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Johnny Vardeman: Local lawyer Perry liked to take on the powerful
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H.H. Perry, the colorful, constantly controversial Gainesville lawyer in the early 1900s, who never met a political race he didn’t like, also had a penchant for taking on titans in the community or wherever he found them.

For instance, early in his career, either naively or courageously, he ruffled the feathers of the United Daughters of the Confederacy just as they were planning to erect a statue on the square in memory of the area’s Confederate dead.

He accused the UDC of “slaying trees” around what was then called a park in the middle of Gainesville. “Gainesville is not a city,” Perry said, “but a market town,” referring to the farmers from outlying areas hitching their wagons to granite posts around the square to sell their products and trade with local businesses. The UDC plans, he said, would make the square look like a cemetery.

The UDC countered that few wagons could find a hitching post around the square anyway and should be provided another market place off the square.

“We do have a grove of trees on our horse lot on the public square,” the UDC said, but only dead limbs would be pruned from them. “It is our greatest desire to retain the shade of our beautiful trees and add to them.”

“Refinement, beauty, patriotism, progress, cleanliness are our weapons. Against these, Col. Perry, you cannot successfully contend. Col Perry is willing to have our square, which should be the pride of the town, continue as it has been, our shame.”

Gainesville officials wisely sided with the UDC, and the statue, nicknamed “Old Joe,” continues unmoved, neither by tornado nor infrequent notions it be relocated.

Perry even had the audacity to confront the two Hall County textile mills for blowing their whistles at 10 p.m. and 6 a.m. daily. He went to the trouble of suing them, contending his law practice suffered for his lack of sleep at night.

Judge J.J. Kimsey, whether seriously or in jest, enjoined the mills from blowing their whistles “except when Mr. Perry is out of town.”

A jury once chastised Perry for saying in court a party in a case “looked like a Spaniard.”

The lawyer tangled occasionally with a contemporary, the mighty H.H. Dean, Gainesville mayor and powerful state politician.

The two often exchanged words, but came close to blows in the halls of the state Capitol of all places. Dean had published criticism of Perry when he voted against prohibition in the state House. Dean charged that Perry had betrayed his county because Hall County had voted dry three times, and Perry had been at a mass meeting to collect signatures on a petition supporting a prohibition bill.

Perry told Dean his comments in the paper were “a most ungentlemanly act,” and raised his hand toward Dean. Dean caught Perry’s arm before it could hit him. Dean was a mountain of a man, about 6-foot-4, 220 pounds, and Perry a scrawny 120 pounds.

“I don’t want to strike you,” Dean told Perry. “But I can wipe up the Capitol floor with you if necessary.”

The altercation apparently ended there.

Perry seemingly was a candidate for whatever public office presented itself. At different times he ran for state senate, U.S. Senate, state representative, Congress, superior court judge and governor. He ran for three different offices in the same primary, state senate, Congress and governor. He withdrew from the senate to run for governor, then withdrew from that race. Perry also chaired Gainesville Board of Education, served as county attorney and was a Brenau College trustee.

The Perrys were prominent on Gainesville’s social scene, entertaining often in their Boulevard home near the Brenau campus.

Both Dean and Perry dealt in real estate in addition to their law practices. Both also were delegates to the national Democratic Party convention.

Perry was a Savannah native, graduated from Emory College at age 17, taught public schools in Savannah and what was then North Georgia Agricultural College. In the legislature, he wrote bills providing for agricultural and mechanical schools across the state, creating the state Court of Appeals and franchise taxes on corporations.

Perry died in 1932 at age 81 and is buried in Alta Vista Cemetery.

Johnny Vardeman is retired editor of The Times.

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