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Johnny Vardeman: Gainesville square traffic problems date to early days
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Gainesville’s public square has been the center of activity since the town’s founding. It’s had its ups and downs with traffic, ranging from horses and wagons to modern vehicles trying to find parking places.

In the days before automobiles, on Saturdays especially, people would come to town to trade, jamming the square with livestock, wagons and buggies. All of them would want to park around the square, just as motorists want to today, despite two spacious parking garages only a few steps away.

Bales of cotton would be hauled in wagons to the square and later in trucks during late fall. During the 1890s, the problem became so severe, the square was damaged by the various vehicles, especially when it rained. Residents and businesses complained about the unsightliness and stench created by the livestock.

Finally, granite posts with chains between them were installed around the square itself in August 1897. Some of those posts remain around Hall County today, prized relics of a long bygone era. The late Ed Dunlap Jr., who collected considerable memorabilia from the area’s past, owned some of them.

Paving of the streets around the square didn’t happen until 1909. That was a grand occasion for Northeast Georgians who visited Gainesville as a muddy mess was common when it rained.

The square lighted up in 1913. When electric lights were installed around the square, city officials dubbed it “the Great Whiteway.” They celebrated with appropriate ceremony and announced plans to extend street lighting along streets leading to and from the square.

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Here’s one of those stories about something that was blown away by a tornado only to be found quite a distance away.

This was from the June 1903 tornado that struck the southside of Gainesville, killing more than 100, many of them child workers in Gainesville Cotton Mill.

The Rev. R.O. Smith had run into hard times the year before, having to quit work and care for his ill wife. But he had friends from all over, and some of them sent letters of encouragement and sympathy, often containing money.

One of the letters containing a dollar bill was from J.L. Johnson of LaGrange. The letter was written July 24, 1902, but it didn’t get to the Rev. Smith until Aug. 26, 1903. Ben Palmour found the letter atop a mountain near Rice Cabin, some 40 miles from Gainesville. It is believed the 1903 tornado blew it there. J.W.H. Underwood delivered it to the Rev. Smith 13 months after it had been written.

The Rev. Smith’s address had changed during that time, but it remained a mystery where the letter had been until apparently the tornado brought it to light.

J.L. Johnson, 68 at the time and in ill health, had wanted to help his friend who had been a playmate of his sons while they lived in LaGrange. The dollar, though late, was all the more appreciated by the Rev. Smith.

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Gainesville had a messenger and delivery service in the 1890s. Gainesville Transfer Service would haul your baggage by wagon to or from the railroad depot for a quarter. A bicycle messenger boy would deliver messages for you anywhere in the city limits for a dime. A reply message would be delivered for a nickel. Service was available day and night.

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What is now Ivey Terrace Park and Wilshire Trails once was a quarry. The city of Gainesville bought the property, about 14 acres in two tracts for a total of $1,800 in June 1908.

Sometime after that H.H. Dean acquired the property and donated it to Gainesville Rotary Club, which developed it into a park that bore the club’s name. Gainesville eventually ended up with the property again, and its park and recreation department over the years has developed a chain of parks that start on Northside Drive, runs along Ivey Terrace and Wilshire Road before crossing Pearl Nix Parkway to Longwood Park on Lake Lanier.

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Ralph Kennedy, a wealthy golfer, played his 2,942th round on Gainesville’s golf course at the end of Woodsmill Road when George Brown was pro. Kennedy was trying to play 3,000 golf courses in every state and province. He would end up playing his 3,000th round at St. Andrew’s in Scotland.

Johnny Vardeman is retired editor of The Times.

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