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Johnny Vardeman: 113 years ago, another tornado took deadly toll on Gainesville
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June 1 will be the 113th anniversary of the tornado that killed more than 100 people and left a swath of destruction on Gainesville’s southside.

The April 6, 1936, tornado, which killed more than 200 and practically destroyed Gainesville’s downtown, is better known, though no more tragic than the one that struck in 1903. The deaths of children who were working in Gainesville Mill at the time made the 1903 storm even more of a tragedy.

Less than two weeks after the storm, the dead had been buried, and rebuilding of homes, businesses and industry had started.

John A. Smith was chair of the city’s loss committee and made an official report of the damage:

• Five churches destroyed, $4,000 loss

• One school in the black community, $3,000

• Odd Fellows Hall, $5,000

• 165 homes, $75,000

• Three hotels, $2,000

• Gainesville Mill, $175,000

• Clothing, furniture, misc. furnishings, $20,000

• Contents of stores, $5,700

• 81 New Holland cottages, $52,650

• Clothing, furniture, misc. at New Holland, $32,000

Smith estimated the total property loss at $377,850, but didn’t include animals, some personal property, trees, etc.

Mayor P.N. Parker reported the death toll at 104 and more than 200 injured, but later reports suggested the true number of dead might not be known. The late Paul Collier, who researched the storm, counted 113 dead in various reports of the aftermath. Some died weeks after their injuries. Some remained in one of three temporary hospitals set up to treat the injured.

Parker’s report as for Gainesville showed 29 houses destroyed, 39 suffering heavy damage, 57 rental houses destroyed, 140 rental houses heavily damaged.

Tents continued to house those whose homes were destroyed or so damaged they couldn’t be lived in.

R.I. Mealor’s Gainesville Iron Works was destroyed along with other businesses and industries, but they wasted no time in either repairing the damage or tearing down the remains to begin rebuilding.

Aid came from all over in the aftermath of the storm. Cities around Georgia and other parts of the country sent donations to Mayor Parker to use in helping victims to recover. Local efforts also raised money. A group of children on Race Street put on a play and held a cake walk, raising $1.70 to help those in need.

Hall Countians even helped other areas that were affected by the June 1 storm. They sent money to Spartanburg, S.C., which was recovering from floods and storms in the same system that hit Gainesville.

Pacolet Manufacturing Co. not only suffered damage to its two mills in Gainesville and New Holland, it lost two others to floods in South Carolina, the estimated loss at $1 million. It immediately began to rebuild Gainesville Mill, and the one at New Holland resumed operations shortly after the storm because it escaped heavy damage.

The tornado cut a 2-mile swath across south and east Gainesville, starting near Gainesville Mill along railroad tracks into New Holland. The two mill villages suffered the most damage and deaths. The top two floors of Gainesville Mill, where numerous children worked, were practically sheared away by the fierce winds. Yet nobody died in the main mill building at New Holland.

The 1903 tornado was part of a system that wreaked havoc on cotton and corn crops in several Northeast Georgia counties. Hail “as big as hen eggs,” the Gainesville News reported, fell in Forsyth, Dawson, Hall and Lumpkin counties. Some areas reported hail stones from 2 to 6 inches in diameter covering the ground.

Cotton and corn were so beaten into the ground, most crops would see little chance of recovery. Horses and mules on the road between Gainesville and Dahlonega were badly beaten and bruised in the hail storm. The storm’s damage, including the tornado in Gainesville, covered an area 10 miles wide.

Funerals for the victims continued for several days after the tornado as some died from their injuries a week or more later. A combined service at New Holland laid to rest 10 victims.

Tornado dead are buried at several cemeteries around Hall County, including Gainesville Mill, New Holland and Alta Vista.

Johnny Vardeman is retired editor of The Times.

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