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Historic home and Old Joe both will stay put

POSTED: September 21, 2008 5:01 a.m.

Ebernezer B. Gower was the guy who developed Gower Springs, which became a popular resort off Thompson Bridge Road in Gainesville. He not only owned the property that eventually became the Green Street Circle neighborhood, but owned land from that point all the way up to the downtown square.

Gower sold 5 acres behind what is now First Baptist Church to William Benson Simmons, thus the name Simmons Street that runs from the church across Ridgewood Avenue to North Avenue. Simmons had married Mattie Cochran on New Year's Day 1878 and wanted the tract for their new home.

According to records in Hall County Library, the new bride was one of nine children who became orphans during the Civil War. Her father died in battle, and her mother died soon afterward.

Simmons bought the property for $150 and built their house in 1878. He raised cotton on land that now faces Ridgewood. Ridgewood originally was called Gower Street.

Library records show the original white frame, two-story house was heavily damaged by a tornado in 1885. Simmons rebuilt a one-story house on the surviving foundation.

The couple's child, Bertie Pauline, married James Thomas Hanie in 1908, and they lived at the home for many years thereafter. The Simmonses lived there till her death in 1925 and his in 1926.

The house became the home of Ruth Hanie, who worked in the Gainesville schools' superintendent's office for many years.

• • •

Several years after "Old Joe," the Confederate soldier statue on Gainesville's downtown square, was unveiled, somebody got the bright idea to build an office building on the property. The ladies of the United Daughter of the Confederacy were quick to set the developers straight. Nobody was going to build anything on that piece of ground in the middle of the square.

Mrs. C.C. Sanders, wife of the Confederate colonel, led the charge against any such proposal. She and other UDC members had worked too long and hard to provide a place for the statue to entertain any idea that it would be moved.

Nell Robert Murphy, an educator and local historian, told the story once and for all several years ago.
As has been related numerous times, the ground on which the statue stands is in the city of Gainesville, but Hall County actually owns it. That's because an early county courthouse stood in the middle of the square in the 1800s. The brick courthouse, similar to the old one now a gold museum in Dahlonega, burned about 1882.

The UDC, especially Mrs. Sanders, Ms. Murphy, Mrs. Aaron Whelchel, Mrs. J.C. Dorsey and Mrs. A.W. Van Hoose, put on one of the most intense lobbying efforts ever in the county's history to get a prominent place to erect a statue honoring Confederate soldiers.

Ms. Murphy told of their travels by horse and carriage on cold winter days to attend grand jury and county commissioner meetings and visit individual commissioners and grand jurors in their homes. George P. Estes, whose department store was a downtown fixture for many years, accompanied the UDC members on at least one appearance before the commission.

The result was Hall County granting the UDC lease of the land through a perpetual 99-year lease, which means the situation remains the same forever: Hall County owning the land on which the statue stands and the UDC remaining permanent custodians of it.

Ms. Murphy wrote, "The intent of the UDC, the Grand Jury and the Commissioners, all of the County of Hall, State of Georgia, was, and is, that the monument to the Confederate Soldier is to be in the center of the public square of the County of Hall forever. No other site for the monument was ever imagined or considered by the above-mentioned groups or by any of the citizens of the town or county."

Occasionally somebody suggests that the statue be moved, and the UDC brings out its legal documents to prove its case. "The Square can never be sold, abolished, or changed by buildings thereon, or otherwise, nor can it ever become the property of the City of Gainesville," Ms. Murphy wrote.

Johnny Vardeman is retired editor of The Times. His column appears Sundays in The Times and on gainesvilletimes.com.



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