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Corner lot on square has varied history

POSTED: January 8, 2012 1:00 a.m.

When Gainesville was laid out, Lot No. 1 at the corner of Spring and Main streets where Hunt Towers is today was the prime place on the public square.

It has continued that prominence through history and to the present time.

A Frenchman, Adolfus Dauvergne, was one of the early owners of the property. His family was attracted to this area via Savannah by the gold fields that were prospering in Lumpkin and Hall counties during the early and mid-1800s.

James Law, clerk of courts, was the original purchaser of Lot. No. 1 for $150 in 1831. He had started a building on it, but Dauvergne bought the place for $6,000 before it was completed.

The Frenchman finished the building as a grocery store that also sold ladies' clothing, including bonnets. It also served as the family residence, two stories with eight rooms, four fireplaces with a central chimney.

Mrs. Dauvergne died in 1833, and the store and home were advertised for sale in the Western Herald, a newspaper in Auraria. Gainesville didn't have a newspaper until 1860 when the predecessor of The Times, the Gainesville Eagle, began.

The newspaper ad called it "by far the most desired property in the place (Gainesville)." A garden was included. Whether it got a new owner or not, the building was leased to Reuben Thornton, a lawyer and politician, who operated it as a hotel, including a bar. Thornton, who was heavily involved in the removal of the Cherokee Indians from Northeast Georgia, rented rooms for visitors or boarders.

In 1838, the property was called the Gainesville Hotel. A sheriff's sale of the property in 1842 drew $700, far below the price Dauvergne bought it for.

At some point it was known as the Brown House, and later the Mansion or the Mansion House.

Gainesville's great fire of 1851 apparently started where Thornton's tavern was behind the Mansion House, according to an account by E.M. Johnson, who reported it to a Milledgeville newspaper. But in William Hosch's history of Hall County, he writes that witnesses told him in 1900 that the fire began in a building on the east side of the square on today's South Bradford Street.

Nevertheless, the building at the corner of Spring and Main streets burned to the ground along with most of the others on the square.

Martin Graham is said to have built a hotel and storehouse on the former Mansion property, or Lot. No. 1, after the fire. This later became the Arlington Hotel, a three-story structure that was one of the town's main attractions for many years. It was a center of social activity as well as a popular stop for visitors and salesmen coming through Gainesville.

An 1888 brochure promoting Gainesville listed the Arlington as a three-story brick building with 200 rooms and a ballroom in which a band played for regular dances. Mr. and Mrs. R.W. Taylor operated it at the time.

Jim and Aurora Hunt, who became Hall County's largest taxpayers owning several valuable properties, bought the Arlington in 1901. It became part of the Dixie chain of hotels in the 1920s, thus the name Dixie-Hunt. They spent a half million dollars renovating it with 125 rooms, 75 with baths. An iron porch stood over the sidewalks on Main and Spring streets. Its dining room could accommodate 100 people.

The Hunts made such a big deal of it, Gov. Clifford Walker came to help them dedicate the refurbished hotel.

Jim Hunt died in 1925, and Aurora Hunt in 1927. She deeded $350,000 in property, including stock in the hotel and $100,000 cash to Brenau College.

Disaster struck on that corner again in 1936 when a tornado destroyed Gainesville's downtown.

The Dixie-Hunt reopened as a five-story hotel in 1938 with W.W. Faw proprietor. Civic clubs used an upstairs dining room as their meeting place for many years. Part of the building over the years housed Dixie Drugs, a popular pharmacy and soda fountain, a restaurant, bar, barber shop and retail stores. The building was remade into offices in 1981 and renamed Hunt Towers.

As Hunt Towers today, where once were hotel rooms are various offices. Luna's Restaurant and lounge remain on the lower floor.

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



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