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Johnny Vardeman: McCurry kin, ODells notable in Hall history
The Rev. Dave McCurry

The main reason prolific preacher and church planter Dave McCurry came to North Georgia from North Carolina after four of his children had died was to be near his sister, Becky Goswick, who was a celebrated character in her own right.

The Rev. McCurry was the great-grandfather of Lillie Mae Green, soon to turn 98, co-founder with husband Frank of the venerable Green’s Grocery in Gainesville.

Aunt Becky Goswick, as everyone knew her, had come to North Georgia’s gold country earlier with her father, who was a miner. Her fame grew during the Civil War as she ferried mail back and forth between Confederate soldiers and their loved ones. She often would ride horseback to battlefields to pick up mail from soldiers, then return, sometimes in harsh weather, to families back in Lumpkin or nearby counties. Aunt Becky would have to read the mail to some as they could not read, and write letters for them back to their soldiers.

After the war, she moved to Hall County and became a revered school teacher who taught students that became prominent in business and politics.

Just before her death in 1931 at age 95, she was living with a great nephew, Clyde O’Dell. She is buried in Pleasant Hill Baptist Church cemetery on Browns Bridge Road.

Clyde O’Dell was Lillie Mae Green’s father, and numerous O’Dells are scattered throughout North Georgia, particularly Hall County. However, according to Lillie Mae, many of the south Hall County O’Dells are a different branch of the family. All are believed to have come from Ireland, according to her and her late son Ronnie’s research.

Andrew Jackson O’Dell was a Hall County pioneer, having come from South Carolina in the 1840s, perhaps earlier to Banks County, and married Ann Catherine Prator. He accumulated hundreds of acres, much of which he deeded to each of his children as they married. His obituary when he died in 1914 reported nine of his 13 children survived.

A.J. O’Dell had joined Enon Church, where he was a member until a storm destroyed it. After that he was a member of First Methodist Church in Gainesville.

His death occurred at his home on West Avenue about two months after being knocked down by a runaway horse and buggy on West Washington Street. He had had a burial monument made for him 13 years before his death, and it stands now near the center of Alta Vista Cemetery.

“Uncle Andy,” as he was known, had become a prominent, beloved and successful citizen, and his descendants likewise succeeded in their endeavors.

Paul O’Dell operated what might have been Gainesville’s first service station on South Main Street near the former location of City Ice Co., was city street superintendent for six years and a member of the city council. His mother was Belle O’Dell, the only surviving daughter of the Rev. McCurry, who had brought her with him over the mountains to Hall County. Belle, or Belzonie, had married John Harrison O’Dell, and they were the grandparents of Lillie Mae Green. Her grandfather donated 2Ú acres to Mount Vernon Baptist Church in 1905.

Ernest O’Dell operated a fancy grocery store in Hall County. William Anderson O’Dell married Alice Minerva Light from the family that operated Light’s Ferry near Flowery Branch. Rilla O’Dell married John L. Vickers, whose descendants founded Vickers Funeral Home in Gainesville.

Emma O’Dell married Joe Finger, whose family operated a shoe manufacturing company in Gainesville. It produced 85,000 shoes annually on South Main Street and later opened a general store and retail outlet. The O’Dells also married into other longtime Hall County families, including the Roberts, Tates, Adams, McConnells, Barretts, Porters and Mabrys.

Lillie Mae Green’s grandfather, Harrison O’Dell, died at age 39, leaving seven children for his young wife to raise. One of them was Lillie Mae’s father, Clyde, who was born premature and had to remain wrapped up in a dresser drawer in front of a fireplace to survive.

Most of Lillie Mae’s almost 98 years have been good times, but she has one particular bitter memory that as a 5-year-old she didn’t quite comprehend. Her mother stood on the porch of their home crying when bankers came to repossess their horses and mules for an overdue note on property her father and two of his brothers had purchased. They had bought a lot of modern equipment to share on each of their farms. But it was when the boll weevil destroyed cotton crops, and many farmers lost all they had to wealthy Hall Countians who held the notes.

Lillie Mae’s mother even sold Clyde’s prized overcoat to help pay the interest on loans so they could keep their home while everything else was lost.

The Clyde O’Dells later lived on Longstreet Avenue and Broad Street in Gainesville, and Lillie Mae remembers well when most every family had a barn with a cow and other livestock in their backyards.

She and son Ronnie spent many hours researching the O’Dell and McCurry families. Lillie Mae remembers much of the area’s history, knew many of the families they discovered and found that she is kin to so many of their descendants.

Many of the Odell descendants are buried in Gainesville’s Alta Vista Cemetery.

Johnny Vardeman is retired editor of The Times.