a study started on the feasibility for a YMCA for Hall County.

The Interstate Commerce Commission approved abandonment of the Tallulah Falls Railroad, the picturesque railway that ran 58 miles from Cornelia through Rabun County to Macon County, N.C.

Pearl Nix was building Lakeshore Lanes, a bowling alley that later would become part of Lakeshore Mall, which she also developed. Jim Shope bowled a 631 series, a record for the local bowling alley at the time.

The Daily Times ran a contest to increase its circulation to 10,000. Jean Langford became the 10,000th subscriber and won 10,000 pennies. A "Little Merchant" paper carrier, Gerald Wilson, won a trip to Brazil for signing up the most new subscribers.

Standard Oil Co. agents E.F. Hughs Sr. and Jr. were holding open houses for Standard stations at the time: E.E. "Fat" Smith at the corner of Spring and Green streets, Jimmy Wood at Main and Broad, Pratt Dunagan on Thompson Bridge Road, Frazier Edge on Cleveland Road at River Bend and Lee Gilleland at Blackshear Place.

In sports, the first nine holes opened for play at Chattahoochee Golf Course, and Tommy Aaron began his professional career.

Ole Miss and Alabama of the SEC and Arkansas of the Southwest Conference were among college football teams in the final Top 10 rankings.

But the biggest event was the state Class AA football championship played at City Park in Gainesville. After losing such stars as Billy Lothridge and Billy Martin off the 10-2 region champion team, nobody expected much from the Red Elephants in 1960. But, led by quarterback Preston Ridlehuber, they lost only once and tied one, then won the North Georgia AA title before meeting Waycross in the finals.

Everything went wrong in the state finals game. The scoreboard game clock died in the second half, and a transformer behind the press box caught fire in the final minutes of the game.

But the worst part was Gainesville's overwhelming 49-0 loss to the Bulldogs, nicknamed "the University of Waycross" because of their size and speed on both offense and defense.

The bright spot: GHS Coach Graham Hixon was named Class AA Coach of the Year.

Johnny Vardeman is retired editor of The Times and can be reached at 2183 Pinetree Circle N.E., Gainesville, GA 30501; phone, 770-532-2326. His column appears Sundays and on gainesvilletimes.com.



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