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Johnny Vardeman: City directory pictured town as it used to be, with full details
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Old telephone directories are full of history of local communities because they contained names and addresses of residents, as well as businesses, especially those who chose to advertise in what became known as the “Yellow Pages.”

Another type of directory, however, went into more detail of communities, their residents and businesses. City directories, as they continue to be called, listed all the above, but in many cases told what a resident might do for a living.

For instance, in Polk’s 1952 Gainesville city directory, you look up the name of Howard Pursell, it gives his address as 219 E. Forrest Ave., his occupation as a salesman for Lawson-Hulsey Hardware, and his wife as Mary.

Mary Pursell had a separate listing as librarian for Hall County Library. By the way, she will be remembered as the little longtime librarian who fought for years from the cramped basement library of the old courthouse to build the present library at the corner of West Academy and Main streets in Gainesville.

City directories also were helpful in locating who lived on what street. In the Gainesville directory, it listed alphabetically each street, then who occupied what residence or business place. For example, on Green Street in 1952, from Washington Street north, you would find First National Bank, Georgia Office Equipment, Gainesville Finance Co., a state employment agency, the Plowden Building, Southern Motor Co., Perfect Service Station, then First Presbyterian Church at the corner of Green and Brenau Avenue.

On up Green Street, you had Drs. Bradley Davis, Raleigh Garner and Jesse Meeks, First Methodist’s pastor Bill Gardner, John Miller chiropractor, Ralph Hosch, W.A. (Cousin Arthur) Roper, Albert Hardy, Mary Strong, Stella Davis, W.E. Dewitt, James A. Rudolph, etc.

A separate section listed residents of rural postal routes. It didn’t name the road they lived on, but the rural route, such as Rural Route 1, Rural Route 2, etc. Another section included Chicopee Village, New Holland, Gainesville Mill and some streets and roads just outside Gainesville city limits.

Most of the businesses of that 1950s era are long gone, but some still survive: Bell’s Dry Cleaners, still on East Washington Street; Jackson’s Flowerland; Ward’s Funeral Home, still on South Main Street; Martin Furniture Co., still on North Bradford Street downtown; Sidney O. Smith Inc.; Turner and Wood Insurance Agency; Adams Transfer Co.; Georgia Chair Co.; Pierce Wholesale; Carroll Daniel Construction; Gallant-Belk (now Belk); and JCPenney, to name a few.

While the 1952 city directory might not have listed every restaurant operating at the time, of the ones listed, only Collegiate Grill downtown remains. Gone are such notables as the Avion, Bishop’s Café, Dill’s Grill, the Cookie Jar near Brenau and the Flying Cooking Jar at the airport, Blue Front Café, Chew and Chat on Athens Street, Little Paul’s, Maxey’s Snack Bar, Mayflower, Midway, Steak House and Pete Tankersley’s. Think of the number of Hispanic and Asian restaurants today while none was listed back then.

If there were a chain restaurant in Hall County in 1952, it wasn’t listed.

Under businesses, the city directory even named baby sitters, at the time including Hattie Bell, Sarah Carruth, Lora Childers, Dora Randolph, Virginia Large and Mittie Seawright.

The thick, hardback directory had business advertisements on its cover, as well as within the pages and listed under categories.

Telephones today flash the number and sometimes name of the party calling you. The city directory contained a reverse telephone directory, in which you could look up the number and find out whose telephone it was.

Current-day directories don’t give as many details as those in the past, perhaps because of concerns for privacy in today’s world. But Polk still publishes directories for Gainesville in book form, on a compact disc or online. It has been in the directory publishing business since 1870.

Hall County Library’s Gainesville branch has several Gainesville city directories in its reference area. Among them are a 1947 directory by the Baldwin Co. Polk Gainesville directories are available in the library for the years 1952, 1956, 1959, 1960, 1962, 1963, 1964, 1965, 1967, 1968, 1969 and 1970.

Johnny Vardeman is retired editor of The Times.