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Fire didn’t put local newspaper out of business

POSTED: May 27, 2012 1:00 a.m.

Fire struck the Gainesville Eagle newspaper right before Christmas 1885.

The editors weren’t too kind to the fire department at the time, explaining, “Owing to the situation of our office the lateness of the hour when the fire occurred, the rapidity with which the flames spread and the inefficiency of our fire department, we were unable to save anything.” Its press, type, furniture, records, papers and other material were destroyed.

The weekly newspaper, which had been published since before the Civil War, came out with an edition, apparently with borrowed equipment, the day after Christmas that year and promised to continue publication.

“Phoenix-like, (the Eagle) has already risen from its ashes and proposes, like the fabled bird, to start with renewed life and vigor to work in the cause of pure democracy, honest government and good morals,” the editors wrote.

At the time, the Eagle had 1,500 subscribers, but those names were lost in the fire. The newspaper appealed to them to resubscribe and begged those who owed them money to pay their bills, relying on their memory and honesty. The editors, Butts and Blats, apparently were successful in their appeal because the Eagle continued for another 62 years until 1947 when it converted into the Gainesville Daily Times, now simply The Times.

Another significant fire in Gainesville’s history destroyed the home of Confederate Gen. James Longstreet April 9, 1889. His home was on a hill between what is now Park Hill Drive and Longstreet Circle. He grew grapes and other crops and raised livestock on the acreage, most of which is now Longstreet Hills subdivision.

Garland Reynolds of the Longstreet Society says the fire destroyed everything, including the general’s library, a Confederate uniform given him by Gen. J.E.B. Stuart, his sword and sash, Mexican spurs he wore in the Civil War and Mexican War. A statue of Longstreet as well as a monument to his memory stand at the site today. The only evidence of the home is granite steps leading to the street.

Ironically, the fire was on the anniversary of the Confederacy’s final battle at Appamattox Courthouse in Virginia April 9, 1865. The Macon Telegraph reported the estimated loss at $10,000.

Reynolds said rumors at the time were that somebody intentionally set the fire, perhaps in retaliation for Longstreet’s involvement in the Republican Party and accepting various federal appointments after his military service on the South’s side. Still worshipped by Confederate soldiers who served with him, there were others who were not so enamored with him after the war.

1889 was a sad year for Longstreet as his first wife, Louise, died Dec. 29.

Candidates who qualified to run for various offices in this election season feel a burst of optimism as friends glad-hand them and slap their backs when they first enter the race. As they slog their way over the campaign trail, however, many begin to feel a bit discouraged, and by election day those who won’t survive face the harsh reality of politics. Only one candidate wins in any particular race.

This poem was written by an anonymous candidate in the Gainesville Eagle in 1894. It seems just as timely today as it was more than a century ago.

Qualifying Day

I’m boun’ to be elected,

For I feel it in my bones;

I kin read it in their faces,

I kin hear it in their tones;

I’m goin’ to git the office

With a mighty rush an’ roar,

An’ beat the other feller

By a thousan’ votes or more.

Mid-Campaign

I don’t feel quite so certain

As I did the day before,

My friends ain’t nigh so legion

An’ that thousand’s not so shore;

I’m getting’ kinder nervous –

Sorta weak about the craw –

There’s a fallin’ off of confidence,

A droopin’ of the jaw.

Election Day

Returns they’ve been a-comin’ in

From precincts all about,

And likewise bills for tickets,

An’ the funds have done give out.

But that office that I struggled for

With all my power an’ might

Is, just as far as I’m concerned,

Dad blame it, “out o’ sight.”

Johnny Vardeman is retired editor of The Times. He 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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