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Johnny Vardeman: Christmas 1909 came with mix of snow, politics
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How Christmas was in Hall County in 1909:

Just as today, politics was still a topic of conversation, but back then it was mostly local. Towns, including Gainesville, were having their council elections. W.D. Hawkins won the mayor’s race in Flowery Branch, and W.A. Thomas would be sworn in as mayor of neighboring Oakwood, succeeding John A. Pierce.

W.B. Townsend, the Dahlonega Nugget editor, withdrew from the Dahlonega mayor’s race. He had served several terms and might have been re-elected had he not withdrawn. But, “I’m done with politics,” he said. Having served as ordinary, too, Townsend had lost only one election, and that one by just a single vote.

R.D. Mitchell ran unopposed for mayor of Gainesville.

Merchants were urging everybody in the 1909 Christmas season to shop early as stores’ stocks might dwindle. That was when the business district was concentrated mostly around the square in downtown Gainesville, except for the scattered country stores on the back roads of Hall County.

Gunther’s Bakery was offering home-baked and other pastries, while Cinciolo Brothers advertised homemade candies, fruits and nuts. The Gainesville News reported a shortage of turkeys and prices high on those that were available.

The Ten Cent Store downtown proclaimed it as the headquarters for Santa Claus, and John E. Redwine Jr. promoted furniture for Christmas gifts. G.E. Pilgrim also hoped shoppers would consider his line of home furnishings. Estes department store had sweaters for $2.50, ties from 25 cents and hand bags from $1 to $5.

Palmour Hardware was thinking big, suggesting wagons and hand carts as gifts even if they couldn’t fit under the Christmas tree.

Schools let out for the holidays Dec. 13, giving students more of a vacation than they have today. They got to play in the snow, too, as a light blanket covered much of Northeast Georgia the weekend before Christmas.

It was during this time Race Street’s name was changed to Boulevard, running from Candler Street to Spring Street. Boulevard also would be paved. The Race Street name originated because it was where various races once took place. There remains a short street named Race, between Spring and Jesse Jewell Parkway.

Also at this time, Brenau Avenue came into being, the street formerly being known as Seminary Street. The street leads from Main Street at Hall County Library to Boulevard at Brenau University.

The Herald newspaper changed hands again, this time J.O. Adams becoming the proprietor. It was this newspaper that launched the journalistic career of Dan Bickers, who moved to Athens and later became an editor in Savannah.

The Gainesville News meanwhile published “Yes, Virginia, There Is a Santa Claus,” the famous poem penned by Francis P. Church, a writer for the New York Sun, in answer to a question by a little girl, Virginia O’Hanlon, in 1897.

For entertainment, Hunt’s Opera House presented a number of plays during the season, including “The Climax,” advertised as “An offering that pulls at your heart strings.” Seats were from 50 cents to $1.50.

That wasn’t enough fun for two Maysville men, Tom David and John Suddeth, who on a dare went skinny-dipping in a Maysville pond for a dollar. Ice hadn’t formed on the pond, but it was plenty cold enough for a frigid dip.

Hard to believe, but Clemson College beat Riverside Military Academy in Gainesville 16-11 in football. The Tigers’ players averaged 140 pounds.

• • •

In 1909, the federal government employed 370,000 people at a total payroll cost of $36,541,226. Today, there are about 2.8 million federal employees, not including postal workers or the military. Total cost is hard to pin down, but, of course, it’s in the billions.

• • •

Theron Rogers, the cemetery finder and headstone photographer, said an article about his work two weeks ago has resulted in the location of two more cemeteries, one in Hall County and one in Lumpkin County, which he has photographed. He has leads on at least a half dozen to photograph after the holidays.

Rogers posts the photographs and information on the website Those interested in contacting him about cemeteries or graves can do so by calling 770-287-3480 or 770-287-4808, or through

Johnny Vardeman is retired editor of The Times.

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