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Hall County's early days: Mint juleps, mountain dew and chickens

POSTED: March 11, 2012 1:00 a.m.

Back about the turn of the 20th century, Hall County was an up-and-coming corner of the state, but some of its leaders felt snubbed by other areas that didn't see its potential.

About that time, too, a Greater Georgia Association organized to promote the state's economic development. Most cities or counties of any size were represented on its board, but Hall County got left out.

That's what led to a speech before the group by W.F. Findley, a Hall County lawyer. Addressing a report by the president that didn't mention Hall County, Findley said, "Mr. President, I move to amend the report by inserting the name of Gainesville as one of the places entitled to a director of this association.

"A glance will show that the entire mineral section of the state is unrepresented ... Gainesville is the gateway to this undeveloped country. All the underdeveloped water powers are within its confines. The forests of hardwood, almost untouched, are tributary to us. The health and summer resorts, which should be pushed for all there is in them, are within the confines of this unrepresented territory.

"We have within the last two years built two of the largest cotton factories within the state," referring to New Holland and what became Gainesville Mill, both of which would be heavily damaged in a tornado that struck Gainesville just three months after Findley made his speech.

"We have just completed an electric system of street railways and lights," Findley continued, "and are growing more rapidly than any other place of similar size. ... We are the headquarters of the gold mining section of Georgia and all this magnificent country."

Then, with a touch of humor, he began to point out some dubious assets that probably brought about a chuckle or two from his audience. "It is here," Findley said, "that the distiller makes that pure mountain dew that has been undefiled by the touch of the revenue officer. ... If you will visit us in winter we will make you an egg nog of this famous mountain dew ... and if you come in the summer we'll furnish you with mint juleps as long as your arm and frozen from ice manufactured in our own plant."

Findley's speech provides some evidence that Hall County's poultry reputation dates back well more than a century.

"We are the chicken market of the world," he said. "The supply of eggs is inexhaustible. One firm in our city shipped two carloads in a day to New York. ... You may desire to know that we produce the famous ‘yellow-legged' chicken. We hatch them in the lofts of the blockade distilleries instead of incubators, feed them on sweet mash, and a few days before they are to be slaughtered, we feed them on gold nuggets taken from our mines to give them color, and we serve them with diamonds for mushrooms, taken from the quarries of flexible sandstone in the county of Hall."

Findley's speech must have made an impression because the Greater Georgia Association proceeded to appoint H.H. Dean of Gainesville a member of the executive committee and S.C. Dunlap, also of Gainesville, as a vice president. Perhaps it was the prospect of moonshine mint juleps.

When they laid the cornerstone for what became Main Street School in October 1903, Gainesville made a pretty big deal of it. Various groups that included Masons, public school leaders, students and city officials, paraded to the site on South Main Street from downtown. The gray marble cornerstone contained the names of the city board of education on one side and city officials on the other.

The school at that time was referred to just as the "public school" and contained more than elementary grades. John Campbell, a retired Gainesville police captain, remembers seeing the cornerstone at the city shops on Alta Vista Road after the school was demolished. But officials there had not found it this week. The cornerstone contents are at Northeast Georgia History Center at Brenau University.

The Helton and Langford families, who lived near Main Street School, organized in recent times the Main Street Gang, a group of former students who meet monthly to swap memories of those childhood days.

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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