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Woman found ‘lost’ family in Gainesville

POSTED: June 17, 2012 1:00 a.m.

Gainesville’s standing as a health resort in the late 1800s and early 1900s played a part in the reunion of family members who lost touch with one another over 30 years.

Seaborn J. Nunn came to Gainesville from Atlanta about 1870 in hopes of improving his failing health. Apparently doing better and wanting to make Gainesville his home, he wrote to his son, Jim Nunn, to bring the family to Gainesville.
At the time the old Airline Railroad ran only as far as Buford from Atlanta, so all his belongings had to be hauled by horse and wagon the rest of the way.

Seaborn Nunn’s daughter, Sallie, lived in Penfield with her French husband, Thomas Per Dee. The last time she had seen her father was when she helped care for him in Atlanta. After she returned to Penfield, she never received word that her father had moved to Gainesville.

Subsequently Sallie and her family relocated to another more remote part of South Georgia, and she lost touch. The family didn’t exchange letters, and the Per Dees and Seaborn Nunns presumed each lived in the same location.

Weeks passed without any word from Sallie to her father. Then months, then years. Letters sent to the Per Dees in Penfield were returned by the post office as it apparently didn’t have a forwarding address. Sallie also wrote to the Nunns at their former Atlanta address, and those letters were returned with no forwarding address. She tried a former neighbor, but he didn’t know where Seaborn Nunn moved.

Both families gave up on trying to contact each other until the fall of 1900, when Sallie made one last attempt to locate her father and his family. She consulted a city directory in Atlanta, checked out various Nunn names and finally came across her brother, Dilmus Nunn.

The brother and sister then proceeded to contact other members of the family that they had reunited. The exception was Jim Nunn, a brother who had moved to Gainesville with his father. Wanting to surprise him, Sallie came to Gainesville and was driven to her brother’s home. It was the surprise of his life, he told the Georgia Cracker newspaper at the time.

The father, Seaborn Nunn, had died by this time; nevertheless it was a happy reunion for siblings who hadn’t seen each other over three decades.

Georgia’s legislature has been known to pass some onerous laws in its history. The poll tax, which citizens had to pay to be eligible to vote, is but one of them. However, even more punitive than that law was one proposed to prohibit children whose parents didn’t pay the tax from attending public school. That bill failed to pass.

Amazingly, the poll tax stood on the books almost seven decades. It was written into the state constitution in 1877, and it wasn’t until 1945, after progressive Gov. Ellis Arnall took office, that it was abolished.

Fire just about wiped out the east Hall County town of Gillsville in 1900. The Gainesville Eagle reported that of six stores on the main street of the town at the time, four of them burned to the ground. The post office was included in one of them.

Town officials believed burglars set the fires to cover their crime. W.A. Crow, B.F.H. Jackson, E.E. Allen and Jack Dodd owned the stores that burned. Allen was the Gillsville postmaster whose post office was in his store.

M.B. Carter also owned property damaged by the fire.

Herbert Bell, who died last week, descended from a prominent White County and Gainesville family. His great uncle was Thomas Bell, who served as 9th District congressman. His ancestors also operated Bell’s Mill, which ground wheat and corn on Little River in the vicinity of the bridge by the same name over a small neck of Lake Lanier on U.S. 129 north of Gainesville.

Herbert Bell worked for his father at the mill for a while, making $10 a month. He later joined Paul Smith at his dry cleaners, making $7.50 a week before he started Bell’s Dry Cleaners in 1936. Bell sold his business years later, but it remains in the original location on East Washington Street.

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


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