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Local wagons found homes all over US

POSTED: December 26, 2010 12:30 a.m.

Gainesville wasn't exactly the Detroit of vehicle manufacturing in the days before the automobile began riding American roads, but it did have a national reputation for its wagon-making.

Bagwell Manufacturing Co. incorporated shortly after the Civil War on the site now occupied by City Ice Co. on South Main Street. It advertised as "manufacturers of Buggies, Surries, Hacks, Carriages and Wagons - One Grade Only - The Best." Its 75 employees turned out 2,000 to 3,000 wagons a year.

John Daniel Bagwell actually produced the first farm wagons from his one-man shop at O'Dell's Mill. The stock company he organized later sold to farmers and formed a nationwide system of distribution to dealers, somewhat like today's giant automobile manufacturers.

Even after the automobile and farm tractors came off assembly lines, the Bagwell Farm Wagon was known coast to coast, according to Claude Bagwell, great-great-grandson of J.D. Bagwell. Claude Bagwell is the great-nephew of William Asberry (Berry) Bagwell, son of J.D., who carried on his father's business until his death in 1955.

The first Bagwell wagon catalog said of its products: "Best white oak from butt-cut logs, hickory spokes, tongues of young tough white oak and body sides of yellow pine or poplar, heavily ironed on edge, with bottoms of longleaf yellow pine."

A tornado in the early 1900s destroyed the Main Street plant. J.D. Bagwell's two sons, Berry and Bob, rebuilt a block north on what was then the corner of Athens and Hudson streets and continued to build wagons and provide blacksmith service. Bob Bagwell, Claude Bagwell's grandfather, later moved to Texas to do blacksmithing work.

The 1936 tornado forced another move of the business to the vicinity of where Jesse Jewell Parkway and E.E. Butler Parkway intersect today.

Even in the 1950s, some of the original Bagwell wagons built in the late 1800s were still in use on farms across the country. Berry Bagwell continued to make wagons in his 80s, taking a turn at whatever machine necessary. He also had a contract to repair railroad baggage trucks. At age 82 in 1952, he built his last two-horse wagon for K.H. (Shorty) Graham. Lisa Dishman, Graham's daughter, sold it in 1998 for $9,000, Claude Bagwell said.

As the wagon business diminished, Berry Bagwell moved to a small building on Northside Drive, where he continued blacksmithing, farm implement repair and tool sharpening.

Berry Bagwell and his wife, Mary Emma, lived in a large house on the corner of College Avenue and South Main Street across the street from Main Street School, site of the former Hall County Detention Center. They had two children. Mrs. Bagwell died at age 82 in 1954; Berry Bagwell died at age 85 in 1955. Both are buried in Alta Vista Cemetery.

Claude Bagwell, a World War II veteran, said his great-uncle Berry wanted him to continue the business, but he decided to remain at his job at Owen-Osborne Hosiery Mill.

There also was a Bagwell's Barn on Athens Street, what is now E.E. Butler Parkway. Claude Bagwell said twins Luther and Lester Bagwell, distant cousins of the wagon-making family, operated the livery stable.

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Most people can look back on their elementary or high school days and select a teacher who stands out most in their memories. It might have been one at the time who wasn't at the top of the popularity poll. But upon reflection, the teacher meant more to the student than he or she realized.

Warren Jones, a retired educator who now lives in Birmingham, Ala., wonders with several of his classmates whatever happened to Miss Mary Helen Hancock, who taught him in the fourth and fifth grades 1950-52 at Main Street School. She was popular and made class so much fun, Jones said, and she got permission from the principal to move up with the fourth grade class to fifth grade. Her father, Huram (or Hiram) Hancock was postmaster at the time, and the class toured the post office, sang, did pantomimes and used flash cards to learn multiplication.

Jones has tried to find her and enlisted the aid of the Main Street Gang, a group of former Main Street students, to help him, to no avail. If anybody knows of her whereabouts, he would appreciate being contacted at wjones302@gmail.com or cell phone 205-936-9565.

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



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