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Habersham, Hall counties competed for new school

POSTED: October 23, 2011 1:00 a.m.

North Georgia Technical College in Clarkesville has a rich history, its campus dating back 104 years.

But that same school almost ended up in Hall County in a political tug-of-war between Hall and Habersham counties. Hall County didn't get its technical school until 60 years after North Georgia Tech came into being as Ninth District Agricultural and Mechanical School in 1907.

In late 1906 and early 1907, Hall and Habersham counties were hard at it lobbying the board of trustees of the yet-to-be-established Ninth District A&M. They both were coming up with various incentives to lure the school to their counties, mostly in the form of money and land.

The Gainesville News led the campaign with editorials touting Hall County as the logical location. It ran letter after letter of endorsement from high-placed leaders and ordinary citizens. A mass meeting early in 1907 got Hall Countians together to push for the school and discuss ideas to strengthen their position.

Hall Countians first estimated they would need $75,000 to $80,000 cash plus 200 acres to sway the trustees to favor their location. A grand jury recommended the county put up its 225-acre farm land off Lawrenceville Highway (now Atlanta Highway where Chicopee Manufacturing Corp. once was) and offer $20,000. Gainesville already agreed to put up $5,000.

But the county apparently was divided over the issue. Some commissioners didn't want to offer that much money, and believed the land should be enough of an incentive.

In addition, there were side political controversies boiling at the time. H.H. Perry, a prominent Gainesville lawyer and legislator, chaired the future A&M school's board of trustees. He also was involved in a law suit and a controversy over the location of bridges to be built over the Chattahoochee River. An effort to oust a sitting county commissioner also stirred the pot.

Other Hall Countians favored different sites. One was near Lula and/or the Glades, one near Concord in north Hall County, Price in northwest Hall and Klondike in southern Hall.Powerful interests, including lawyers H.H. Dean and S.C. Dunlap, also got involved.

Yet, the Hall County folks finally put up the best united front they could muster and went before the trustees. Dunlap presented the county's final bid, which was $20,000 - $15,000 from the county and $5,000 from the city, and 500 acres.

Habersham County, the only other bidder, proposed $15,000 and 200 acres, but later sweetened the pot with $25,000. That bid did the trick, and Hall County lost out, despite its argument that its location on the Southern Railroad and other rail lines would be an advantage.

Wrote the Gainesville News following the vote, "Hall County's representatives, after extending the usual congratulations to the winner, tucked their heads and retired, tired in body and sick at heart."

After the issue was settled, Perry resigned as chair of the new school's board of trustees. Hall County then campaigned to have T.H. Robertson named principal of the school. Robertson was a celebrated educator, a pioneer in Hall County's school system and later in Gainesville schools.

The new Habersham school on what is now Ga. 197 north of Clarkesville was known as North Georgia Agricultural and Mechanical from 1907 to 1933. It evolved into Habersham College and home to the National Youth Administration during President Franklin Roosevelt's New Deal era to bring the country out of the Depression. In 1943, it became North Georgia Trade and Vocational School and is now known as North Georgia Technical College.

Not to worry, Hall County. Just a couple of decades later, Johnson & Johnson liked the county farm property so much it bought it and additional acreage, more than 3,000 total, to build Chicopee Manufacturing Corp. and a model mill village. The property also included Hall County's convict camp.

So who knows? Had the agricultural and mechanical school ended up on the Hall County site, it might not have been as attractive to Johnson & Johnson 20 years later. And had not Johnson & Johnson built the mill and village and acquired all that acreage, much of it eventually would not have come back to Gainesville and Hall County in the form of Chicopee Woods, a golf course, nature center, a couple of schools and more.

Things work out.

Johnny Vardeman is retired editor of The Times, and can be reached at 2183 Pinetree Circle, NE, Gainesville, GA 30501. His column appears Sundays and at gainesvilletimes.com/johnny.



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