By allowing ads to appear on this site, you support the local businesses who, in turn, support great journalism.
Column: The journey to Athens used to be a five-hour railcar ride
Johnny Vardeman

Gainesville Midland Railroad’s first passenger run between Gainesville and Athens came in October 1906.

The trip one-way would take five hours at first, but would shorten eventually with “settling” of the tracks. The train would leave Gainesville at 6:40 a.m. arriving in Athens at 3 p.m. Another would leave Gainesville at 12:30 p.m., arriving in Athens at 9 p.m. 

Stops between Jefferson and Athens included Red Stone, Attica and Oconee Heights.

Railroad business was booming so in the early 1900s, there was a plan to extend the Midland to Knoxville, Tennessee. That, of course, never came about.

Also, Hall County and Rome leaders wanted to build a railroad connecting Gainesville with Rome. Never happened either.

Surveyors actually worked in Hall County in 1907 on a route for the Savannah-Augusta and North Railroad. They got as far as Gillsville and wanted the line to connect this area with Georgia’s coast.

Another train that never left the station was a proposed rail line between Gainesville and Dahlonega. Some right-of-way was cleared a few miles north from Gainesville, but the project fell through.

Bygone streets

Streets have changed names or disappeared altogether over the years in Gainesville.

Grape Street is now Holly Drive. Grape branched off Green Street where Holly Drive does today and where the former Fire Station No. 2 was located. That area once was known as Sandy Flats.

Ridgewood Avenue, which runs from Green Street to Wilshire Road, once was named Gower Street, probably for Dr. J.C. Gower of Gower Springs at the end of Green Street Circle. Before the resort of Gower Springs, the area was known as Town Springs. In the 1800s, it was a gathering place and site of celebrations for Hall County residents.

Dyer Street, a short street between Ridgewood and North Avenue, once was Douglas Street, and Forrest Avenue, between Green and Northside Drive, used to be Rice Street.

Park Street, between Boulevard and Sherwood shopping center, was called Park Avenue and led to Brenau Park. Sable Place ran to what was then called Lanier Lake on the Brenau College campus, not to be confused, of course, with today’s Lake Lanier.

Gold Street isn’t on the maps today, but formerly ran off east Spring near the hospital. Andish Place was off Oak Street.

Boulevard was Race Street because all sorts of races were run along that straight stretch from Candler Street to east Spring. The present Race Street runs from Spring to Jesse Jewell Parkway, then picks up across Jesse Jewell and ends on Hunter Street.

An ace hurler

Gainesville’s Howell Smith pitched a no-hitter against the Atlanta Athletic Club in August 1908. His team beat Atlanta 3-0, the first loss for Atlanta at Ponce de Leon Park.

It was the 19th straight win for Gainesville, which mustered only five hits, two of them by the pitcher Smith. His pitching record at that time was 13-2.

Second Methodist

St. Paul United Methodist Church on Washington Street in Gainesville has had at least three names in its history. When some members from First Methodist Church formed a new church on Myrtle Street, it was called Myrtle Street Methodist Church. Most of its members lived in that area.

Later it was known as Second Methodist Church before it moved to then-Grove Street and was renamed St. Paul. They had exchanged the Myrtle Street property with Dr. J.J. Bridges for the Grove Street building, formerly the First Presbyterian Church, but at the time occupied by the offices of Gainesville Midland Railroad. The Presbyterians had moved to its new building at the corner of Brenau Avenue and Green Street.

The Second Methodist/St. Paul move was made this time, according to the Gainesville News, because most of its members lived in the Broad Street area (now Jesse Jewell Parkway). The 1936 tornado destroyed the Grove Street church, and members built at the present location on West Washington and West Academy streets.

Another St. Paul Methodist Church is on Summit Street in Gainesville, and still another on the Hall-Lumpkin counties line.

Johnny Vardeman is retired editor of The Times. He can be reached at 2183 Pine Tree Circle NE, Gainesville, GA 30501; 770-532-2326; or His column publishes weekly.