While mostly wealthy citizens could afford cars in the early years, there were enough puttering around toward the end of the first decade of the 20th century to create an increasing demand for better roads. Wagon and buggy riders had long sought improved roads.
The roads got so bad in Hall County that commissioners ordered citizens to work two additional days on the roads or pay $1. In those days, able-bodied men were required to help maintain roads. The commissioners put the responsibility on themselves, declaring they would pay a $250 fine and road overseers $50 if the roads didn’t improve.
Car maker Henry Ford might be most responsible for better roads. Pure, dusty dirt roads that could be transformed into a muddy mess after rain or snow gradually were replaced in some areas by macadamization, a process leveling a roadway with small stones.
One newspaper wrote in 1910, “The novelty of the auto craze has about worn out.”
Wrong. It was just beginning because Ford began an assembly line production of the Model T car that made them more available to the average family. The first Model T’s could be purchased as low as $825, still a princely sum in those days, but almost half the price of other cars. Later Model T’s over the years sold for as low as $260.
The Model T, or “Tin Lizzie” as it was nicknamed, was an everyman’s car. It was comfortable and could go most anywhere, even on the rough roads in those times. It was sporty and simple, though it took some skill to learn to manipulate the gears and speed from pedals in the floorboard, and levers on the wooden steering wheel or brake. A crank handle on the front of the vehicle sometimes was balky, especially in cold weather.
The Tin Lizzie became a regular sight chugging around local streets, its “ooo-gah, ooo-gah” horn becoming a familiar sound around town.
More than 16.5 million Model T’s came off Ford production lines for the next 18 years, succeeded in 1927 by another Ford, the Model A, which sold for about $500.
But the Model T had spurred interest in better roads to travel on. Hall Countians were involved in a dream to build a highway from Atlanta to New York through Gainesville. It would run along what was known as the “ridge route,” and which is followed generally today in Hall County by the old Atlanta Highway and Interstate 985. There was some opposition to such a road, taxpayers demanding instead that priority be placed on local roads.
One of Gainesville’s early automobile businesses was Gainesville Auto Co., which opened in May 1909. Its garage at 85 Main St. included a gasoline station and four cars for hire, perhaps one of the first local taxi companies. Proprietor W.H. Summer advertised that the business would operate “the same as a livery stable.”
Gainesville Motors was an early Ford dealer, Stancil Motors sold Packards, and DeLong Motors handled Hudsons, Chryslers, Plymouths, GMC, Pontiacs and finally Buicks and Oldsmobiles over the years. Ed Dunlap Sr., H.H. Estes and C.T. Estes formed a dealership in 1915 to sell Hupmobiles and Dodges.
In July 1909, there was so much vehicle traffic on Gainesville streets that the city council decided to pave the square. It took 105 Gainesville Midland train cars full of vitrified brick from Augusta Paving and Construction Co. to do the job. That totaled 840,000 bricks, which the city hauled from the depot to the square for the company.
The whole project cost the city about $15,000 after deducting what the company paid the city for its hauling work. Besides streets around the square, streets a block off the square also were paved. In 1912, the city paved all of Main Street.
In recent years, that same brick was removed from the square, and many Hall Countians grabbed some up for souvenirs. “Augusta” is imprinted on the bricks.
Ford gets credit for making cars more people could afford, but because it put more of them on the roads, the demand for better roads intensified, resulting in local, state and federal governments developing a system of streets, roads and highways. They would have come sooner or later, but Ford’s Model T expedited the process.
Johnny Vardeman is retired editor of The Times.