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Main Street Gang relives its old school days

POSTED: March 4, 2012 12:30 a.m.

When the old Main Street School in Gainesville was demolished to make way for a Hall County jail, the cornerstone and its contents were salvaged.

Somebody probably knows where the cornerstone ended up, but it's not at the obvious places, such as the Northeast Georgia History Center at Brenau University or the Hall County Historical Society. However, Jeff Pierce found the contents of the cornerstone in a cardboard box in the basement of the history center.

The late Sybil McRay, local historian, took charge of the contents on behalf of Chestatee Regional Library in a special ceremony on the school grounds after the building was torn down in March 1978 and took them to the University of Georgia to have them certified. Some of the paperwork, damaged by water, went to the Georgia Bureau of Investigation to see if it could be salvaged.

Mostly the cornerstone contained newspapers of the day, along with Masonic paraphernalia connected to the cornerstone-laying ceremony in October 1903. J.W. Warren was superintendent of schools, with enrollment of 100 in the high school. Total white city school enrollment at the time was 690 and "colored school enrollment" 263, with C.E. Williams principal. Teachers also were listed.

Among newspapers in the cornerstone were two Atlanta Journals that contained stories about the tornado that struck Gainesville in June 1903, just a few months before the cornerstone was laid at what became Main Street School. A pencil also was among items in the cornerstone.

When the building was being torn down in March 1978, Phil Hudgins, a Times editor at the time, strolled through the old school while workers took a timeout.

"There was the room in which I got my first paddling by a teacher," Hudgins wrote. "I was in first grade. Miss Winters did the honors, bless her. There in the basement was the room that once was filled with Ernestine Mincey's second graders. The late afternoon sun was streaming through the window of Mrs. Reid Misenheimer's room. There was one of the rooms ruled by Bobbie Murphy, who taught at Main Street for 28 years."

He listed other teachers and their rooms: "Miss Charlotte" Bostick, Mrs. O.C. Tate, Hilda Moore and Mrs. John Sours, who also attended Main Street as a student.

"Right outside one window was where Jimmy Baugh darn near laid me out cold with one punch," Hudgins remembered.

School memories are recycled by members of the Main Street Gang, according to Margie Allison Webb, who coordinates monthly meetings. She says members still regret the demolition of the building. "We feel our city was robbed of a beautiful historic building that could have been used for any number of cultural activities," she said.

Ydora Sue Moore Johnson and her brother, Sonny, used to ride a bicycle built for two down the school's stairs. She was particularly fond of the soup and peanut butter sandwiches with milk in the cafeteria on Fridays.

Shirley Helton Lothridge lived just a block away from the school. She watched with tears in her eyes as the school was being torn down. She still has a brick she picked up that day.

Carolyn Greenway Cape remembers about Main Street School "the tall ceilings, wood floors, large classrooms and multiple large windows. The principal greeted us by name."

Many Main Streeters had teacher Mary Helen Hancock (now Cook) in fourth grade. Warren Jones said she loved his class so much she moved up with them to fifth grade. He and other class members had lost touch with her over the years, but he tracked her down in Atlanta, and the Main Street Gang had a special appreciation day for her. Thirty-four of her students attended, some from out of town or state.

Mary Cook, as she is known today, drove the Jones family's green pickup truck to fetch a Christmas tree for the class, Warren recalled. He also remembers the class "singing in the round" and learning a game called "black magic" when rainy days kept students inside.

Mrs. Cook, fresh out of college with her first teaching job, has fond memories of Main Street School, too. She recalled the unique smell of the wooden floors, but most of all, "There would never be a more special and fun class as I had in September 1950."

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



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