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How people got around without cars

POSTED: August 17, 2008 5:01 a.m.

Those interested in what it was like way back when are fortunate when those who lived way back when leave their recollections to their descendants.

Theodora Hamm Kimbrough, who was born in 1903, wrote about what Gainesville was like when she was growing up. She died in 1980.

While naming store-by-store businesses around the square early in the 20th century, she reminisced about what people did and how they got about.

Today we talk about how hard it is to get around Hall County, and some call for more mass transit, buses and trains to get the overload of vehicles off the road. Mrs. Kimbrough's father, Dr. E.P. Hamm, owned the first car in Hall County, and she probably was the first female to drive a car in the county.

When there were only a half dozen cars in Hall County, she learned to drive at age 11 to relieve her father on his rounds. She had to have two pillows at her back to reach the brake and clutch.

Most in that era either walked, rode horses and wagons or buggies or took the streetcar. One of the popular street cars, Mrs. Kimbrough remembered, ran from what is now Norfolk Southern depot to the downtown square and out to what was then called the Power Company Park, where American Legion Post 7 is today at the end of Riverside Drive.

"Everybody went to the park on Sunday afternoons weather permitting," she wrote. A conductor would walk along a ledge running the length of the car to collect the 5-cent fares. The motorman would head the street car back to town by walking to the other end and pulling a lever.

Another street car ran from Alta Vista Cemetery to New Holland, going down East Washington Street over to Spring Street after passing Prior Street at Brenau College. Trolleys would meet on the southwest corner of the square, Main and Washington, to allow riders to transfer from one street car to the other. A short double track at that point allowed the cars to pass each other.

Some people also used the Airline Bell train to ride to Atlanta to shop or to their jobs. "This was a commuter train that left here each morning at 7," Mrs. Kimbrough wrote, "and returned at 7 p.m. ... It was quite an event to ride the Airline Bell."

The Arlington Hotel on the downtown square where Hunt Towers is today was a hub of activity, not just for business people or tourists passing through Gainesville. It had a bank and barber shop on the first floor.

Mrs. Kimbrough described a "magnificent staircase" to the second floor where formal dances were held. Young people also gathered at one end of the hotel on their late dates to get a snack before they had to be home before 11 p.m., perhaps after attending one of two theaters nearby, the Alkazar and the Alamo.

Porters for the Arlington and its rival Princeton Hotel, where Sea Bones Restaurant is today, would compete for customers by meeting the train every day and trying to persuade visitors to stay at their respective hotels.

One of Mrs. Kimbrough's favorite places downtown was Mary Cinciolo's Ice Cream Parlor, decorated with potted palms sitting on a tile floor. Riverside Military Academy cadets would gather there to meet local girls as well as those from Brenau.

"The local girls," she wrote, "had the advantage over the Brenau girls because for many years the Brenau girls were not allowed to communicate with boys except across one of Miss Mary's tables. Oh, the fun that took place here! ... Many a romance was born, and many romances flourished under the scrutiny of Miss Mary."

The beloved Shiretzki family operated Red Grocery, where children would stop on their way home from school to receive a free dill pickle and soda cracker.

Mrs. Kimbrough attended high school when it was in Main Street School, where the former Hall County Detention Center is today. Thirteen members graduated in the last high school class in 1920. Main Street Elementary School continued there for years afterward.

A stroll around downtown Gainesville in those days, you'd meet everybody you knew and know everybody you met, Mrs. Kimbrough wrote. "If you saw a dog, you knew who owned it," she said.
Quite a different story today.

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



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