January is when we expect our bitterest cold weather, not the record-breaking 60s and 70s Northeast Georgia has experienced recently.
One of the coldest snaps in this area occurred in January 1895. Snow and sleet, accompanied by strong winds, made the weather miserable for several days. Other sections of the country experienced blizzards.
Temperatures must have remained below freezing for several days because the snow remained on the ground for some time. The mountains were white with deep snow for as far as you could see.
It got so cold in the White County jail that a prisoner’s feet froze. His feet were so swollen and painful that he couldn’t wear his shoes. It even inspired him to write a poem about the jail conditions. He concluded his verse with, “It’s a shame and disgrace as sure as God lives, the treatment of prisoners White County gives.”
Cattle and hogs froze to death in the Mossy Creek area during that prolonged period of ice and snow.
One gentleman escaped to what he thought was the relative warmth of the White County Courthouse in Cleveland. “As a result of a spree and extreme absent-mindedness,” the Cleveland Progress wrote at the time, “a man went up in the courthouse on a cold night, took off his clothes, hung them on a chair, lay down on a bench and slept all night.” The man complained he had nearly frozen to death by the next morning. He explained that he thought he had gone home, not to the courthouse, when he undressed and went to sleep.
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Official records show the most snow Gainesville has received was 15 inches a day in 1898. It snowed 11 inches one day in 1942 and 10« inches in 1930. Before records were kept, a newspaper reported 18 inches of snow fell on Nov 29, 1887.
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The old courthouse still stands in the middle of Cleveland’s public square. Construction on it was started in 1859, and it served as the courthouse until a new one was completed in 1964. The old courthouse now is a museum and headquarters for the White County Historical Society.
The colorful old courthouse has seen its share of interesting events over its nearly 160 years. It was the scene of numerous trials, housed offices for county officials and today is a curious tourist attraction and site of historical programs and other meetings.
Once in its history before the turn of the 20th century, county officials were reprimanded for allowing the courthouse to be used for “a dance hall.” Intoned the local newspaper at the time: “From whence comes the authority to turn the Temple of Justice in White County into a dance hall? Do not think the courthouse ought to be desecrated. If there ever was a foul dance than this it was when a foul girl danced the head off of John the Baptist.”
The editor admonished county officials to rid the county of such “midnight revelry” and “all-night frolics.”
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The new editor of the Cleveland Progress in 1895 was W.W. Price, a nephew of the more famous W.P. Price, prominent Lumpkin Countian for whom the former mint building, Price Memorial Hall, is named on the University of North Georgia campus. W.W. Price had been editor of the Dahlonega Signal.
When a meteor sighting was reported in Northeast Georgia and over Atlanta, Price thought it more of a joke. Noting that people in Dahlonega said the thing woke them up, and nearby Gainesville residents saw the flash of light in the sky, Price wrote, “If a meteor wouldn’t fall on its own accord, Atlanta would have one made to order, but when these little two-for-a-quarter towns like Gainesville and Dahlonega claim to have seen a meteor, it is worth laughing at.”
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Ellen Dortch, later to become Helen Longstreet, second wife of Confederate Gen. James Longstreet, was the first woman to hold statewide public office as assistant Georgia librarian. She made an impression in the male-dominated state capitol. She was recognized for having flowers on the tables, clean windows and dirt removed from dust-covered volumes on the library’s shelves. No cigar stubs nor their ashes could be found on the mantles, tables, window sills and chairs.
“Yet there are those who but let it pass,” a newspaper wrote.
Johnny Vardeman is retired editor of The Times.