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Prior Street was named for Hall judge

POSTED: May 12, 2013 1:38 a.m.

Prior Street is one of Gainesville’s most important streets. It connects the northside of town to the southside. It runs from Hunter Street near St. Paul United Methodist Church on Summit Street, to City Park and the Civic Center.

Some people use it as a north-south alternate to congested Green Street, despite numerous stop signs and speed bumps. It travels through Brenau University campus and several medical complexes, neighbors to nearby sprawling Northeast Georgia Medical Center.

Prior Street was named for one of Hall County’s most important residents over several decades.

G.H. Prior was a native of Morgan County, but arrived as a lawyer in Gainesville in 1874. He became a judge of Hall County’s city court, which he served 12 years before suffering a stroke that caused him to resign. He became Gainesville mayor in 1881.

He was a cashier at Gainesville National Bank, but after several years had to relinquish that position, again because of health problems. He then served as the bank’s attorney until his death in 1912.

Judge Prior was one of several citizens who raised $30,000 to attract Pacolet Manufacturing’s Gainesville Mill to Hall County in 1902.

He served as secretary and treasurer of Gainesville Board of Education and was on the board of trustees of then Brenau College. Judge Prior was on the board of deacons at First Baptist Church when the church built at the corner of Washington and Green streets a block off the downtown square in 1909.

Another stroke in 1912 led to his death. He was walking by Charley Merck’s store in the city when he heard a graphophone (similar to a phonograph) playing “God Be with You Till We Meet Again.” He went into the store to hear the song better and is said to have commented, “What a beautiful song – what sweet expression.”

He walked out of the store and within a few minutes, the stroke struck, paralyzed him, and he never spoke again. He died shortly thereafter.

The esteem in which Judge Prior was held was demonstrated at his funeral. Prominent citizens of the day were his pallbearers: J.H. Hunt, T.H. Robertson, J.C. McConnell, W.A. Crow, M.C. Brown and M.M. Ham. The local bar association sat as a body. Schools closed for the day, and students also sat in a body at the service. Judge Prior is buried in Alta Vista Cemetery.

A Habersham County man went to some lengths to be sure his fiancée didn’t get away. He published the following in the Clarkesville Advertiser in 1912: (names are fictitious; story is true)

“This is to notify the public that I have got the license to marry Daisy Dilbert, and I am going to hold her to her promise. If any man or boy goes with her, he may look for me for I am to watch her ... She held me to my promise and got $2.75. She was barefooted, and I let her have the money to get her a pair of shoes, after the time was set for us to marry.

“We have been engaged about two years, and she has held me to my promise. I gave her the money to buy anything she wanted. She has held me to my promise, and I am going to hold her to hers. She told me to get the license, and she set the time for us to marry, and she did not do what she promised, and I am going to hold the license, and if she violates the law I will push it. The license was issued in Habersham County May 25, 1912. “(signed) Jacob James, Aerial, Ga.”

Aerial is a community near the Habersham-White counties line.

They just finished running the Georgia Olympics in Jefferson, the state high schools’ track and field finals. Jefferson as home to such activities dates to the early 1900s. In 1914, the 9th District Track Meet also included literary competition. Lottie Belle Twitty and Jamie Pope of Gainesville High School placed second in oration. Meanwhile, Gainesville High School’s Sam Ham won the high jump, and GHS’s Carlton Miller was first in the 240-yard dash.

Johnny Vardeman is retired editor of The Times. His column appears Sundays and at gainesvilletimes.com/johnny.


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