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Hard times hit Hall as WWI wound down

POSTED: November 27, 2011 12:30 a.m.

Many still remember how hard life was during World War II, what with rationing and shortages and loved ones fighting overseas.

Fewer remain who remember how tough it was, too, during World War I. Many sacrificed with their lives; others made sacrifices at home.

The final months of the war, 1917-18, were particularly hard in Gainesville and Hall County. December 1917 had been cold and icy. Snow and sleet had fallen off and on for 34 days with no appreciable thaw into mid-January. Trees and utility lines fell under the weight of the ice.

A fuel shortage aggravated conditions as people heated with coal or wood back then. The state appointed Dr. L.G. Hardman as fuel administrator, tasked with trying to see that available supplies were distributed equitably.

You had to apply for a fuel card to buy coal. Coal dealers weren't allowed to sell to anybody without a card issued by R.E. Andoe. A family was limited to 500 pounds of coal during the winter.

The hardship brought out the best in people, though. H.J. Pearce of Brenau College donated a train car full of coal intended for the school to be used instead for local residents, especially the poor. Likewise, H.H. Dean and Turner Quillian donated wood to help keep the needy warm.

The state urged local communities such as Gainesville to establish a municipal wood yard to store supplies for those needing fuel.

Judge J.B. Jones postponed till April the January session of Hall County Superior Court because of the lack of fuel to heat the courthouse.

Sunday automobile rides were discouraged, and people turned out on the streets to stroll in good weather rather than burn gasoline. Electric lights couldn't be burned from 7 a.m. to 4 p.m., and business use of lights was limited after 6 p.m. There were some exceptions, including hotels and others whose business required lights at night.

The federal government asked citizens to cooperate with "meatless" and "wheatless" days, eating meat and wheat products only certain days of the week to conserve food supplies.

Lawyers donated their services to men registering for military service and to families who lost loved ones in the war.

Most of this was done with a patriotic spirit. The community came together in a War Savings Stamp Campaign in the months before the war ended, yet no end was in sight.

Felix Jackson, local businessman who built the Jackson Building, was master of ceremonies for a rally to sell Liberty Bonds to help finance the American war effort. Crowds braved a cold east wind to hear speakers standing on a banner-bedecked rostrum set up at the base of the Confederate statue on Gainesville's downtown square. Bands from New Holland and Camp Gordon played, cadets from Riverside Military Academy and the University of Georgia marched, whistles blew, and bells rang to accompany the celebration.

The county's goal was $178,900, but $247,300 in bonds was sold, one of the highest amounts in the state.

Finally, in the fall the guns fell silent overseas. The armistice was signed Nov. 11.

While there wasn't a turkey on every table, it would be a thankful Thanksgiving despite the shortages and hardships suffered by families and their sons overseas.

A big celebration took place at Brenau College, and a committee headed by T.H. Robertson organized to build a marble Young Men's Christian Association memorial building to honor those from the county who served in the military. Names of those who died and those who fought in World War I were to be inscribed somewhere on the building, but it apparently lost its momentum as people began to get caught up in trying to get their lives back to normal after a war that had lasted four years, three months and 11 days.

Hall County sent 610 solders to fight the Germans; 172 of those were volunteers.

Taking part in the home front war effort and marking the end of the war were Gainesville Mayor W.A. Palmour, new commissioners Dr. H.M. Cooper, E.T. Parks and J.H. Elrod; and holdovers C.R. Allen, mayor pro-tem; C.H. Martin and J.W.W. Simmons.

At the time, the city had a seven-person commission. It later changed its charter to provide a three-person commission, and another charter change led to the present five-person city council.

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



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