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Johnny Vardeman: Asbestos mine was pricey property back in 1899
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While gold mining continued at a fairly brisk pace into the early 1900s, another type of mine provided a bonanza of a different sort in North Georgia into the first half of the 20th Century.

The Asbestos community and Asbestos Road in White County derive their names from asbestos mining, but there were other mines in Rabun and Habersham counties, as well as a few in other parts of the state. At least 17 asbestos mines were operating in Georgia at one time.

Asbestos mining started in earnest in the early 1890s. The Sal Mountain mine in White County operated for 30 years to 1920. Peak production was about 25 tons a day, much of the asbestos hauled by wagon to Clarkesville, where it was eventually shipped by rail to the north.

Importance of the product at that time is illustrated by the sale price of the Sal Mountain mine for $200,000 in 1899, quite an amount for that era. The purchaser was Bancroft and Kinney of London, England. At the time, except for a few gold mines, it was the highest price paid for a mine in Georgia.

Asbestos was discovered on the eastern slopes of Sal Mountain, a neighbor to the more prominent Yonah Mountain south of Nacoochee Valley.

Asbestos Road runs from Ga. 75 north of Cleveland to Ga. 75 alternate.

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This article from the Oscarville community in Forsyth County in the Georgia Cracker in the spring of 1899 shows how important Gainesville was to neighboring counties at that time and also how valuable bridges over major streams had become:

“Col. George K. Looper is rebuilding his mill dam across the Chattahoochee River at the old Brown Mills. He has all the timber ready and will have the dam put in in a short time. Then if we had Brown’s Bridge rebuilt our people would be satisfied one more time. We cannot do without the bridge handy. We like to go to Gainesville to trade; it’s our only market. Of course, there are other places that we can go to, but prices are not as satisfactory as they are at Gainesville. The most of the people will go where they can do best; in fact, Gainesville as a market cannot be duplicated this side of Atlanta and to buy goods we cannot do better than Gainesville.”

Brown’s Bridge was rebuilt, much to the delight of the Oscarville community and others west of Gainesville. Floods frequently washed out bridges across the Chattahoochee, Chestatee and other North Georgia rivers. That was one of the main reasons Buford Dam was eventually built in the 1950s.

The Minor Winn Brown history suggests that the first Brown’s Bridge was built at what was known as Goddard’s Ford, a shallow place in the river. Minor Winn Brown, originally a Forsyth County resident, later a Gainesville merchant and the town’s second postmaster, owned property around the old Goddard’s Ford on both sides of the stream.

The state legislature granted him permission in 1839 to build a toll bridge at the site. After that first bridge, several others followed after they were lost in floods or storms.

In February 1898, Hall and Forsyth counties bought the bridge, then owned by Bester Allen, for $1,600 to make it toll free. A new covered bridge went up between 1898 and 1901.

The last one-lane wooden Brown’s Bridge also fell to a flood in the late 1940s when monsoon-type rains took their toll on several bridges all over North Georgia, flooded bottomlands and caused other widespread damage.

A Bailey bridge, a steel structure that had been implemented by the military during wartime and used to replace several bridges around the state, replaced the old bridge.

When Buford Dam began to form Lake Lanier, the new Brown’s Bridge was built about a mile upstream from the old bridges. It cost more than $800,000.

Brown’s Bridge closed for a time for upgrading last fall, and a brand new bridge is scheduled to replace the current one starting next year. It is estimated to cost $28 million and take two years to build.

Brown’s Bridge is on Ga. Highway 369, a heavily traveled mostly two-lane road that connects Forsyth and Hall counties. Eventual plans are for the highway to be widened to four lanes.

Johnny Vardeman is retired editor of The Times.

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