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Johnny Vardeman: Coal miners put a chill on Christmas in strike of 1919
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This warm Christmas season isn’t conducive to fires in the fireplace or bumping up the thermostat to keep the house comfortable.

That wasn’t the case in the winter of 1919 as a strike by miners threatened supplies of coal used to heat homes and businesses and generate electricity to keep factories running, streets and residences lighted. The strike began in November and became so serious that the federal government’s Fuel Administration imposed regulations that put a dent in normal activities during the busy holiday season.

In Northeast Georgia, any business using coal or oil or electric power had to close at 4 p.m. Laundries and newspapers were among exempt businesses, as well as schools, which would close shortly for the holidays anyway.

Groceries could remain open till 6 p.m., but most other businesses had to observe the 9 a.m.-4 p.m. schedule. Movies could operate from 1 p.m. till 10:30 p.m. Industries could run no more than 48 hours a week.

Temperatures in buildings and homes weren’t supposed to be more than 70 degrees if you used coal heat, and no ornamental lighting was allowed. That meant that Christmas lights had to be doused.

Another exception was those using hydroelectric power could continue near normal use, but mostly during wee hours of the morning.

It wasn’t a bleak Christmas, however, in Northeast Georgia. People learned to go with the flow, and the strike actually ended before Christmas, though coal supplies had dwindled and would continue to be just a trickle of what they were before the strike. Many people cooked on wood stoves anyway and could use wood in heaters.

That strike ended, but it was a prelude to others in coal-mining areas around the country, some of them resulting in violence and numerous fatalities.

• • •

That Christmas season, however, was similar in some ways to this one. While El Niño probably wasn’t officially in weatherspeak as it is today, this winter in particular, it might have caused the unusually wet weather in 1919.

So much rain in so short a time caused flooding all over Northeast Georgia. Clark’s Bridge washed away, other bridges were damaged, and it disrupted postal service right in the middle of the busiest mail time of the year. Hall County counted $20,000 in damage from the floods, not a lot by today’s standards, but a considerable sum for taxpayers in that day.

• • •

“Cruising” around Brenau University has been a pastime for many young men over the years, fantasizing that a gaggle of sorority girls just might jump in the car with them if they drove slowly enough.

That activity, however, was seriously discouraged at the dawn of the “Roaring ’20s.” Gainesville actually passed an ordinance addressing an apparent problem with the male population getting too cozy with college girls.

The ordinance prohibited any man or boy from hanging around the campus or even areas around the campus. They were banned from Brenau’s buildings unless they had a legitimate reason to be in one, a postal carrier delivering mail, for instance, or a maintenance worker stoking a furnace.

Males couldn’t even walk the sidewalks around Brenau or those leading to or from the campus.

The city said the ordinance was to “protect against molestation or annoyance of students.”

Doubtless the ordinance eventually died, or at least wasn’t enforced as the campus has continued to be frequented by non-students, male and female, for decades.

• • •

The two Pacolet textile mills for years paid their employees in silver dollars during one pay period to demonstrate their impact on the local economy.

In 1919, the payroll amounted to $100,000. The silver dollars workers received could have stretched a mile if laid side by side. Or, if stacked on top on one another, would reach 875 feet high.

• • •

Demand for bottled water has increased in recent years, and are in stores in packages of two dozen for just pennies a bottle.

It wasn’t so expensive in the early 1900s either. Gower Springs would deliver water to your door for a dime a gallon.

Gower Springs was one of several resorts thriving because of its springs that supposedly contained minerals to cure whatever ailed you. It was located near the north end of what is now Green Street Circle off Thompson Bridge Road in Gainesville.

Johnny Vardeman is retired editor of The Times.

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